Swimming family reminisces


Growing up in Northeast in the 1940s and 1950s, the four Solberg siblings Leif, Norman (Norm), AnnLiv and Ronald–were known for their swimming abilities. The boys started out at the downtown YMCA’s Fun Club, taking swimming lessons and competing on the Y’s swim team. “We were a swimming family,” Norm Solberg said, adding that his father, Rangvald Solberg, who was from Norway, was a diver. 

AnnLiv Solberg Bacon, whom brother Norm calls “the Esther Williams of Northeast,” and the best swimmer of all of them, raced on the Minneapolis YWCA swim team from ages 9 to 15. “There was a short time when I was the best swimmer in the state in my age group,” she said. “I won everything at age 12, but not a lot after that. Swimming meets were the standard activity for our family in the summer. I think it was fun for all of us.”

The girls swim team was a new addition to Edison when Solberg Bacon got to 9th grade, she said. (She graduated in the class of 1960.) “I remember being in Principal Samuelson’s office talking to him about a girls’ swim team. I lettered in it several years. Instead of letters for a letter jacket like the boys got, we received a silver charm bracelet and charms for each sport we lettered in.”

Norm said that on the boys’ team, few members had ever swum competitively, “so I was one of the better ones.” Teammate Rodney Nelson confirmed that, saying that Leif Solberg (class of 1956), Norm Solberg (class of 1958) and Danny Crocker (class of 1959) were the team stars.

“I was a lousy swimmer,” Nelson said. “I was happy to make it to the end of the pool and get back. I was certainly not a threat to the opposition. But I did like to swim.

“Unfortunately, in those days, they didn’t do much with those of us who were not already competitive swimmers. Leif, Norm and Danny were the good swimmers and Wayne Mandery [class of 1958] was a good diver.”

It wasn’t a given, Nelson added, that the coaches taught the students how to swim. “I swam the backstroke, but I didn’t learn how to turn,” Nelson said.

And the team environment didn’t promote conversation. “We didn’t do much talking at practices. You got there, you did your warm up and swam up and down the pool. At the meets, it was expected that the good swimmers would win in their event.”

Solberg remembers his teammates as being “a nice group of guys.” But they ran into a problem his freshman year: there wasn’t a coach. “Mr. Bates, a biology teacher who was about the only black person in Northeast Minneapolis, finally agreed to coach the team. I’m not sure he could swim, and he had never been a coach. We kind of helped him.”

The following year, another coach, Mr. Marcouiller, took over. “He was pretty good, and knew what he was doing,” Solberg said.

The team didn’t do that well in the 1957-58 school year, with three wins—against Vocational, Marshall and South and seven losses. Solberg and Crocker, however, a senior and a junior, were high achievers. According to the 1958 Wizard yearbook, Solberg swam the 100 yard breast stroke and 100 yard butterfly and set season records in each. In the city finals he took first in the breast stroke and the 150 yard individual medley. He placed fifth in the breast stroke at the state meet. Crocker’s events were the 40-yard freestyle and the 100 yard freestyle; he placed fourth in state in the 100 yard freestyle that year.

Solberg said he and Crocker both went on to swim for the University of Minnesota. (Crocker is in the Edison Sports Hall of Fame, according to John Vandermyde, a 1958 alum and an Edison Sports Foundation member.)

Solberg’s brothers didn’t swim after high school, but Solberg Bacon was accepted into the Aqua Follies, a synchronized swimming group that traveled around the country.

“I spent the summer after I graduated practicing and putting on a water show in Theodore Wirth Lake as part of the Aquatennial. The stage dancers were from Chicago and the ‘stars’ were from all over. The show ran for 10 days in Minneapolis and then we took the train to Seattle where it ran for another week.” When she started at St. Olaf College in the fall, she swam on the school’s synchronized team for a year.

Solberg said that the University of Minnesota’s sports programs weren’t as competitive as they are now. “Almost anybody who wanted to could join the U’s swim team. We swam in Cook Hall, which was a dingy old place with bad lighting. It’s nothing like today’s Aquatic Center. We used to climb up on the rafters and jump down into the pool.”

The up side to being on the U’s swim team? Big 10 status. “Because the U of M was a big 10 school we traveled all over, either by bus or plane. The trips were the best part of the whole thing. We’d go to cities and stay in hotels, two to a room,” Solberg said. “We had nice blue blazers with insignias on the pocket. Bill Huessner was our coach.”

He lived at home while he was in college, and rode his bike from Northeast to the University, where he also attended medical school; his specialty was obstetrics and gynecology.

The years after school
After an internship and residency in California, Solberg got married and moved back to Minnesota, where he joined the Park Nicollet Medical Center in 1975. In addition to his practice, Solberg did volunteer medical work in the 1990s, traveling with a team of about 25 doctors and nurses to countries such as Nicaragua, Madagascar and Belize.

“We took two week trips every year for about seven years. Mostly I did tubal ligations and pap smears.” Solberg retired from the clinic three and a half years ago, he said, and now lives in Spring Valley, Wisconsin.

Like him, his siblings all chose medical careers. Leif Solberg, a physician specializing in gastrointestinal medicine and family practice, works for Health Partners as a research director. Solberg Bacon was a nurse. Ron Solberg is a dentist, recently retired.

Wayne Mandery, Edison’s only diver in 1957 and 1958, also attended the University of Minnesota but did not join the University’s swim team. “I got involved in the intramural swim program and started refereeing,” he said. “When I got out of school and was looking for a job, swimming was my first interest. I was hired as a high school physical education teacher in Cloquet, Minn., then went to Highland Park [in St. Paul] and finally Jefferson School in Bloomington, for 11 years. I taught and coached swimming from 1964 to 1980. After that, I quit teaching and went into business.

“Swimming at Edison gave me a good introduction to sports,” Mandery added. “I can’t say I was very good in high school, but it led me to wanting to help perfect school swimming teams. Jefferson had some good teams; we won the state championship in 1980. I am very appreciative of my experience at Edison,” Mandery said. “It definitely paved the way for me to experience 16 very fun and fulfilling years in the swimming field.”

Nelson recently retired after 30 years as a Minneapolis Public School teacher; he taught fifth and sixth grade in North Minneapolis. “I also taught a lot of swimming at summer camps. I was a Scoutmaster and council leader for many years, receiving the Scouters Silver Beaver Award,” he said.

Solberg Bacon said she still swims several times a week, and also takes her grandchildren swimming. “Being in the water is a good way to use my whole body and I have used it at times when I have had surgery or injuries that have kept me from doing other forms of exercise. I have arthritis in several joints and swimming is one way I can still get my heart rate up.”

Mandery, Norm Solberg, Vandermyde and Nelson still stay in close touch with many of their Edison classmates, who gather every five years for reunions. The last one, a dinner dance, was in 2008.

The book project
Some 1958 graduates have a project in the works that will likely interest some Northeast residents, especially Edison alums. A small group including Solberg, Nelson, Vandermyde, Carol Ann Larson (who has written three books) and Dick Myslajek has been working on a book about growing up in the 1950s, and have been soliciting their classmates for ideas. “Probably about 20 people have contributed so far,” Solberg said.

And Nelson has more good news. In addition to the book, he has also been working on something else: his swimming skills. Now in his late 60s, he has finally learned how to do something he’s always wanted to do.

“I know how to do a flip turn in the pool,” he said.