Wading the hallowed halls of the Cyrus Fishermen's College
By Llewellyn H. Linde
Herman Linde, born and raised at Kvamsoy, Sogn, Norway, came to America as a young man in 1892 to make a new life. Trained as a house painter at the Bergen Technical School, he made his way to Fargo, North Dakota, where he worked to earn tuition money to continue his education.
He completed a four year course at Concordia Academy (now Concordia College) in Moorhead in 1898. After that, his skills and interests took him to Hamline University Medical School in St. Paul, where he graduated in 1905.
With his studies completed, Herman settled in the small West Central Minnesota town of Cyrus. His dry humor and love of satire were made known throughout the area when he founded the mythical "Cyrus Fishermen's College" in 1939.
Herman always loved the sport of fishing. As a young boy on the Sogn Fjord, he was first exposed to saltwater fishing. When he settled in Cyrus, his strong interest in fishing continued. All of the nearby lakes had plentiful fish, and a full stringer at the end of the day was the rule.
His food tastes ran heavily into all kinds of fish -- even lutefisk. As a child, Herman's family's table always had some type of fish.
Dr. Linde's inspiration to establish the Cyrus Fishermen's College came out of the New Deal Program of President Franklin Roosevelt- During the Great Depression, FDR made it possible to provide much-needed assistance and support to a wide variety of people.
Farmers, factory workers, ranchers, artists, musicians, and writers -- one might say all of humankind -- could benefit from these programs. FDR's aid to many diverse groups of professions and occupations was enlightening and productive.
However, several years into the Great Depression, it became evident that FDR had overlooked the common people who liked to fish. Herman developed strong personal feelings and a view that these special people were being ignored and treated unfairly.
To address this injustice, in January 1939 he established the Cyrus Fishermen's College, an educational institution, for the sole purpose of improving the lot of people who like to fish.
By self-appointment, Herman became the President and the Dean of the College located at Cyrus. Some significant features of the college were:
1) The standard degree was 'Doctor Piscator' (Doctor of Fishing) with the signature initials 'F.R.C.S' (Fried, Raw, Cooked, Stewed). A graduate was instantly endowed as a well qualified and educated fisherman.
2) All advanced degrees were granted before the final examination; otherwise a student could run the risk of not achieving a passing grade.
3) An honorary Latin degree, 'Doctor Piscator, Summa Cum Laude,' was reserved for outstanding and distinguished graduates at the annual commencement.
4) The college motto was: "If fishing interferes with your business or profession, cut out the business."
The Diploma and Faculty
The design of the diploma resembled century-old advanced degrees, including many traditional statements. Although most graduates were men, it should be noted that the title 'Fishermen' was intended as gender-neutral. Herman always served as President and Dean, and two local fishing experts were full-time faculty members -- C. Guy Eddy, Professor of Freshwater Fishing and Dr. Alfred Tangen, Professor of Piscatorial Philosophy and Metaphysics. The fictional adjunct faculty consisted of Paul Paa Haugen, Noah Webster, Isaac Walton, and Baron Munchhausen.
The Final Examination
Consisting of 50 questions, the final examination was periodically revised throughout the college's existence. A partial list of questions is listed below:
1) Who invented the first fish hook?
2) What is piscatorial halitosis?
3) Describe the oyster and its origin.
4) Do people believe your fish stories? If not, why?
5) Give the definition of piscatorial metaphysics.
6) What are apologetical circumstances?
7) What is the longest angle worm on record?
8) Did Jonah of the Old Testament belong to the Isaac Walton League?
9) Give the reasons why lutefisk should be legalized.
10) Why is fish a brain food?
11) Have you ever caught a fur-bearing fish?
12) Does a person fish into a boat or out of a boat?
13) What is the Latin name for sucker?
14) Describe the fourth dimension.
15) Did your grandmother ever go angling?
The completed final examinations provided a wide variety of responses, and, although the answers were usually short or inaccurate, they were always humorous.
For the nominal tuition fee of $1, hundreds of diplomas were awarded over the years to doctors, business people, lawyers, pharmacists, salespeople, and just plain ordinary citizens. Degrees were gratuitously conferred to famous individuals, and the following well-known people responded with a letter of thanks to Herman:
Theodore Blegen; C.J. Hambro; Thor Heyerdahl; King of Sweden (1951); Halvard Lange; Trygve Lie; Crown Prince Olav; Jean Sibelius.
Gen. Omar Bradley; Dwight D. Eisenhower; John N. Garner; Katharine Hepburn; Herbert Hoover; Hubert Humphrey; George Marshall; Richard Nixon; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman.
Letters came from state governors, military leaders, national leaders, entertainers, and other famous personalities. The general tone of each letter was one of gratitude and humor, but two acceptance letters were especially notable and will go down in history as unforgettable.
They came from Albert Einstein and George Bernard Shaw.
It was rare when a diploma was rejected, but King Haakon of Norway returned the award accompanied by a gracious acknowledgement letter.
Letter from Albert Einstein, dated March 19, 1947:
Dr. Herman Linde
I thank you very much for sending me the beautiful and picturesque diploma concerning fishing. I deserve it like most receivers of honorary doctor's degrees -- have never fished in my life.
With kind greetings and wishes for you and your friends of the Fishermen's College.
From George Bernard Shaw, hand-written on a plain blue postcard, not dated:
From Bernard Shaw, P.P.C.F.C.
When I was a small boy I fished with hook, line, and sinker from Kingstown Pier in the County Dublin. That is my sole qualification for the diploma conferred on me by the Cyrus F.C. of Minnesota. I eat no flesh, fowl, nor fish and my recreations are "anything except sport". As Doctor Piscator I am entirely disinterested. My thanks for Cyrus's kindly gesture.
G. Bernard Shaw
From H.M. Kongens Kabinettssekretaer
Oslo Slott, August 20th, 1949:
Dr. Herman Linde,
H.M. the King of Norway has ordered me to acknowledge receipt of your letter of July 20th, 1948, with enclosed diploma conferring upon His Majesty the degree of Doctor Piscator of the Cyrus Fishermen's College.
H.M. the King fully appreciates the kind intention of the Cyrus Fishermen's College in conferring the said degree upon His Majesty.
At the same time, however, I am commanded to inform you that His Majesty does not personally exercise the noble sport of fishing and that His Majesty considers it not very probable that He shall have time, besides His daily duties, to take on a new hobby now, even though this hobby may be as interesting as yours apparently is.
His Majesty has therefore ordered me to return to you the degree with His Majesty's best wishes for your success in finding another person more interested in catching fish on whom to bestow the honour of the degree of Doctor Piscator - summa cum laude - of the Cyrus Fishermen's College.
Annual Alumni Banquet
Beginning in the spring of 1939, the first CFC alumni banquet was held at the Minton Hotel in Glenwood, Minnesota. At these banquets the main meal included either walleye pike or American smelt, a small silvery fish. These events were held in a variety of locations, most usually a church basement. The last banquet was held in 1956.
The main speakers were generally major Minnesota state officials, educational leaders, and prominent businessmen. Their speeches were always humorous discourses about the ups, downs, failures, and successes of fishing in either fresh or salt water. The most memorable guest speaker was Minnesota Gov. Luther Youngdahl, who spoke in 1948. When he later became a federal judge in Washington, D.C., it was reported that his framed CFC Latin Honorary Degree was hung in a prominent place in his court chambers.
Musical selections, instrumental and vocal, were always a pan of the occasion. In 1943, the college adopted the school song, "There Are Fish", written by J. Magnus Rohne to the tune of "There Are Smiles":
There are fish that make you happy
There are fish that make you angry
There are fish that bite right good and snappy
All along the green and grassy shore
There are fish that lie along the bottom and await the fancy bait or lure
But the fish that seems to weigh a long ton is the fish that you like for sure
The major part of the evening was the conferring of the Latin Honorary Degree upon the guest speaker. The presentation was made by the Honorable E.R. Seines, Judge of the District Court, a brilliant lawyer and classics scholar, who always read the citation in perfect Latin.
At the 1948 banquet a historical and significant event happened when Professor Alfred Tangen presented his findings concerning the catch of the famous Minnewaska Fur-Bearing Fish. Because of the sensitive and political nature of this discovery, the Pope County Board of Commissioners ordered that the specifics of this discovery be sealed until the year 2036. Even if many details of this event are shrouded in mystery, it was known that this fur-bearing fish was caught in Lake Minnewaska by an unknown fisherman during the harsh and bitterly cold winter of 1935-36. Legend has it that this rare species was introduced into North America by early Viking explorers. A replica of the fish can be viewed at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. This thin fur covered replica is 14-1/2 inches long and has a circumference of four inches.
A Legacy of Laughs
After the last banquet was held in 1956, Herman Linde personally continued the mission of the Cyrus Fishermen's College, perpetuating his love of satire and dry sense of humor. With the Great Depression of the 1930s, followed by Pearl Harbor and World War II, the CFC's brand of humor brought a rich source of comic relief to many people.
Graduates of the Cyrus Fishermen's College were given an opportunity to envision a world of make-believe and nonsense, thanks to the imagination of Herman Linde. At the time of his death in 1959, Herman had officially conferred hundreds of fishing degrees upon people from all walks of life, leaving a legacy of laughs and good humor.
Llewellyn H. Linde is an attorney from Hastings. He presented this paper at The Norwegian-American Association Seminar IX on June 22, 2006 at Telemark University College in Telemark, Norway.
Material for this essay was taken from the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.