Farewell to a Son of Norway
A tribute to an Unsung Polar Hero by a Friend of Reider Wisting
Written by Kenneth A. Chambers, a friend of Reider Wisting, and of the Sons of Norway; and Lecturer in Zoology and Polar Exploration.
An article that appeared in the Fram Clipper, the newsletter of Fram Lodge No. 13, Sons of Norway, Eureka, California, December 1997
The conquest of the South Pole in 1911 and the first flight across the North Pole in 1926 were milestones in Polar exploration history. Now that Byrd's claim to have been the first to fly over the North Pole has recently been disproved, it is Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, who moves from second place to first, to fly over the North Pole. Thus, Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole and first to fly over the North Pole.
Less known perhaps is that in both Polar parties, Oscar Wisting, a superb navigator and "handyman," (talents crucial on such arduous voyages). accompanied Amundsen. Thus, they became the first and only persons in the world to have been at both the North and South Poles at that time.
The sledge which Oscar Wisting designed for that North Pole expedition is displayed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, in the Amundsen-Ellsworth Polar Exhibit on the Museum's first floor (77th Street wing). Lincoln Ellsworth was the sponsor of that expedition to the North Pole and also was in the Polar Party.
In January 1992, during a voyage to Antarctica, I lectured about Amundsen and presented my taped interview with Oscar Wisting's son, Reider, of Lolita (sic), California. Reider Wisting recalled his father's long absences from his home in Norway, leaving behind a wife and four sons; a poignant story all too familiar to families of exploration giants, whose voyages took years in the preparation and execution of these grueling expeditions. Their families were the unsung Polar heroes. He tells of his own coming to the U.S., about his first meeting with Amundsen in California, where he married and raised two daughters, Nancy and Ruth. Reider Wisting had many skills and worked at several trades but ultimately settled on farming. He became a very successful potato farmer, back-breaking work which is well remembered by his family.
Unlike his explorer father before him, Reider Wisting preferred to spend his life close to his family, whom he cherished, and to the soil which sustained them.
On February 25, 1997, at 6:15 p.m., Reider Wisting died. March 27 was to have been his 94th birthday. Within one week, Alma, his beloved wife of 70 years, also died. Services for Reider and Alma Wisting were held on Monday March 3rd. They rest together as they wanted to be all the lives. They leave two daughters, six grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, and more family and friends in Norway and in the U.S. I am proud to be among them.
It had been difficult for his grandson, Craig, to accept that his granddad had given in to some pain during the last few years before he died. Craig thought back to a fishing trip with him when his granddad removed a fish hook from his own finger when he had accidentally jabbed it, and "he didn't even flinch!" Most likely his great grandfather, Oscar Wisting, would never have flinched either.
Now, understanding that final expression of pain, perhaps it was a bit easier to let go of that strong, unflinching man of polar stock, and hold on to the memory of his powerful and loving ways.
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