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O. N. Refsell


O. N. REFSELL, attorney and banker of Emmet County, is a resident of Esterville and descended from one of the sturdy early Norwegian families in this section of Iowa.

His grandparents, Ole and Mary (Paulson) Refsell came from Norway shortly after the close of the Civil war, and arrived in Emmet County just in time to secure the last tract of land still available from the public lands owned by the Government. This land had been filed on, but the first claimant had not completed the necessary improvements and it was a relinquishment when the Refsells secured it. Ole Refsell adapted himself to the circumstances of a new country, made a good record as an industrious farmer, and he and his wife enjoyed the respect and esteem of a large circle of acquaintances in Emmet County. He died March 2, 1895, and his wife in October, 1900. They were Lutherans in Iowa, as they had been in Norway. Their four children were: O. O., of Emmet County; Peter O., who died on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1930; James; and I. S., who died in Emmet County in March, 1930.

James Refsell, father of the Esterville attorney, was six years of age when brought to America. He was born in Norway July 31, 1860. He was sixty-six years old when he died, April 19, 1926, and no citizen of Emmet County left behind him a record showing more enterprise in a business way, and more hearty public spirit and generosity in his relationships as a citizen and community builder. He grew up in Emmet County, had the advantages of the common schools, and for a number of years devoted all his personal attention to his farming. When he left the farm, in 1915, he moved to the Village of Wallingford in Emmet County, where he helped organize and became the first president of the Farmers Savings Bank. He was president of the bank when he died, and also president of the Farmers Elevator Company, was a director in the creamery company and telephone company. When he moved to town he did not dispose of his farming property and at his death he owned one farm of 280 acres, another of 188 acres and also the twenty acres in the home place at Wallingford. His bank was the only one in that section of Iowa which did not close during the epidemic of bank failures. The integrity of the bank was in keeping with the integrity of its president. Mrs. James Refsell lives at Wallingford and the only daughter, Miss Emma, is also a member of the household there. James Refsell married, in 1886, Annie Osher. She was born in Dane County, Wisconsin, daughter of Neis and Ingeborg (Nordheim) Osher. Her parents came from Norway and settled in Wisconsin in 1850 and in 1870 moved to Emmet County, Iowa.

O. N. Refsell, only son of his parents, was born and reared in Emmet County, graduated form the Lutheran College at Red Wing, Minnesota, and later attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago. For a time he was an instructor in the Lutheran College at Jewell, Iowa. Leaving school work, he took up the study of law at the University of Wisconsin and University of Iowa and was admitted to the bar while with the colors during the World war. He enlisted April 29, 1918, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Nineteenth Division and was stationed at Camp Dodge until discharged, November 30, 1918. Mr. Refsell for a few months worked in the office of E. A. Morling, of Emmetsburg, now chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, and then established himself at Estherville, where he has enjoyed a successful general law practice. Since the death of his father he has also been president of the bank at Wallingford and since the organization of the Iowa Trust & Savings Bank at Estherville, in 1926, he has been its vice president. Mr. Refsell is a Republican and a member of the Lutheran Church, the American Legion, Chamber of Commerce. He was county attorney from January 1, 1925, to January 1, 1929, and in 1930 was candidate for representative in the State Legislature.

He married, April 29, 1919, just one year after his enlistment, Miss Josephine Peterson who attended the University of Nebraska and the University of Minnesota. She was born in Nebraska. They have two daughters, Helen Ann, born July 25, 1922; and Eunice, born February 3, 1927.

~ source: A Narrative History of The People of Iowa, Edgar Rubey Harlan, LL. B., A. M., Chicago and New York, 1931

~ transcribed and contributed by:  Debbie  Clough Gerischer, Iowa History Project