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Life in state orphanage wasn't 'all good' or 'all bad'

By Tom Weber

weber@postbulletin.com

Harvey Ronglien knows not everyone has fond memories of the former Minnesota State School for orphans.

That's why Ronglien, who lived at the school in Owatonna for 11 years, is careful not to step on toes in describing his new book, "A Boy From C-11: Case #9164."

"This is my version of it," Ronglien, who still lives in Owatonna, said of life at the orphanage. "Some hated it, some loved it. It wasn't all good and it wasn't all bad."

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Ronglien, 79, who with his wife, Maxine, was instrumental in starting a museum at the former school campus on Owatonna's west side, tells of both the good and the bad in his book.

He and his siblings were sent to the school after their father had been given a jail term and their mother died of tuberculosis. Ronglien and his closest brother, Oscar, had not even started school yet. They ended up staying at the orphanage long enough to attend high school in Owatonna.

His book recounts the experience of growing up in an orphanage. Ronglien said he, like many other "State School kids," grew up emotionally and socially crippled. "It's different being raised in an institution rather than a family," he said.

That so many State School kids eventually found satisfactory careers and lived admirable family lives is a testament to their resiliency, he said.

After a stint in the Army, Ronglien returned to the only hometown he could remember.

"I wasn't the kind of person who could do it on his own," he said. "I was just comfortable in Owatonna and I was too timid to venture out." He worked for Owatonna Public Utilities for four decades, and after retirement, launched an effort to preserve the story of the State School and the kids who were raised there.

For years, Ronglien has conducted tours of the campus, which is now a community center that includes a State School museum.

"A lot of people on the tours would say, 'Why don't you write a book?'" he said.

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"A Boy from C-11" is at least the fifth book by a former State School resident, Ronglien said.

"I don't argue with any of them," he said. "What their feelings are are theirs, and what's mine are mine."

Go &; Do

Harvey Ronglien will deliver a talk and sign copies of his book at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the History Center of Olmsted County, 1195 West Circle Drive S.W., Rochester. Admission is free.

The book can also be ordered directly from Ronglien at 328 E. Broadway, Owatonna, MN 55060. Cost is $17.85, including tax and shipping.

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