Alumni Memories: J. Peder Kvamme, BSB ’43

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Like many students in the 1940s, J. Peder Kvamme’s education was interrupted by economics and politics. The Cloquet, Minn., native first came to the University in the fall of 1938, after completing two years at Hibbing Junior College. He stayed only a year. “I was broke,” he says, recalling the three jobs he worked while taking a full course load. “I had to work so hard to stay there that it wasn’t worth it. So I went home and got a job in a mill to make money to go back.”

For two years, Kvamme lived with his parents while working, saving every penny he could. In September 1941, he enrolled again, joined a fraternity, and prepared for a genuine college experience. Three months later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. “Fortunately, there was a program called the V-7, which let you finish your degree before reporting for duty,” says Kvamme, now 90. The program allowed college students to continue their course work as part of training to be deck and engineering officers in the U.S. Navy. In April 1943, two months before his intended graduation, Kvamme was called up and immediately sent to New York for military training. The University counted the training as credits and while serving in the Pacific theater, Kvamme received his diploma in the mail from his mother.

While Kvamme enjoyed his time at the University in the 1940s, he remembers it as much more formal than it is today. Students usually wore ties to class. Classes generally involved lecture and memorization rather than discussion. But like today, accounting was “just plain hard work.”

After the war, Kvamme returned to the University as an employee, where he worked with former Vice President William T. Middlebrook, helping to assimilate the many soldiers coming to the University on the G.I. Bill. His job was to “collect money from the government for all the G.I.s.”

Kvamme later started a furniture business before moving to Mankato, Minn., where he led generator manufacturer Kato Engineering Co. and Minnesota Electric Technology, which makes motors for farm and military vehicles. “I started out as the accountant and ended up president,” he recalls. “With all of the businesses I started and worked for, my training from the U was of tremendous help.”