(March, 1879 — July 23, 1946)
Iowa State College campus fireman and then night watchman for 28 years.
Knute Hegland was born in March, 1879 in Bergen, Norway, and several accounts state that he supported himself there from the age of nine. He emigrated to the United States at about the age of 17 or 19 and had to borrow money to do so. Upon arriving in America, he lived briefly in Clarion, Iowa for about eight months where he earned enough money to pay back the loan. He then settled near Roland, Iowa, a town in Howard Township, Story County, about ten miles northeast of Ames no later than June, 1900 . He came to Roland because he had relatives there and worked in the community as a farm hand while boarding on the farm of Ole Hadland. Knute became a citizen of the United States in 1932.
In the spring of 1905, Hegland was hired to work as a fireman in the heating plant at Iowa State College and worked at that job for the next thirteen years. He would be employed by Iowa State for a total of 41 years.
In about 1918, he was hired to become the night watchman at Iowa State and continued those duties for 28 years until his death in 1946. During most of those years, he lived on the top floor of Morrill Hall. His typical duties were to work from about 7:00 PM to 5:00 AM in which he checked each building on his route and recorded the check on his portable time clock. He checked the lock on the gates at the Campanile several times each night, and frequently found the place congested with students who were “Campaniling.” His reaction was typically a smile and an acknowledgment that he knew what it was like to be young.
His duties saved lives when a fire broke out in Margaret Hall (named for Margaret MacDonald Stanton and located approximately where LeBaron Hall stands today) on April 9, 1938. Though the building was completely destroyed, his alertness in sounding an alarm quickly allowed all the young women residents to escape without harm.
Though not a professional man on the Iowa State campus, Knute's presence became known and his popularity grew due to the sheer force of his personality. He was a very friendly, gregarious man who greeted all who he saw while on duty with friendliness, enthusiasm and warmth. His typical greeting was “Fine night, tonight!” Over the years, he became a standard fixture on campus who was widely known and was especially popular with students. One Iowa State alumna recalled that she was strolling the campus with her date when they saw Knute. The young man asked him, “Calling the role, Knute?” which was quickly met by Knute's reply, “Yessir, every tree answers' present.'” Having had little opportunity for an education in Norway, Knute was concerned about the students and frequently loaned or gave them money to help pay for their education.
Knute's popularity was exemplified on a number of occasions. When an Iowa State College Freshman Handbook was published in September, 1940, Knute was specifically highlighted, stating, “His 'fine night' has become a campus classic because it represents the greeting of a true friend of every student.” When he fell and fractured his skull the following year, the Iowa State Daily Student commented in an editorial that “Knute is far more on the campus than just a nightwatchman—he is an institution.” The article also mentioned that his room at the College Hospital “was flooded with more flowers, fruit, and candy than any patient there has ever received.” The nurses had trouble keeping Knute in bed because he was constantly wanting to go down the hall and visit with other patients. Also, every Christmas he received large numbers of Christmas cards from all over the United States and diverse places such as Canada, South America, and South Africa. An undated article (probably about 1943) in the Des Moines Register featured Knute with a photo of him checking the locks on the gate of the Campanile.
Knute never married although he wore a gold ring his whole life that he had bought for a girl back home in Norway. He also sent passage money for her to come to America, but she died two weeks before the money arrived. He was able to travel back to Norway on several occasions over the years to visit relatives. He was also very worried about them during World War II “All because of dot man Hitler, and Qvisling,” but they all survived and fared well except a sister who died of natural causes.
After recovering from his skull fracture in 1941, Knute was unable to continue his normal rounds but did continue as night watchman in Curtiss Hall from 6:00 PM to midnight. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on June 24, 1946 and was hospitalized in the College Hospital for a month. Knute Hegland died there on July 23, 1946 and was interred in College Cemetery, now Iowa State University Cemetery. The Alumnus of Iowa State College reported in its September-October issue that “ Deans, students, professors and campus service employees were among those attending the funeral services.”
Perhaps due to his popular appeal, a story arose later that Knute's beloved dog is buried with him in the cemetery. This story has been repeated in at least three issues of the Iowa State Daily over many years. Information from a computerized map of the cemetery at the Facilities Planning & Management Department shows Knute's burial plot with nothing immediately adjoining it. An inspection performed on his grave in July, 2018 by the Department with a metal detector showed that there is no evidence of an animal burial next to Knute. Although the probe only went three feet deep, it is likely that great affection for Knute led to this charming but probably fanciful story.
The main source of information on Knute Hegland is found in the Facilities Planning and Management Biographical Files, Knute Hegland, RS 4/8/2, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University. The collection includes the undated article and photo of Knute in the Des Moines Register; mention of Knute in the Iowa State College Freshman Handbook of 1940; the tribute to Knute in the Iowa State Daily Student, December 11, 1941 which covered his stay in College Hospital and the public outpouring of support; and obituaries in the Des Moines Register, July 25, 1946, and in The Alumnus of Iowa State College, Volume 42, Number 2, September-October. 1946, p. 7.
Other sources include a photo of a young Knute Hegland in Laura C. Dailey (comp.), “Green Hills...” An Album of Iowa State Memories. Ames, IA. Iowa State University Alumni Association, 1975, p. 120.
Information on Margaret Hall and the 1938 fire in H. Summerfield Day, The Iowa State University Campus and Its Buildings, 1859-1979. Ames, IA. Iowa State University, 1980, pp. 337-338.
A feature article on Knute in the Iowa State Daily Student, November 14, 1945, p. 1.
Obituaries in the Roland Record, July 25, 1946, p. 1 and in the Ames Daily Tribune, July 25, 1946, p. 1 (a copy of which is found at both the Research Center, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines and at the Ames Historical Society.)
Several news articles were also found online, all in the Ames Daily Tribune for September 26, 1932, p. 2; January 9, 1935, p. 3; and November 22, 1946, p. 8.
The official death certificate and information from Iowa State University Cemetery can be found in the electronic files of the Facilities Planning & Management Department in the General Services Building.
Information can also be found on Knute in the 1900, 1910, and 1930 Federal Censuses online at https://www.ancestryinstitution.com.
Several stories of the supposed burial of Knute's dog with him have been published in issues of the Iowa State Daily for October 7, 1998 and November 8, 2016 which in turn mentioned that the same story had appeared in previous issues.