The 1962 election was held November 6, 1962, but the results of the race for governor were not known until a 139-day recount was completed in March 1963. A native of Northfield, Minnesota, Rolvaag lived in his home town and graduated from Saint Olaf College before fighting in World World War II, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant and commanded a tank.
In 1954 he ran successfully for the office of lieutenant governor. After serving in that capacity for eight years, Rolvaag mounted his successful campaign for governor in 1962. However, he is remembered for a leadership role in bringing reform to the state"s institutions for the mentally disabled, leading to improved conditions and treatment for people with developmental disabilities.
Also, the populist-minded governor changed the organization of the state"s junior colleges.
Formerly, the local school board ran each college separately. Rolvaag designed a coordinated statewide system and announced a goal of putting each Minnesotan within commuting distance of an institution of higher education.
When Rolvaag came up for reelection in 1966, his party denied him its endorsement, opting instead for Lieutenant Governor A. M. (Sandy) Keith. Rolvaag entered the DFL"s primary with a cry of "Let the people decide!" and roundly defeated Keith in the primary.
However, he lost to Republican Harold LeVander in the general election in November.
In 1967, after leaving office, Rolvaag was appointed United States Ambassador to Iceland by President Lyndon Johnson. He returned to Minnesota in 1970 and was elected to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. He resigned that post in 1975 in order to seek treatment for alcoholism.
Rolvaag stayed out of politics the rest of his life, but he helped others work through their own problems with alcoholism, attending meetings and giving talks in places as nearby as his hometown of Northfield and as far off as Sweden.
He died at his home in Northfield on December 20, 1990, aged 77, having been ill with a heart condition. Correspondence, political files, subject files, personal files, news clippings, print materials, and sound and visual materials of Karl F. Rolvaag are available for research use at the Minnesota Historical Society.
After the war, he went to Norway to learn about politics before returning home to Minnesota. After his return, Rolvaag became the head of Minnesota"s DFL Party.
Captain Army of the United States, 1941-1947. Member Minnesota History Society, American Scandinavian Foundation, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Dayanand Anglo-Vedic.
Married Florence A. Boedeker, August 28, 1943. Children: Paul F., Kristin V.