Mable (Hougestol) Lee




Life and Work

Mabel Josephine Hougestol was born in Hayti, South Dakota in 1894, to Anund Hougestol and Bertha Anfinson. Her father Anund was born in Wisconsin and her mother Bertha, in Lillehammer, Norway. Mabel was the ninth in a family of fourteen children, five boys and nine girls. The long periods of drought and frequent cyclones drove these pioneers north in search of better weather. The Hougestols chose the North West Territories (later Alberta) because their mother’s brother, Ole Bakken had already started a homestead in Stoney Creek. The house Ole Bakken built on his property has the distinction of being the first home built in Camrose

The family made the move from South Dakota like many other immigrating families: by train, arriving in Wetaskiwin in 1898. Each family occupied their own railway car, which held all their belongings: foodstuffs, cooking utensils, household items, clothing and, surprisingly, their livestock as well. The trip from South Dakota to "Siding 16" took ten days.

Anund Hougestol was a devout man and practiced daily Bible reading, having taught himself to read after only four days of formal schooling. It is said he read the Bible through seven times during the course of his life. The family was raised in the Evangelical Lutheran faith and Mabel’s uncle Ole Bakken, founded the Moland Lutheran church in Camrose.

After a brief stIn the early 1900's, Mabel's father, along with two friends, cut down the trees and built a road through the bush and muskeg. It extended from ten miles north of Wetaskiwin to Wetaskiwin and is now Highway 814. This huge task was performed out of a sense of community, as none of the men received any pay from the Government. Because of the role model she had in her father, Mabel inherited a strong community spirit and served her neighbours throughout her life.

As a child, Mabel liked to go muskrat hunting with her brother Edwin. She loved horses and it was well known that she could “ride like the wind”. It was Mabel and Edwin who had the job of looking after the cattle and bringing them in from pasture every day. This was not an easy job as the cows would often wander into the bush and get mixed up with the neighbours’ cattle. Mabel and her siblings attended the district school which her mother Bertha had named “Sparling" School.

Mabel 's childhood friend and later her sweetheart, Elvin Lee played in the Coal Lake Band, formed in 1909. The band held their practices at the Hougestol family home. A noted feature of the Norwegian settlement of the Wang-Sparling district was its musical character. A choir and band were organized in the early years and served the area for many years. Mabel and Elvin sang in the Vang (Wang) Lutheran Church choir, where they attended church. Mabel, her father Anund, and her brother Edwin, built the fence for the Church and cemetary. Anund wove the wire for the fence and it endured for many years until the church burned down. It exemplifies how deeply the Hougestol and Lee families had their roots in the Lutheran Church.

In 1912, Mabel married her childhood sweetheart. Elvin Lee had moved with his family from South Dakota, in 1898, the same year as the Hougestols. After their marriage, Elvin and Mabel moved to the village of Gwynne where Elvin and his brother Albert Lee built a store. It was a lucrative business and some of the farm ladies would barter homemade butter for groceries. By 1914, the store was sold and Elvin moved Mabel and their two small children, Emmett and Blanche, to his quarter-section farm, where, in 1918, he built a four room house with two bedrooms. Mabel and Elvin eventually had a family of eight children. Seven were delivered at home by a midwife. The youngest, Andy, was born in the hospital in Wetaskiwin, ten miles from home.

Mabel and her husband enjoyed singing duets together at home and their voices harmonized beautifully. Mabel played the guitar and organ, Elvin played the bass horn and the alto horn. Band practices took place twice a week with Elvin and his brother Albert participating. They played at picnics and special occasions throughout the area. The Coal Lake Boys Band was started in 1924 and often held band practice at the Lee home. Their two sons Emmett and Dennis played in the band. In 1926, girls were allowed and their daughter Doris joined in with her saxophone. There were often four instruments playing four different pieces at one time in the Lees' small house with no complaint from the supportive parents. Mabel, being a very social person, put up with all the band practices, even providing hot cocoa and some of her great baking afterwards.

The winter of 1924 brought tragedy to the Lee family when their daughter Blanche was killed in a sleigh accident at the age of ten years. Mabel saved baby Forest, who was one and a half years at the time, by throwing him into a snow bank. He was securely wrapped and swaddled in blankets and escaped injury. In October, 1945 Mabel lost another child when her son Dennis, age 28, was killed in a tractor accident, leaving a wife and small son.

During the years spent on the farm, Mabel often cooked for a threshing crew of up to twenty-two men during harvest time. Breakfast at 6:00 am, lunch taken to the fields at 10:00 am, dinner at noon, afternoon lunch at 3:00 pm, and supper at 6:00 pm. Mabel would bake all the bread and pies. Doughnuts by the dozens were put in a lined wash tub. One of her children would have the job of turning the doughnuts over in the boiling oil.

In 1928, Mabel and Elvin founded the Moose Lodge and the Women of the Moose Lodge in Wetaskiwin. Elvin was the first Governor, Mabel, the first Senior Regent and both were charter members. In order to raise money, the Women of the Moose held many sales, bazaars and teas. The Moose Lodge donated regularly to the Red Cross, CNIB, cancer and polio funds as well as any other worthy organizations. Mabel and Elvin's picture has been painted on the building in the form of a mural honouring the couple as founding members and for all the volunteer hours they donated to the Moose Lodge.

Mabel's oldest son Emmett entered Olds College and, after completing a two year Mechanics course, he received his mechanics license. In 1932 Elvin sold the family farm and moved the family to Gwynne, where he started a service station with Emmett as the mechanic. The business expanded and eventually, two more sons joined the staff. The service station was so successful that by 1940 there were four families living well from that little enterprise. In 1962, just before Mabel and Elvin's 50th wedding anniversary, the business was sold, after thirty years of operation.

Friends and family were always welcomed into the Lee home. During the Depression, many strangers enjoyed Mabel's boundless hospitality, as none were turned away from her door without a good, hot meal. Along with being a busy farm wife and raising a family, she always found time to serve others. She was very concerned for the sick and offered her nursing skills to anyone who was ill or shut in at home and needed her assistance. She regularly paid visits to the sick in the hospital.

Mabel's involvement in the community seemed endless as was her volunteer spirit. She had taken a Red Cross course and was a willing nurse to anyone who needed her compassionate care. Over the years, her knitting and home made quilts found their way overseas to the needy. In keeping with her passion for helping others, Mabel was a member of the Wang Ladies Aid. She also was very active in the Sunshine Ladies Club in Gwynne, whose sole mission was to serve the less fortunate in the community.

Complimenting her other community activities, Mabel was an active member in the United Farmers of Alberta with her husband, Elvin.

In June 1962, Mabel and Elvin celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. Mabel passed away at the age of 71 on December 5, 1965 from cancer and congestive heart failure.

Compiled in 2005.


Compiled by: Gloria Baker and Fern Peterson

Sources: Fern Peterson, Bernice Pluim, Andy Lee, Donna Carlson, Doris (Lee) Senour, Rhonda (Lee) Hagstrom, Kara Vandercar, Wetaskiwin Archives, Hougestol History Book, Ross Lee, Tails and Trails of Millet.