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Alex Koll: An Enterprising Man - Part 1


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Vern Lindquist

Alexander Mattsson Lillkåll was the fourth child of farmer Matthias (Matts) Johansson Lillkåll and his first wife, Andra (Anna) Lovisa Jakobsdotter Smeds. He was born at Kållby, Pedersöre, Finland on December 11, 1882. Their original family home no longer exists but much of the property is still owned by family members.

Alex's mother died before he was three years old, possibly from tuberculosis, a common disease of early death at that time. His two older brothers died very young leaving Alex and his sister, Ida, to be cared for by their father and grandmother, Anna Lisa (Matt's mother) after their mother died. Matt remarried and with his second wife Lena-Sofia had eight children, five of whom died from scarlet fever as young children between 1889 and 1900.

Alex as a Young Man

A young man with an alert and active personality, Alex ventured out into the world as a native from Pedersöre. He had grown up, gone to school, and lived in both Gamlakarleby and Jakobstad. He held business positions in both places, leaving the family farm to work in Jakobstad where he was valued for his ability to speak in both Swedish and Finnish. In an article in "The Leading Star," Alex was quoted: "I left Jakobstad in 1903 at the age of 21 when a group of young men decided to thumb their noses at the Russian military conscription which sent so many young men out of the country for service in Russia."

In Finland, the late Bror Lillquist, a cousin of Alex's future wife, Hannah Lillquist, wrote in a July 1971 letter about why some young people from the family left Finland:

"… I assume the cause of leaving was the little home did not have enough work or income for the whole family and therefore the children were forced to seek work somewhere else. Adventure could also have been a reason for the emigration … Families usually were larger in those days. A family of 10 children or more was not unusual. Besides, America was known as a land where a man could earn a good wage as compared to our land. You can find people in our town that after a few years, came home from America with money in their pockets, built homes for themselves or bought a home. In Jakobstad there is a place that is called "Amerikatown." Homes in this area are nearly solely furnished by returning American emmigraters … there was no other way of travel to America but by boat … it was common in those days to take a boat from Sweden, so it would be a Swedish boat."

Alex came to the United States on the ship, St. Paul, arriving at Ellis Island on July 19, 1903, from Southampton, England. He then traveled by train to Astoria, Oregon where an uncle, August Johnson (formerly Lillkåll, brother of his father, Matts Lillkåll), welcomed and helped him establish a new life as an American. Alex participated with his countrymen in temperance work beginning back when he lived in Gamlakarleby where he was a member of a temperance society and later in Jakobstad where he was the secretary. During his short stay in Astoria, he helped organize a temperance society and served as its secretary. Alex remained only a short time in Astoria before he continued his journey to Seattle, Washington. He later continued temperance work in Seattle and served many years as secretary, treasurer, and as president of the local Order of Runeberg lodge as well as holding district and national offices.

Alex arrives in Seattle

Alex arrived in Seattle late in 1903. There he was involved in many kinds of work for about two years until he was able to master the English language. During the weekends he would stay in a rooming house where other Swedish- Finns stayed during their first few months or years. He would travel on the train to Preston, Washington to work at the Preston Mill during the week. Among the earliest settlers in Preston in the late 1800s were Swedish-American immigrants August and Emil Lovgren, Olaf Edwin, and their families. They had opened a logging mill next to the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway that twisted through Snoqualmie Pass on the way to Seattle.

Workers' homes were built and owned by the company and rented to occupants at $1.50 per room, per month. Preston Mercantile, the Preston Mill Company Store, and other businesses, supplied the community with a variety of goods and services, which were deducted from worker paychecks. Perhaps Alex worked in the Mercantile or the Company Store. There used to be a saying in town when the mill was still in operation that if you were Swedish, you had a job at the mill.

He would ride that train back and forth to Ballard and look out the window along the shores of Lake Sammamish. One day in the future, he decided, he would have a summer house at the lake and he knew right where he wanted it. In 1926, Alex organized 15 of his friends (all Swede-Finns) and they bought that property to build their summer houses for their young families in the traditions of his homeland. His property remains owned, occupied, and enjoyed by members of his family, now spanning five generations.

In 1905, Alex obtained employment in a Seattle business firm and in a colonial trading company in 1907. Two years later he and Alfred Wicks started their own company. Some time during these years, Alex Koll and Hannah Lillquist became engaged. Hannah was born Johanna Gustavsdotter Lillqvist on March 19, 1882 to farmer Gustav Johansson Lillqvist and Maria Karl- Johansdotter Brännäs. She came as a farm girl from Österkivilös, Pedersöre, Finland. She left Finland and traveled to her uncle, Frank Lillquist, in Seattle, Washington. While she was learning English, she worked as a domestic in the family home of a prominent Seattle lawyer, A. M. Schillestad. Alex involved in starting Emmaus Lutheran Church

Members have written that on July 29, 1906, seven families met and discussed the need for a church for their Swedish-Finnish countrymen and a festival was held with friends from Seattle and outlying areas. Those families included John Hellund, Frank Lillquist (Hannah's uncle), Henry Lillsjö, Alex Jackson, John Siren, John Lillquist (Hannah's brother), and Alex Koll. The sum of $50.75 was collected and pledges of $42.00 were made. John Hellund was chairman; Frank Lillquist, treasurer; and Alex Koll, secretary. Alex wrote the minutes of the first meeting and became a charter member of that congregation. The first worship service was held in the Sveaborg Hall on Yesler Way, September 16, 1906. Monthly dues were 25¢ to forty members by December of 1906. The name "Evangelisk-Lutherska Svensk-Finska Församlingen" was the name of the congregation organized in 1909, and a pastor, Rev. Johanson, was hired at $20 a month. In 1910, the Rev. John Gullans came to serve as pastor.

As our family church, many names are recognized as active members in the memories of that congregation. The roster of 62 members of the Ladies' Aid, listed by their secretary in July 21, 1911, included family members Mrs. Frank Lillquist (aunt of Hannah and mother of Esther Lillquist, Elve Fathers and Elsa Eriks); Mrs. Matt Strand (mother of Esther Bjorklund, Edna Soderman, and Dorine Koll-Eugene's wife); Mrs. Hannah Koll (mother of Florence, Margaret, and Eugene, and my grandmother); and Mrs. Ida Eriks Long (mother of Evald Eriks, Rudy Eriks, and Runar Long, Margaret's husband). The Ladies' Aid was organized with the "main purpose to work for the Swedish- Finnish Mission activity in Seattle."

In 1923, the name changed to Emmaus Evangelical Lutheran Church and the language was changed from Swedish to English. The cornerstone for their own building was laid on November 27, 1910, on property donated by Mr. Henry Lillsjö at the corner of 2nd Avenue Northwest and Northwest 65th Street. The young Koll family would walk past several other Lutheran Churches and up the hill to 65th to the Swedish-speaking Lutheran Church. Over the years, all of Alex and Hannah's three children were baptized and married there, even several of their grandchildren (including me) were baptized in that same sanctuary. The Emmaus Congregation merged with St. John Lutheran Church in 1967.

Alex the Grocer

Alex worked as a grocery clerk and in 1909 entered into a successful business partnership with Alfred Wicks: Koll and Wicks, which consisted of two grocery stores. They each independently owned and managed the two North Seattle stores, with Alex in Ballard and Alfred a few miles away at Interbay, but combined efforts in buying and other business decisions when it was advantageous.

As they grew up, the three children of Alex and Hannah Koll (Florence, Margaret, and Eugene) worked in the family store. Florence and Margaret worked as what today we call stockers, wrappers, and checkers. They would reach high to the tall shelves, wrap the goods in paper, and tie them tight with string. All types of products would be wrapped according to the customer's individual needs. Eugene would become known throughout Ballard as the singing grocery boy, delivering groceries ordered by telephone to the homes of faithful customers throughout the area.

During the tough years of the depression, many customers depended on the goodness of Alex Koll and Alfred Wicks to feed them when they could not pay directly, but they would barter with goods and services for the necessities of their families. Many times when a family member arrived to open the store in the morning, there would be customers in line waiting for the doors to open so they could buy food for their morning breakfast.

As the effects of the depression spread, construction stopped, logging ceased, stores closed, work forces were cut back drastically, and many people were unable to support themselves. Alex told the Koll family that they may not be able to get new clothes and new shoes when they wanted and would walk wherever they needed, but they would not go hungry.

According to Alfred Wicks in an article "In Memoriam" in the '[[Leading Star]]' in November, 1954: "That partnership lasted for nearly 40 years and may I say, you never will meet a truer, more dependable self-sacrificing man than Mr. Koll. We believe his effort was not in vain, that his labor will bear fruit, and his name shall not so soon be blotted out from our mind and coming generations."

And now I, as a grandson of Alex Koll, like all of us interested in genealogy, can assure that our ancestor's "name shall not soon be blotted out from our mind and coming generations."

' In the next issue, the Swedish-Finnish wedding and family years of Alex and Hannah Koll. Template:Quarterly 13-1

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