A GREAT DANISH AMERICAN BIRTHDAY - ALBERT RAVENHOLT
Albert Victor Ravenholt was born September 9, 1919, on the family farm in Milltown, Wisconsin, one of Ansgar and Kristine Ravenholt's ten children. After the death in infancy of an older sister, Albert became the eldest of five boys and four girls in this Danish-American family who survived the difficult years of the Great Depression.
After high school and the loss of the family farm to bank foreclosure, Albert attended Grand View College, Des Moines, Iowa, for one semester before leaving to work at the New York Worlds Fair in the summer of 1939. Inspired to travel, he hitchhiked across the country to California where he signed on as cook on a Swedish freighter sailing for Asia and on to the Mediterranean Sea and Marseilles, France, before returning around Africa to Shanghai where he remained. During 1941 and 1942, Albert led the trucking of medical supplies for the International Red Cross on the Burma Road and into the Chinese interior. From 1942 to 1946 he served as a war correspondent for the United Press International in the China-Burma-India theatre where he interviewed such luminaries as Mao Zidong, Zhou Enlai, and Ho Chi Minh. In 1946, Albert married Marjorie Severyns, who was then serving with the OSS, in Shanghai. Later that year they returned to the United States where Albert became a Fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs and studied at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellows Associate in 1947 and 1948. Albert and Marjorie then returned to China where he reported on the Communist takeover of China and wrote widely for the Chicago Daily News and the Institute of Current World Affairs. In 1985, they were among the seven veteran journalists invited to return to China by the Deng Xiaoping government.
Albert was a founding member of the American Universities Field Staff and from 1951 continued his research and writing throughout Asia for many decades. Periodically, he lectured at AUFS member universities. He was the author of The Philippines, A Young Republic on the Move as well as numerous expert articles that appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs, The Reporter magazine, the World Book Yearbook, and the Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, among others. Albert provided guidance to John D. Rockefeller III in the creation of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation and, with his wife Marjorie, endowed at the University of Washington the annual Severyns-Ravenholt Lectureship, the purpose of which is to promote awareness of contemporary Asian politics, economics, and cultures.
In 1998, Albert was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Grand View University. For many decades, Albert and Marjorie maintained homes in both the Philippines and Seattle where Albert was an early investor in real estate on Bainbridge Island and in Sagemoor Farms on the Columbia River near Pasco. As a result of his life-long interest in agriculture, Albert developed mango and coconut plantations in the Philippines, provided early support for the nitrogen-fixing tree association, and was a pioneer grower of wine grapes in Washington State. He died April 25, 2010 at his home in Seattle.
Sandi Doughton - Seattle Times staff reporter
Albert Ravenholt’s life story reads like an adventure novel — and that’s the way he planned it.
As a youngster in rural Wisconsin, he set his sights on a career as a foreign correspondent.
First as a reporter, then later as an analyst and expert in Asian affairs, Mr. Ravenholt spent decades bearing witness to some of the century’s most tumultuous events, from the Pacific battles of World War II to the Communist revolution in China and the upheaval that followed.
But even a profession that had him dodging sniper fire and supping with Chairman Mao wasn’t enough to satisfy Mr. Ravenholt’s restless mind.
He also studied cooking, developed timber farms in the Philippines and helped pioneer Washington’s wine industry.
“It was adventurous just to be around him,” said Johanne Fremont, Mr. Ravenholt’s sister. “He had so many interests, his ideas just tumbled over each other.”
Mr. Ravenholt died April 25, 1990 at his home in Seattle. He was 90.
His accomplishments were rooted in hard work, not privilege.
The eldest of nine children, Mr. Ravenholt was born Sept. 9, 1919, to Danish-American parents. When his family lost its dairy farm to bankruptcy, he hired himself out to neighboring farmers for room and board while he finished high school.
“Albert had a great capacity for work,” said his brother, Dr. Reimert Ravenholt of Seattle.
He also realized he could make a difference.
Frustrated by a lack of access to newspapers, the budding journalist convinced his high-school principal to convene daily assemblies where students could listen to a radio news wrap-up, Mrs. Fremont recalled.
After graduation, Mr. Ravenholt found work as a cook on a Swedish freighter carrying timber to the Far East. Realizing war was imminent, he jumped ship in Shanghai.
“From then on, he was hooked on China,” said Mrs. Fremont.
Japan already was waging war against China. Mr. Ravenholt volunteered to lead Red Cross relief convoys along the winding Burma Road into the Chinese interior.
It was while he was convalescing in India from a bout of dysentery that Mr. Ravenholt, then 22, landed his first reporting job: foreign correspondent for United Press. His salary was $85 a week.
With no journalism training, he learned on the job. In order to cover military road-building in the region, he rode 80 miles elephant-back. He accompanied crews on bombing raids into Burma. One flight ended in near disaster when the plane, loaded with four tons of bombs, crashed on the runway.
Back in Wisconsin, Mr. Ravenholt’s family tracked his whereabouts by watching for his byline.
“His stories were never boring,” said Mrs. Fremont. “There was always an air of excitement in whatever he was writing about.”
Some of Mr. Ravenholt’s most widely read dispatches came in 1943, after a plane carrying famed radio commentator Eric Sevareid crashed on a flight from India to China.
Sevareid and others parachuted to safety in the jungles of Burma. Mr. Ravenholt beat his competition to the story by reaching Sevareid via walkie-talkie. A rival reporter later extracted revenge, bribing a censor to delay release of Mr. Ravenholt’s stories.
Censors refused to allow publication of some of Mr. Ravenholt’s reports, including one of the first interviews with Korean “comfort women” forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army. His groundbreaking coverage of Japan’s “kamikaze” pilots nearly wound up muzzled as well, until Mr. Ravenholt pulled high-ranking strings to subvert the censors.
Tall and movie-star-handsome, Mr. Ravenholt met his match in Marjorie Severyns. The native of Sunnyside, Yakima County, was an intelligence officer based in India. Their courtship included a party at a maharajah’s palace and culminated in a sumptuous 1946 wedding in Shanghai.
After the war, the couple established a base in Seattle. Mr. Ravenholt continued to cover China, the Philippines and other parts of the Far East as a correspondent for Chicago Daily News Foreign Service. He also authored several books and lectured widely as a founding member of the American Universities Field Staff, a cadre of writers stationed around the world.
The couple endowed the Severyns-Ravenholt Lectureship at the University of Washington to promote awareness of Asian affairs.
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