Gudrun V. ‘Vi’ Main, 92: ‘Little House’ youth molded Marine vet’s spirit

Gudrun Viola Main’s description of her early years in rural Minnesota brings to mind the book and 1970s television show “Little House on the Prairie.” Main was born in a log cabin with no indoor plumbing, walked dirt roads with her siblings to school and learned to raise, make or barter for everything the family had.

Her family said her rustic beginnings fostered self-reliance and an independent spirit that led her to excel in high school and college, join the Marine Corps during World War II over her parents’ objections, establish a career and, later, devote herself to volunteer work and public service.

Main’s son, Eric, said his mother’s stories from her childhood painted a vivid picture of the family’s isolated life, from the outhouse they nicknamed the “Primrose Inn” to living through the Depression to the blizzards that forced her father to deliver the children to school on a sleigh.

“She started out in a tiny house, with eight children and the parents all living there,” said Eric Main, of Atlanta. “All of the children slept in the attic of the cabin, a space that was reached by a ladder. Just think of ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ only with a smaller house. And it was very isolated, so the family had to be resourceful, able to produce everything they needed. My mother developed a combination of grit and determination along with life-long great compassion and love of people.”

Gudrun Viola “Vi” Main, 92, of Atlanta, died Sept. 9 after a stroke. She and her twin sister, Leola, were born on Nov. 7, 1923, in Duxby, Minn., daughters of Alli Magnusson and Thorlaug Magnusson. Her parents were first-generation Americans whose parents immigrated from Iceland. Icelandic was spoken in their home and church so Main learned English attending Tongue River No. 1, the one-room school that served grades one through eight.

“The area where my mother lived was so far away from her high school that when the snow and weather were really bad, she would board at the school, doing chores and helping out to pay for it and going home on weekends when the weather allowed,” Eric said. She was salutatorian of her high school class in 1942 and attended Aakers Business College after graduating.

During the war, she was first assigned to Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina doing office work and delivering top-secret mail on a scooter. But she told her commanding officer she did not join the Marine Corps to work in an office with civilians and requested a re-assignment to the Navy Fuel Depot. There, she tested tankers of fuel, off-loading them into underground tanks, then filling tank trucks for the flight line.

Discharged as a sergeant in 1946, she entered Carthage College as a 23-year-old freshman with her sister, Cecelia, that fall. At Carthage she met Earl Main, a wounded Army Air Corps P-47 pilot, who had been shot down over France in June 1944. The couple was married in 1948. Earl Main died in 1998.

“My father was very badly wounded when he was shot down and taken to a German prisoner of war camp,” where infections developed that required lengthy treatment after his liberation, Eric said. On his first date with Vi, “The story is that he wanted to make a good impression on the pretty girl, so he went without his crutches for the first time.”

In 1950, Main graduated from Carthage College cum laude and had her first child. The family moved to Atlanta in 1959, where Main was a homemaker until 1973 when she began working at Transamerica Insurance Company. She retired in 1990 and focused on volunteer work and church activities. She supported Lutheran World Relief efforts for many years, monetarily and by sewing quilts for refugees. Main was appointed by Manuel Maloof, Dekalb County’s first CEO, as the DeKalb representative on the Atlanta Regional Commission and served on several regional committees.

In addition to Eric Main, she is survived by children Linda Gail Cox of Box Springs, Ga., Earl Carlisle Main III of Jefferson, Ga., and Steven Charles Main of Ft. Collins, Colo.; sisters Cecilia Dunnigan of Lincoln, Neb., Lola Mollner of Aurora, Colo., Thorey Green of Grand Forks, N.D., and Shirley Wild of East Grand Forks, Minn.; eight grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

The family requested that donations be made to Lutheran World Relief in Main’s name or to Living Grace Lutheran Church.