Access to the Otter Tail County Historical Society archives can be dangerous. One minute I’m on track, then suddenly an interesting story sends me scampering down a rabbit hole. The headline above from the museum database recently sent me on a mission to know more about the woman who wanted to be the first female pilot in Fergus Falls.
Her father, Paul Moe, was a Norwegian immigrant born in 1863. He came to the United States in 1876. He moved the family to Fergus Falls in 1897 right before Agnes was born. They lived at 608 W. Bancroft. Paul worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad until his death at age 44 from “brain fever,” now called encephalitis. Her mother, Mary Augusta Moe, took in boarders to support Agnes and her three siblings.
The United States’ involvement in World War I brought changes for the Moes. Agnes graduated from the Fergus Falls High school where she had captained the girls’ basketball team. The school then employed her as custodian in 1917. When her brothers Philip and Robert both enlisted in the military, the post office hired Agnes to work at the general delivery window providing income for her mother and younger brother, Thor, still in school.
Robert served with the 173rd Aero Squadron in a flight school in France. Phillip, who worked in the Register of Deeds office in Fergus Falls and had prior military experience, rejoined the army. He served as second lieutenant and competed in the famous 1919 Inter-Allied competition in D’Auvours, France, the largest weapons contest ever held by the U.S. Army to that date. Robert’s proficiency in marksmanship and Phillip’s aviation experience hint at the origins of Agnes’ own love of adventure.
When pilot Gus Imm began giving flying lessons in Fergus Falls with his Curtiss-Wright Junior plane in 1931, Agnes was the first woman to sign up. (Imm was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame in 1990.) Agnes enjoyed music as well and performed with the Singing Legionettes under the direction of Lucy Lee.
Agnes continued working at the post office after marrying Carl Gunerius, a golf pro at Riverside Links, the first golf course in Fergus Falls. The couple wed at Federated Church on Valentine’s Day 1937, the bride wearing a black and white satin gown and carrying a bouquet of red roses.
Agnes Moe retired in 1957. The Fergus Falls Daily Journal reported, “she was guest of honor at a party when her co-workers presented her with a shotgun. It was not a strange gift for Agnes Gunerius who is an ardent sportswoman and a better marksman than many male hunters. Hunting and fishing will occupy much of her leisure time.” The couple owned a cottage on Swan Lake.
Carl passed away in 1960. Agnes followed in 1980 and was buried in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church cemetery. Hopefully people still remember Agnes Moe, “the friendly, accommodating clerk” who loved the outdoors and flying.
Photos included in this article are not in the Public Domain.
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Photos courtesy of the Otter Tail County Historical Society and may not be reprinted without permission.