Kirsten Langsetmo’s determination was evident long before her second daughter, Ellen, was born.
She was one of only a few women to graduate with an architecture degree from the university she attended in Norway, and she immigrated to the United States with her husband and two sons in search of opportunities their home country couldn’t offer post-World War II.
But after Ellen was born with autism, Langsetmo’s ability to be a bold and determined advocate shone.
“I think the big change in her life came with the birth of Ellen,” Lisa Langsetmo, one of Kirsten’s three daughters, said. “She threw herself fully into that universe.”
Kirsten Langsetmo, an early member of the Autism Society of Minnesota, died July 4. She was 88.
In the 1960s, many people believed autism was the result of a cold, unloving mother, said Ruth Agar, a former social worker in the Robbinsdale school district. In that era, Langsetmo fought to have her daughter mainstreamed in school and pushed the district to hire an aide help her — it was the first time they made such a hire, Agar said.
“I had never known another advocate like that before, and I daresay even now we don’t have people in that category. She did something that was quite unusual,” Agar said.
Advocacy work was just one of Langsetmo’s many passions. She grew up hiking in the hills of Norway and remained an avid adventurer and outdoorswoman who scared bears away from campsites and caught big fish.
She and her husband, Peder, would squeeze their five children into a station wagon and head west. Ingrid Parobok, Langsetmo’s eldest daughter, said some of her fondest memories are camping on a beach and traveling through remote mountain villages on a family road trip to Mexico. Her mother loved chatting with locals, even if she didn’t speak the language, Parobok said.
Langsetmo also liked to escape into northern Minnesota’s wilderness. She designed the family’s two cabins up north.
For much of her early career, Langsetmo did drafting and surveying work for architecture firms. She wanted to design buildings but needed to take the national architecture licensure exam. She relearned all the material she had studied in Norway and took her first-ever multiple-choice test to get her license. Langsetmo designed group homes, which she tried to make less institutional, as well as the family’s Robbinsdale home.
She would often take off from that home on cross-country skis and head to Theodore Wirth Park. The park did not have machinery to create ski tracks then, so Langsetmo would pave the way for others, carving tracks in freshly fallen snow. She continued skiing until late in life, navigating black diamond runs in Utah in her 80s.
Her love of the outdoors merged with another of her passions: pottery. Images of wolves, moose, polar bears and cats found their way on to many of the pots she made and sold. She was a member of Purple Door Potters, a group of Twin Cities artists that holds an annual pottery sale, and she mentored younger potters.
“She was hard to stop when she got going on something, whether it was watercolors or pottery” or weaving on a loom, said her son, Arne Langsetmo. He noted she had a brush with fame when Dayton’s department store wanted to feature a potter in a commercial. Langsetmo caught their eye and ended up in the TV ad.
She is survived by her husband Peder, of Robbinsdale; her son Arne of Stuart, Fla.; daughters Ingrid and Ellen of Minneapolis, and Lisa of St. Paul; and two grandchildren. She is preceded in death by her son, Knut.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. August 27 at the First Unitarian Society at 900 Mount Curve Av. in Minneapolis.