Arthur Edwin Nyhagen, Jr.
Dad has always been--and always will be--the most influential man in my life. God knows I haven't had the opportunities to tell him this very often. He's the sort of man who waves off any words like that. A quiet, humble man who has lived almost every day of his life either helping others, or concerned about others--both loved ones and friends alike.
How do you describe a man who so shaped your own life in these few words?
Whatever ends up on this page simply won't be enough. But I can try to capture in these few words what this remarkable man has meant to both me, and virtually every other person who's ever met him.
Dad was born in 1919, in Stoughton, Wisconsin. Stoughton was a small tobacco growing town then, across the lake from Madison, the State Capital. Born to Norwegian parents (both from Bergen, Norway), he was raised not far from the site of Little Norway--if that tells you anything about the heritage and values of the community that surrounded him in those formative years.
Dad worked hard and played hard and was loved by one and all. His nickname "Cyc" followed him right into the service during World War II. From what I've read in his High School yearbooks, he was a real cut up in those days, and well-remembered and liked by all. Always ready with a new joke, or amusing story, Dad loved to laugh till he was hoarse. And he usually made those around him laugh just as hard. He caddied at the local Country Club every summer and on weekends. One of two children, Dad had only his sister Lucille as a companion at home. She was an incredibly beautiful girl and woman, as was their Mother, Sadie. Lucille was one of the first uniformed military women and entered the service shortly after Dad--not long after the Pearl Harbor Attack of December 7th, 1941. That's the kind of service and example their parents Sadie and Arthur, Sr. had shown them and they were both well suited to the task. My father's life has been a testimony to service, both to his country and in his chosen profession.
Thought he's only rarely spoken of it, Dad was on the clean-up crew after the famous landing at Iwo Jima in the Pacific. Iwo Jima was the Pacific Theater equivalent of the Omaha Beach Invasion in Europe--and just as horrendously bloody. Dad was a Sea-Bee during the war and once the Marines had finally taken the beach at Iwo Jima, it fell to him and his fellow Navy personnel to clear away all the carnage and pave the way for the support equipment those Marines had fought so hard to clear a path for. It had to have been a gut-wrenching experience, as any of us who've seen the movie "Saving Private Ryan" can only begin to imagine. Herein lies one of Dad's greatest strengths. As in every other aspect of his life, he just soldiered on, doing what had to be done without complaint or hesitation. I've reflected on that trait of my father's hundreds of times at critical junctures in my own life--both during my own Air Force career, and as a civilian.
After a tour in Hawaii following his combat experience, the War ended and he returned to the US, to Tucson, Arizona and began working as a Doorman there. Within a couple of years he'd made his way to Los Angeles to work at the
Ambassador Hotel. (For those of you
unfamiliar with L.A., that's the
hotel that was featured in the Tom Hanks movie "That Thing You
Do". It was also infamous for being the site of Robert
F. Kennedy's assasination.) That's where he met my Mom, who was working in the Haberdashery Department of a May Company department store.
They married soon after, and about the time I was born they bought their present home at 1817 West Twelfth Street.
Dad worked at the
Ambassador for 43 years, becoming a human icon for that grand old California hotel.
On the verge of being rebuilt from top to bottom, the deal collapsed and the hotel folded within 3 years of
Dad's retirement, . Perhaps it was just as well. The Ambassador just wasn't the same without Dad and his ever-present
smile and cabbie whistle out front.
My father has made his mark in this world in more ways than he'll ever know. But no one who's ever met him thinks of him with anything but the greatest fondness and respect. And that's just about as good a life as a man can hope for in this world.
Dad, I can't begin to tell you what you've truly meant to me all these years. I only pray that my own life will one day be measured by even a fraction of the goodwill and love you've contributed to the world.