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Welcome to the memorial page for

Roberta A. Fosdal

July 2, 1936 ~ October 26, 2017 (age 81)

Jefferson—Roberta A. Fosdal, 81, passed away peacefully at her home on October 26, 2017. Her husband of 61 years and daughter, Kari were at her side. 

     Roberta Alida Lien was born in Madison on July 2, 1936. She was the daughter of Orwin C. Lien and Margaret Butcher. She grew up on a farm between Madison and Sun Prairie. Roberta attended Sunnyside School and graduated from Madison East High School in 1954. She and a group of her “54” East High classmates have been getting together for monthly luncheons for many years.  After graduation she entered into the nurses training program at Madison General Hospital. Her nursing career was cut short however, when she met her future husband, John Fosdal.  He was a student at the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy. A decision was made to concentrate their efforts on his career. Roberta worked in the office at Oscar Mayer’s while John pursued his studies.  For additional income, she cleaned offices at the Tenney Building two nights a week. John also worked—at Rennebohm Drugs while he was attending classes. They were married on January 28, 1956 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Madison. John graduated from the UW in June of 1958, free of debt. Those were different times!  John worked in the Madison/Sun Prairie area for Schweiger Drugs, 1960-1973. They bought their first house in Monona, moving later to the Rolling Meadows area on Madison’s east side.    Roberta did not limit her life to being a home maker and mother of their two children. She became involved in their school activities and served on Madison School Board committees. She also was active in the League of Women Voters.

     In 1973, John’s career took them to the La Crosse area. That is where her interest turned into what became a lifetime obsession—family history and genealogy. Her mother’s family came from Wabasha, MN—just up the river.  She made many trips to the county courthouse there, poured through old newspapers, which led her being able to locate and visit some long lost relatives. That quest didn’t stop when John’s career brought them to Jefferson County in 1977. They purchased a comfortable older home in Jefferson which gradually filled with antiques.  She was an avid collector.  She and John could be found many weekends frequenting estate sales and shows as well as antique shops, looking for items to furnish and decorate their home. Roberta had excellent taste and their home became a show case for her collections. John had the collecting bug as well and added his touch.  They were a team!

     Her passion for family history continued. With their children now out on their own, she had both the time and energy to pursue her passion. She spent many hours and miles researching, “digging up” ancestors and relatives she had never met, collecting facts, stories and pictures.  This resulted in her writing and publishing a book on the Lien Family in September 1984. The book contains 253 pages and chronicles 8 generations of descendants (numbering almost 900) of her great grandparents.  Ketil and Bergit Lien emigrated to Dane County from Norway.  The book also goes back another 8 generations in Norway. It contained many photos which she collected from family members. Two hundred copies were made which were distributed to family members. One other result of her research was that she was able to make connections with relatives in Norway who she was later able to visit. Also, she was instrumental in having Lien Family Reunions revived after a lapse of many years

      Roberta’s interest in genealogy did not stop there.  She was a pioneer member of the Dodge/Jefferson Genealogical Society (DJCGS) and spent many hours tramping through cemeteries in the area, copying stones. She also copied church records, birth deaths and marriage records from the courthouse as well as old newspapers on microfilm. Her home contains and estimated 400,000 index cards which she has hand-copied and indexed—a treasure chest of information for anyone doing family research in Jefferson County. She served as president of DJCGS for 4 years and was instrumental in seeing the organization grow to be one of the largest and best in the state.  DGCGS received a prestigious award from the State Historical Society. Included is a tribute to her from William Jannke IV, a founding member of that group. Bill is a noted local historian and author.

     Roberta and John loved to travel. When their children were young, they purchased a pop-up camping trailer.  State parks were a favorite destination, but they made a lot of longer trips as well. Few states were missed in their travels.  Historical sites were favorite destinations—Revolutionary and Civil War sites in particular.  New York City, Washington, DC, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Utah, California, New England, the Pacific Northwest and all points in between were visited.  Alaska and Hawaii too.  Vancouver, BC and the Canadian Rockies, as well as Canada’s Maritime Provinces were favorites.   Disney World was visited with both kids and grandkids. Internationally, trips were made to Norway twice and England twice. Connections with relatives were made in both countries. Australia was a destination in 1993.  Mobility became an issue in 2006 when Roberta became confined to a wheelchair.  That just meant shorter trips and handicap accessible destinations!

     Always interested in current affairs and politics in general, Roberta and John are liberal democrats with roots going back to the Civil Rights movement.  The election and re-election of Barack Obama were among the highlights of her life.  The last few years of her life was marred by major health issues which she handled with grace and courage.  John proved to be a willing and able care giver and their relationship grew closer as a result.

     Roberta’s children, and especially grandchildren were the center of her life. Ryan and Amy lived just a few blocks away when they were growing up.  Roberta did not miss a chance to be a big part of their lives.  Babysitting, birthday parties, going to school events and more.  Taking them on short—and sometimes long trips was common. She was a loving, never ending presence in their lives. Their beloved Nana was always there for them and they knew it. That love was reciprocal and lasted until the day she died.

*William Jannke, IV (Bill) has written a tribute to Roberta which the family wishes to share:

“The world has lost a giant in the field of family history research with the passing of Roberta Lien Fosdal. I knew and worked with her for over 30 years and I know the tremendous void her passing leaves. I first met Roberta on the early 1980’s. When she joined the Dodge/Jefferson Counties Genealogical Society, she was already legendary.  Her reputation grew larger as I got to know her.  There was no one who was more generous with her time and knowledge. She helped so many, myself included. I am so lucky to have been in her inner circle and to have aided in her marathon church record collections, cemetery recordings and a host of other genealogical research trips. She was tireless and relentless.  Because of her, our local genealogical society has one of the finest private libraries in the state.

She was a natural teacher, even though she would have been the last person to believe that. Every time she helped a struggling family historian with their research she imparted wisdom and pointed them in the right direction. No one ever came away without being enriched. Her spirit will long hover over our genealogical library, the Jefferson County Court House, the Jefferson Library, Watertown Library and countless other institutions of learning. It is because of her pioneering work that family historians of today have so much at their finger-tips.  It is hard to think of her being gone, but she will always be with those who knew and loved her. How poor are those who never had the opportunity to learn from her. How rich are we that did. “

     Roberta is survived by her husband John of Jefferson; a daughter, Kari Behling of Fort Atkinson; a son, Mark (Margaret) of Lansing, IL. Three grandchildren; Ryan Vogel (Ashley) of Tampa, FL, Amy Strasburg (Andy) of Marshall and Rachel Fosdal of Lansing, IL. Also two great-grandchildren; Avery and Evelyn Strasburg. Nieces; Sandra Kay Brown and Mary Noyce. A nephew; David (JoAnn) Lien. Brother-in-law and sister-in-law; Stanley and Sandra Fosdal of Fitchburg as well as many cousins, grandnieces, grandnephews and friends.  She was pre-deceased by her parents, brothers; Lucien, Donald and Steven, and several aunts and uncles.

    Per her wishes, there will be no funeral service.  Her ashes will be interred beside her parents and brothers at the Burke Lutheran Church Cemetery, Portage Road, Madison, in a private family service.   The Olsen-Gibson Funeral Home, Jefferson is serving the family. Memorials may be made to Rainbow Hospice or the Dodge/Jefferson Genealogical Society in Watertown.

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