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Chester Alvin Ronning was born in China in 1894, the second of seven children. His parents were Lutheran missionaries who set up a mission in China and served there for 11 years. Chester Ronning and his brothers and sisters grew up speaking Chinese. The family left China on furlough in 1899, narrowly missing being caught in the Boxer Rebellion.
They spent time in Norway and Iowa, after which they passed through Canada on their way back to China. In Calgary they met a group of Norwegian settlers who had taken homesteads at a place called Bardo. The Ronnings decided to purchase some land for a future home and they returned from China to that homestead six years later. After living at Bardo for five years the family moved to the Peace River country where Chester met Inga Horte whom he married in 1918.
In 1921, Chester Ronning, his wife Inga and their daughter Sylvia set out for China, where he had accepted a position as Principal of a teacher’s school in Fracheng, his childhood home. They stayed for six years, returning to Alberta in 1927. Dr. Ronning became principal of Camrose Lutheran College and the next 15 years were spent there. The Ronnings built their home a few blocks from the College and raised six children. Pursuing his interest in the arts, Chester Ronning took up painting, and sculpting, and also directed several choirs.
During the Second World War, he left his post at the College to become head of the discrimination unit of Royal Canadian Air Force Intelligence. When the war ended, he was asked to go to China to help Canada’s Ambassador to Chungking. In 1945, he arrived in China, followed a year and a half later by his wife and four children. His family stayed for two years, but he remained there, serving as Ambassador until his departure in 1951.
He became head of the American and Far Eastern Division in the Department of External Affairs, was then appointed Ambassador to Norway and Iceland, and in 1956 he was sent to India as High Commissioner. He also served as acting head of delegations to the Geneva Conferences on Korea in 1954, on Laos in 1961 and 1962, and as special envoy to Hanoi and Saigon in 1966, where he attempted to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War.
In a difficult period covering a quarter of a century, Chester Ronning worked to bridge gaps in communications between North America and China. Because of his involvement with China over the years, he developed a unique comprehension of that country and its people, and constantly strove for better understanding between East and West.
Dr. Ronning graduated from the University of Alberta in 1916 with a B.Sc. degree in education, and worked towards a M.A. degree during the 1930′ s. He was awarded Honourary Degrees from the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge, Waterloo, and Simon Fraser, and St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota. He was a life member of the Alberta Teachers Association. In Camrose, a school was named for him, and in India, three places commemorated his name.
He was designated an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967 and became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1972.
In October of 1983, Dr. Ronning and five of his children visited China where they were honoured at a banquet in the Great Hall of the People, and at his birthplace of Fencheng there was a gala birthday party celebrating his 90th year.