Royal flower girl
What does one say to the Crown Prince?
Alma Aksdal Bockelie, a Bremerton resident, has a tale to tell about a day in 1939 when she handed a bouquet of flowers to then Crown Prince Olav of Norway and his wife, Princess Märtha, as their Royal Yacht stopped in Poulsbo, Kitsap County, in Washington state.
It was a moment of excitement for an 11-year-old girl in traditional bunad. As she presented the flowers to the couple, she said: “My name is Alma.” The Crown Prince responded in equally simple terms: “I am Olav.”
Alma, now 87, was chosen because of her Norwegian heritage. Alfred Blomlie, a family friend, steadied Alma on what was a simple floating raft, then held her up to the Royal Yacht as the “dock” was not the kind on which passengers could safely disembark. “Nothing like today’s docks in Poulsbo,” Alma recalled.
Poulsbo, which means “Poul’s place,” originally was to be named Paulsbo, but authorities in Washington, D.C., misspelled the name, and so it remains the City of Poulsbo, also known as “Little Norway.”
Founded by Norwegian immigrant Jorgen Eliason in the 1880s, Poulsbo was settled by a large number of Norwegian and other Scandinavian immigrants, and officially incorporated on December 18, 1907.
Alma’s parents, Thora and Sten Aksdal, lived in nearby Bremerton, where her father was the second president of the Sons of Norway. Both had immigrated to the United States, but did not meet until Sten returned to Norway to help his family. They met there, and ironically both their families had taken the surname Aksdal from a farming area, although they were not related.
Alma recalls that both Olav and Märtha were wearing smart, pin-striped suits the day of their stop in Poulsbo. To the best of her recollection the flowers likely came from the gardens of area Norwegians. The bouquet was “nothing like flowers from a florist,” she said. Of course it was still the Great Depression, so it made sense to keep things simple.
As an adult Alma married Henrik Bockelie, the son of Norwegian immigrants, Dagny and Trygve Bockelie. Alma and Henrik’s two daughters, Ingrid and Stene, and son, Henrik Jr., called Hap, are 100 percent Norwegian. However that’s not necessarily so with the Bockelie grandchildren. At about age four, Lukas, a son of Stene Bockelie Dickson, explained his ethnicity this way:
“I’m half Norwegian and half normal.” Of course the grandparents howled at his description. And just the same fed him Norsk fare of gjetost and herring.
Alma and Henrik attended the 1975 banquet for King Olav V in Seattle and a Poulsbo event for King Harald V and Queen Sonja in 1995. Sadly, Henrik died in October 2014.
Due to heritage and history, Alma’s family has always “had a soft spot for Olav V, because he was so loved by his countrymen. We had a cousin who lived where Olav walked every day. Olav was so ‘common’ that his people would see him frequently,” Alma said.
Crown Prince Olav, born in 1903 at the British royal estate in Sandringham, England, was the son of Prince Carl of Denmark and Princess Maud, daughter of England’s King Edward VII. Two years after Olav’s birth, his father became King Haakon VII of Norway following that country’s separation from Sweden. In 1929 Prince Olav married Princess Märtha of Sweden.
A decade later, in the spring of 1939, Prince Olav and Princess Märtha went on a tour of the United States. The royal couple visited Los Angeles, where they met fellow countrywoman Sonja Henie (1912-1969), a figure skater who won gold medals in the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympics. The prince and princess also visited San Diego and San Francisco before traveling by train to the Northwest. They were celebrated by Norwegian communities and local dignitaries at all their stops, according to HistoryLink.org.
Prince Olav was a well-known sportsman who won many ski-jumping and sailing contests, including a gold medal in sailing at the 1928 Olympic Games in the 5.5 meter class. His stop in Portland included a mountain trip where The Seattle Times reported that he and Princess Märtha “frolicked in the snow at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood.”
The couple’s three-day visit to the Seattle area included a festival of choral and orchestral music, an address to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, meetings with officials and businessmen, and a Puget Sound cruise. They also attended the dedication of the Taftezon Memorial in Stanwood, a remembrance for a Norwegian pioneer who settled on Whidbey Island in 1849, according to media reports of that era.
The Poulsbo event in 1939 “was really an honor and a privilege for me,” Alma recalled. “But for my little brother, Arthur, who was five years younger…well, he was more interested in the local police chief’s uniform and medals.”
This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.