120 years of history

A celebration of heritage

By Tiffanie Davis
Norwegian American Weekly

This year marks 120 years of the Norwegian American Weekly, but we’re not the only ones making history! Over the last 120 years countless people have made a difference in this Norwegian American community we all call home. In this issue we celebrate our heritage through featuring just some of the many great festivals, retailers and organizations that make ours one of the most vibrant ethnic communities in the United States.


Being able to purchase authentic Norwegian food and goods has been a priority for many Norwegian immigrants and Norwegian Americans. It’s thanks to fine retailers across the country that these people have had access to great imports that make their home in the United States feel just as cozy as their home in Norway.

Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle, Wash.

Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle, Wash.

Scandinavian Specialties was founded in Seattle, Wash. in 1962 as the Norwegian Sausage Company by Mr. Sagland, a butcher from Norway. In 1980, the store was purchased by Herb Anderson. In 2000, the store was purchased by Anne-Lise Berger and Ozzie Kvithammer. They continue to run Scandinavian Specialties, which is now a food and retail shop with customers nationwide thanks to mail-order and the internet. (www.scanspecialties.com)

Ten years ago, Donald and Dina Hansen opened Viking Trader, a web-based shop featuring all kinds of goods associated with Vikings including bracelets, brooches, chains, earrings, knives, pendants, rings and more. They also feature their products at festivals and events. (www.vikingtrader.net)

Ingebretsen's Scandinavian Gifts and Food in Minneapolis, Minn.

Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian Gifts and Food in Minneapolis, Minn.

Ingebretsen’s is the Twin Cities’ oldest retail establishment dedicated to Scandinavian foods and products. Family-owned and operated for more than 86 years, it is more than a store. In an area of the United States. known for its Scandinavian history and culture, Ingebretsen’s  stands out as a local institution and a unique  connection to another place and time. (www.ingebretsens.com)

“This piece of Norway in the heart of Brooklyn,” Nordic Delicacies was founded in 1987 in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn by Helene Bakke and her daughter, Arlene Rutuelo. Their goal was to preserve their Scandinavian heritage in a neighborhood that once was home to over 250,000 Scandinavians, the largest concentration of Scandinavians in the United States. (www.nordicdeli.com)

The Little Viking in San Diego, Calif.

The Little Viking in San Diego, Calif.

In an effort to keep in closer touch with her homeland, the owner, Mette Haug Gaal, established The Little Viking in 1977 in San Diego, Calif. She is a native of Oslo, Norway. The shop features clothing, home goods and accessories and cooking items. (www.thelittleviking.com)

The Embassy and Consulates General

Norway established its first embassy in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31, 1905. Strong historical ties link Norway and the United States. Between 1825 and 1940, more than one-third of Norway’s population immigrated to America.

Allies ever since, the two nations fought together in World War II and were co-founders of both the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Today, the Embassy in Washington is Norway’s largest, with a staff of around 50, including representatives from a number of Norwegian ministries.

Consulates General are located in Houston, Texas, New York, N.Y. and San Francisco. Among the many Honorary Consulates in the United States, those in Minneapolis, Minn. and Seattle, Wash., Chicago, Ill. and Miami, Fla. are regarded as the most active. For more information, visit www.norway.org.

Sons of Norway

Sons of Norway was organized as a fraternal benefit society by 18 Norwegian immigrants in Minneapolis, Minn., on Jan. 16, 1895. The purposes and goals of the Founding Fathers were to protect members of Sons of Norway and their families from the financial hardships experienced during times of sickness or death in the family. Over time, the mission of Sons of Norway was expanded to include the preservation of Norwegian heritage and culture in our Society. Since their beginning, they have grown and are now the largest Norwegian organization outside Norway. To learn more, visit www.sofn.com.

The Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce

The Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce was founded in New York in 1915, “to promote trade and goodwill and to foster business, financial and professional interests between Norway and the United States, to advance the common purposes of its members, and to facilitate contact among its members.” These objectives and the spirit behind them are so fundamentally important as to be unchanged despite the passing of two world wars and periods of economic, financial and political upheaval that affected trade between the two countries. Today the Chamber of Commerce is a vibrant part of the Norwegian American community across the United States, with chapters in New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago. To learn more, visit www.naccusa.org.

Norwegian American Foundation

The Norwegian American Foundation was created in 2001 with the vision of providing a charitable foundation for people who want to make a difference by helping to secure their Norwegian heritage and to support our great Norwegian American institutions for generations to come. Its goal is also to inform people in North America about contemporary Norway and the Norwegian American community, as well as ensuring that new generations in both the United States and Norway are aware of the history and strong bonds between the two countries. The Norwegian American Foundation information system includes www.norway.com, Norway.com Magazine, the Norwegian American Weekly and the Norwegian American Foundation Classic Documentary Collection. (www.noram.norway.com)

The Norwegian Commercial Club

Since 1932, the Norwegian Commercial Club has provided Norwegians, Norwegian-Americans and others interested in the Norwegian culture with a place to meet and discuss business issues of the day.  The Club still provides a means to network and socialize through their dinner meetings and activities. (www.norwegiancommercialclub.com)

Norse Federation

The Norse Federation is a non-profit organization. From its founding in 1907 and throughout its history the organization has enjoyed the patronage of the reigning Norwegian monarch. Today, His Majesty King Harald V is the patron.

NF seeks to strengthen cultural and personal ties between Norway and Norwegians abroad, as well as their descendants and friends of Norway throughout the world. NF has members and chapters around the world. Membership is open to all persons. (www.norseman.no)

Norwegian Immigration Association

A photo from the Norwegian Immigration Association Collection

A photo from the Norwegian Immigration Association Collection.

The NIA collects and preserves the living history of Norwegian immigrants to the New York area.  It enables those of Norwegian descent to explore their cultural legacy.  While making this information available to the public, it also places the Norwegian immigrant experience on the pages of New York and United States history. (www.nia.org)

American Scandinavian Society

For the past 90 years, The American Scandinavian Society has been striving to be a home away from home, where we can celebrate all the wonderful aspects of our heritage. The American Scandinavian Society is apan-Scandinavian membership organization devoted to bringing cultural, educational, artistic and musical events to the Nordic community of the metropolitan area. (www.americanscandinavian.org)

The American-Scandinavian Foundation

Founded in 1910 by Danish-American industrialist Niels Poulson, the ASF is a publicly supported, nonprofit organization that carries on an extensive program of fellowships, grants, trainee placement, publishing, membership offerings, and cultural activities. It is headquartered in New York City and has alumni, donors and associate members worldwide. The five Nordic Heads of State serve as the organization’s patrons. (www.amscan.org)

Bygdelag Fellesråd

The Norwegian-American Bygdelag is an organization of emigrant descendants from a particular area of Norway, now living in North America. Every lag seeks to preserve and strengthen bonds with its community-of-origin in Norway. Bygdelags began to come into being about 1900. After almost 100 years of heavy immigration, each ethnic group saw the need to revive positive values from their homelands that would not be regarded as anti-American. The phenomenon of the bygdelags has been seen as a first-generation phenomenon. (www.fellesraad.com)

Ski for Light

The mission of Ski for Light is to enhance the quality of life and independence of visually or mobility-impaired adults through a program of cross-country skiing. The 35th annual Ski for Light International Week will take place from Jan. 31 through Feb. 7, 2010 in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. The idea of teaching blind people to cross-country ski began in Norway in the 1950s with a blind Norwegian musician named Erling Stordahl. In 1964, his work led to the creation of the Ridderrenn, which today annually attracts more than 1,000 disabled participants and guides from around the world to the mountains of Norway for a week-long event. The Ridderrenn concept was brought to the United States in 1975 through the efforts of Olav Pedersen, with the support and involvement of many others. Olav was at the time a ski instructor in Colorado and had immigrated from Norway a decade earlier. He had known Erling in Norway and been aware from the very beginning of Erling’s dreams and plans. (www.sfl.org)

Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation

The mission of SACHF is to preserve and promote Scandinavian Heritage and Culture for the education and enjoyment of past and present generations. They are located adjacent to the campus of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (www.scandinaviancenter.org)

The Norwegian National League of Chicago

The Norwegian National League (Det Norske-Nationalforbund i Chicago) was formed in 1899 when delegates from twenty-nine Norwegian societies recognized the need for a central organization for Norwegians in Chicago. The League was incorporated under the laws of Illinois on Sept. 4, 1899.

Its purpose was to arrange the celebration of the 17th of May in Chicago and this has been done uninterruptedly since 1900. Throughout the years the attendance at this celebration reached uncounted thousands and many US and Norwegian dignitaries have been speakers at this event. During the 1920s, the League undertook the celebration of Leif Erikson Day and in later years, the annual participation of Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry. (www.nnleague.org)

American Birkebeiner

The late Tony Wise who looked to his Norwegian heritage and patterned the ski marathon after the Birkebeiner Rennet, which had been held in Norway since 1932, founded the American Birkebeiner in 1973. Both events honor and recreate a historic Norwegian event when in 1206, two warrior soldiers, called “Birkebeiners” because of the birch-bark leggings they wore, skied infant Prince Haakon (Hō-ken) to safety during the Norwegian civil war. Prince Haakon subsequently became King of Norway, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity. (www.birkie.com)

Norwegian Male Chorus of Seattle

The Norwegian Male Chorus (NMC) of Seattle was organized as Nordmcendenes Sangforening on December 6, 1889, six months after the founding of the City of Seattle and three weeks after the State of Washington was admitted to the Union.


Great Hall of the Vikings stage at Høstfest in Minot, N.D.

Great Hall of the Vikings stage at Høstfest in Minot, N.D.

Norsk Høstfest is an annual festival held each fall in Minot, N.D. Reportedly, it’s the largest Scandinavian cultural festival in North America and attracts thousands of visitors every year. The celebration always features great musical performers, exhibits, shopping and food. This year the festival will take place Sept. 29 – Oct. 3. For more information, visit www.hostfest.com.

Nordic Fest will hold its 43rd annual celebration this year July 23-25 in Decorah, Iowa. Nordic Fest started back in 1966 when the Luther College Women’s Club approached the Decorah Jaycee service organization about no longer wanting to sponsor the annual 17th of May dinner. Instead, they wanted to see Decorah find a new way to celebrate its Norwegian Heritage. To learn more visit www.nordicfest.com.

The Annual Little Norway Festival has been going on in Petersburg, Alaska since 1958. They just held their most recent festival May 14-17. Every year visitors and residents attend this special celebration complete with bunads, Vikings, rosemaling, world-class seafood and of course, much, much more! To find out more about this special festival visit www.petersburg.org/visitor/littlenorway.html.

The Annual Scandinavian Midsommer Celebration in Vasa Park in South Elgin, Ill. is celebrating its fourth year on June 27. The celebration is presented by Scandinavian Park, Inc. and features a children’s parade, folk costumes, family projects, games and a picnic. To learn more visit www.vasaparkil.com.

The 24th Annual Scandinavian Fest in Budd Lake, N.J. will take place on Aug. 31 at New Jersey’s Vasa Park. The heritage festival features food, crafts, demos, Vikings, folkdance, gifts, music, dancing reenactors, and kid’s events. To learn more visit www.scanfest.org.

The Annual SAHS Midsummer Celebration will take place on June 20 at Vasa Park in Budd Lake, N.J. The festival features fun and entertainment. It’s sponsored by the Scandinavian American Heritage Society of New Jersey in conjunction with the Vasa Order of America District 6 and Sons of Norway District 3. For more information visit www.sahsnj.org.

Norway Day in San Francisco was first held on May 9, 1993 in San Francisco’s Fort Mason. 300 visitors were anticipated to show up but instead the celebration received a wall-to-wall crowd of 1,300. Because of the success of the first year, it became an annual festival sponsored jointly by the Consul General and the Norwegian American organizations in Northern California. This year the event took place May 1-3. To learn more visit www.norwayday.org.

Sangerfest is having its centennial this year in Eugene, Ore. The first Sangerfest was held in June 1851 in Asker Norway. In 1867, the first North American Sangerfest was held in Philadelphia, Penn. The first West Coast Sangerfest was held in 1903 in Everett, Wash. Sangerfest is a time when Norwegian singers come together and put on an amazing performance. Historically, the singers are all male. To find out more visit www.pcnssa.org.

The Annual Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival takes place this year in Moorhead, Minn. June 26-28. The festival features live entertainment, exhibits, youth programs, authentic cuisine, and a Nordic marketplace. To learn more visit www.scandinavianhjemkomstfestival.org.

The 15th Annual Norwegian Festival in Central Park will take place on Oct. 3. The festival is a joint effort between the New York Consulate and the New York Road Runners. The Consulate takes care of the cultural aspects of the day and the New York Road Runners coordinate the Norway Run and Grete’s Great Gallop. There is also a race for children called the Troll Stroll and the Norwegian Seamen’s Church is known to be baking up delicious Norwegian waffles at the event. For more information visit www.norway.org or www.nyrr.org.

The Scandinavian Festival in Thousand Oaks, Calif. was founded by the late Professor Armour Nelson and the late John Nordberg, the festival promotes the Scandinavian heritage of CLU and maintains a relationship with a variety of CLU’s constituencies in Scandinavian-American communities. (www.scandinaviancenter.org)

This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly’s 120th anniversary issue, published on June 12, 2009. For more information and to subscribe by phone, please call us toll-free at (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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