A reunion on steroids: Vestlandslag/Valdres Samband Stevne

Photo: Gary G. Erickson
Two women admire the details of Betty Hagen’s bunad.

Gary G. Erickson
Sunburg, Minn.

Norwegian Americans enjoy being in the company of one another. Like barn leker best! Similar children play best together!

Vestlandslag, a bygdelag, an association of Norwegian-American descendants stemming from counties along the west coast of Norway, held a stevne (annual meeting) in combination with the stevne of the Valdres Samband from June 14 through June 18 at the Best Western Motel, Shoreview, Minn. Approximately 160 registrants took part in a celebration renewing old friendships, making new ones, and learning about events of the past year that took place in the lives of other attendees. Seven children were registered additionally this week for their own cultural inoculations. This occasion can be seen as a simile for and an artifact of the very old days of our earlier Norwegian families as they gathered at stavkirkene (stave churches).

A stevne is a reunion on steroids. Acculturation takes place through a well-planned agenda involving presenters, workshops, entertainers, entertainment, and vendor displays. Top-shelf presenters at this stevne included Minnesota State Representative and author Dean Urdahl of Litchfield, Minn. Rep. Urdahl wrote about, published, and presented on his Norwegian ancestors by weaving their lives into the non-fiction broadcloth of a historical narration of the 1862 Sioux Indian Uprising in Minnesota: Norwegian Immigration and the Dakota Conflict. His deep knowledge of the subject material became manifest as his computer suddenly quit and he continued his presentation solely from his personal fund of knowledge. He spoke extemporaneously for more than an hour in a manner that captivated stevne attendees.

Photo: Gary G. Erickson
Rep. Dean Urdahl signs a copy of his book. He gave a very informative talk, even after a technical malfunction prevented him from presenting his slides.

Family photos are the treasure and trash of family genealogists. Linda Heen presented on “Saving and Identifying your Old Family Photos: Opportunity and Risk.” Heen’s keen sense of humor brought understanding to the bourgeoning science of digitalization, assembly, care, restoration, preservation, and backing-up of photographs. She taught about assembling photographic groupings of families and the intuitive skills that can be used to identify individuals at various stages of their life within clusters of families.

Dixie Hansen presented on “Interpreting DNA Results.” Hansen spoke about her anecdotal cousin-finding experience with three major autosomal DNA testing services. Additional presentations were made by Dr. Byron Nordstrom on his supposition of imagined Mount Rushmore changes if Norwegians were honored in the fields of arts, literature, and former kings: “Hand Me a Chisel, The Norwegian Rushmore Imagined.” Shirley Evenstad, a Gold Medal recipient from Vesterheim in rosemaling, taught a beginning class. Bus trips went to the state capital to view its new, refurbished state and to the Minnesota History Center, allowing registrants the opportunity to conduct genealogical research in the vast treasure trove of state records.

On the last evening, a banquet was celebrated and preceded by a parade of bunads. The capstone to the entire stevne event was an after dinner dance performance by a barnedanslag, a youth dance association. The Peer Gynt Dancers of St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Sons of Norway Synnøve-Nordkap Lodge, is a nationally traveled, recognized, and honored 22-member dance group made up of seven- to 17-year-olds.

Next year’s stevne will take place in Alexandria, Minn., the home of the world-famous Kensington Rune Stone and its museum.

This article originally appeared in the July 14, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.