Anchored in history; sailing into the future

The 115-year-old Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center evolves with its community

Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center

Photo: Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center / Facebook
Festive fall decorations welcome visitors to the Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center’s annual bazaar, a fundraiser for the organization.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center (NCH) is anchored to its past, while sailing toward its future. It has its heart bonded to those who founded it, Mr. and Mrs. Hansen, who in 1903 had the compassion to take needy widows into their home. It persists in relying heavily on volunteers who have worked tirelessly for over a century to ensure its existence. The home not only survives, it thrives.

This is evidenced in their annual bazaar, which draws hundreds of people who come to support the venerable institution. The bazaar “has been going on since the home began,” said Arlene Bakke Rutuelo, vice-chair of the NCH board. Held this year on Saturday, Sept. 22, an army of stalwart volunteers sell raffle tickets and staff the Estate Sale Room and Flea Market Room—which boasted a huge line upon opening. There were vendors with fresh bread, beautifully made rosemaling pieces, Scandinavian and other handmade jewelry, and Viking-inspired items for sale.

But perhaps the biggest attraction is the food served in the home’s lovely dining room: smørbrød, yellow pea soup, waffles, wienerbrød, and their renowned marzipan cake. Plus all the coffee you can drink for free. The experience was heightened by the nimble-fingered accordion player Ellen Lindstrom who strolled through the rooms playing Norwegian tunes.

The fellowship and reconnections are what draws many visitors. Susan Pulaski ruminated, “I loved being in the dining room with these folks and the wonderful food. It reminds me of my childhood, like being at a church social.”

Another NCH tradition is to hold an anniversary gala every five years. This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge. It marks the home’s 115th year. This year’s honorees include: John Carlsen, Lifetime Achievement Award (posthumously); Nicole Malliotakis, Community Service Award; Torry Berntsen, Business & Commerce Award; and C.A.V. Salvatore Cumella, M.D., Health & Human Services Award.

Both of these traditions provide ways to raise money for the home. In the past, the Norwegian community was the organization’s main source of funding, but as our country’s medical system has changed, now Medicare and Medicaid make up a large portion of its budget. Yet even this is not enough to provide quality care, so the bazaar and anniversary dinner continue.

The home is not resting on its laurels but looking toward the future by assessing the community’s changing needs. The needs are great, as the NCH is located in a neighborhood that the municipal government has identified as a NORC—a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, i.e. one where folks stay and age in place.

As Rutuelo explained, “We’re creating a Memory Care wing for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous need in the neighborhood. We wish to assist local families who are not eligible for government funding but can pay privately for help and support.”

As our life spans increase, the needs of seniors become more complex. More folks wish to live independently, thus the NCH has a plan to double the number of assisted-living apartments.

As emigration from Norway has decreased, the population of the home has become more diverse. In response, the board continues to explore and implement ways to make all feel welcome and at home.

So after 115 years, the Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center not only survives but thrives. I would attribute this success to the fact that the home stays true to the commandment engraved in its cornerstone: “Honor thy Father and Mother.”

This article originally appeared in the October 19, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.