Business, bunads, and beer
Sons of Norway members have fun in the sun at Florida convention
Barbara K. Rostad
Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho
Business, Bunads, and Beer is a simplified, shorthand phrase for the multidimensional aspects of the Sons of Norway International convention, which took place August 19-24 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Business for the 135 delegates included selecting Tacoma, Wash. over Palm Springs, Calif. for the 2016 biennial convention, electing new officers, and voting on issues certain to bring change to this 119-year-old fraternal organization. These representatives of 57,000 members from the U.S., Canada, and Norway, divided into eight districts, also donated $7,600 to the Sons of Norway Foundation, mostly in small bills.
Bunads abounded, especially at the closing banquet where many women and some men appeared in one of the multiple styles of Norwegian national dress. They symbolize cultural activities at the convention.
Beer appeared too, and though the Hagar Øl, brewed in a bathtub and named for the host lodge’s first Viking boat, certainly has cultural connotations, here it’s meant to stand for the convention’s social aspects. Coffee would work too, but it doesn’t start with a B.
“We take our business seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously,” observed newly installed International Sons of Norway President Jon Tehven, Solglimt Lodge, Cedar Falls, Iowa.
A Viking ship greeted every guest entering Jacksonville’s Omni Hotel during the Sons of Norway Convention. No, not a model at the reception desk. A full-sized eight-seater Viking boat, complete with mast and all eight oars, was situated directly in front of the doors in a distinctly “can’t miss it, gotta go by it” spot.
Without leaving the hotel one could stay immersed in Norwegian culture. Just outside the conference doors one could pet a Norwegian Lundehund, or Puffin Dog, believed to have survived the last Ice Age off the northeast coast of Norway where it hunted puffins. A rather small dog of 12-15 pounds, the breed has been brought back from the brink of extinction. Ruth Morrison, a Jacksonville lodge member, brought hers every day to “meet and greet” in the hotel hallway.
Another option: overdose on lefse, rosettes, spritz, sandbakkels and other such goodies at morning and afternoon coffee breaks from business sessions. Or purchase a bunad, Norwegian-themed books, t-shirts, mugs, and other heritage items from vendors set up near the conference room.
Another choice was to browse through the Folk Art Exhibit, oohing and aahing over rosemaling, Hardanger embroidery, photos of Norway, chip carving, and more. This year the People’s Choice Award went to the builder of an enormous birdhouse that was an intricately carved, multi-layered stavkirke (stave church). Judges selected the top three entries in each of the show’s several categories, but People’s Choice was exactly that: votes from those viewing all the items.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Just over a block from the hotel is Jacksonville Landing, a complex of shops and restaurants along the waterfront of the St. Johns River. Here one could spot a dolphin or take a water taxi across the river to the Friendship Fountain, River City Brewing Co., the Museum of Science and History, or the Treaty Oak, among other sights on the Southbank.
Or, if feeling adventurous, row an eight-seat Viking boat out onto the river’s broad waters. This opportunity to take a stab at hoisting the long, heavy oars into place and rowing in tandem with seven others was a unique feature at the convention. Observers could also watch two Viking boats be both sailed and rowed on the river.
Several Florida lodges have acquired Viking boats over the past 40 years and have regularly conducted regattas for Leif Erikson Day, Syttende Mai, and other occasions.
Ut Etter Øl (Out After Beer)
A Welcome Reception August 20 in the Maritime Museum at Jacksonville Landing featured Hagar Øl. This beer was brewed by a local lodge member and bottled with yellow labels replicating the mast on “Hagar,” the Viking boat on display in the hotel lobby.
Jacksonville’s role in naval and shipbuilding activities was presented, along with some general maritime history. Food and beverages were served by the host lodge while folks wandered through the displays, visited, and later enjoyed then-International President Marit Kristiansen, Bernt Balchen Lodge, Anchorage Alaska, playing her ever-popular accordion music. People sang along, some dancing amid the exhibits.
Another unusual angle at this convention was the half-day bus tour to St. Augustine. Typically non-delegates take the tours while delegates hunker down in the hotel to tackle business matters, but the 2014 schedule allowed anyone interested to take this side trip 40 minutes south of Jacksonville.
Some chose the trolley tour to make the most of the allotted time, while others opted for lunch or strolling the pedestrian-only section of the oldest city founded in the U.S. A stop at the Fountain of Youth was another popular attraction.
Opening ceremonies were later that same day, August 22, followed by the President’s reception at the Cummer Museum where a harpist supplied background music as President Kristiansen greeted everyone.
Later, those interested could tour the gardens behind the museum or enjoy the art gallery with works from 2100 B.C. up to the 21st Century. Paintings by Old Masters plus one of the world’s largest collections of Meissen porcelain are part of the exhibits.
Back to Business
Though the delegate sessions were August 23-24, three earlier events were also very business-related. First, the four appointed committees on finance, laws, reports, and resolutions met earlier in the week to form recommendations. Secondly, a leadership seminar headed by Kit Welchin was attended August 20 by around 100 members eager to learn more about helping their lodges reach goals, particularly recruitment and retention of members. And finally, a new event for 2014, an orientation for first-time delegates was conducted August 21.
The last two days, Friday and Saturday, were chock full of assorted business. Asked about the best accomplishments during those two days, four key leaders offered very similar conclusions, all being enthusiastic about the thorough advance preparation done by the committees who met earlier in the week.
Marit Kristiansen, who conducted the business sessions, lauded the delegates, noting, “they came prepared to view issues at hand and make informed decisions.” CEO Heiberg also commended the “great preparation work by committees” and the “sharp group of delegates.”
Have Gavel—Will Travel
In yet another unique addition to the Viking component of this convention, President Kristiansen presided over her only such event using District Three’s Traveling Gavel.
And the Viking connection? This gavel is made from pieces of the now-famous thousand-year-old Gokstad Viking Ship currently housed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy. These pieces were brought to the U.S. over a century ago and eventually fashioned into a gavel. It was donated to District Three on the condition it circulate a month or two at a time among their various lodges. District Three runs along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida.
Marit Kristiansen, described by newly elected president Jon Tehven as “a well-respected leader exceptionale with great integrity,” chose not to run for a second term.
Electing a new board was a key segment of business. The new occupant of the presidency, when asked about his goals for the Order, said, “My first priority is to see that we live out our mission—promote, preserve, celebrate, and provide” Another goal is to “keep good communication with the board, district presidents, and lodges.”
Other international officers elected for the next biennium include: Vice President Ron Stubbings, Varden Lodge, New Westminster, BC, Canada; Secretary Dan Rude, Hilsen Lodge, Missoula, Mont.; Treasurer Ray Knutson, Valhall Lodge, Rockford, Ill.
Also on the board are eight international directors, one from each district. They are elected by delegates to each respective district convention. Both the CEO and attorney Dave Ness are also part of the board.
Three-legged Stool Analogy
Picture a three–legged stool, one with intricate rosemaling. Then imagine what happens if one leg is thinner or shorter than the other two. Would you want to be sitting—or standing—on that stool?
This image conveys in a nutshell what Sons of Norway international leaders area striving to teach to the entire membership: the stability of the stool depends on equal strength in all three legs. For sons of Norway, those three legs are Fraternal, Financial, and Foundation.
Foundation. To emphasize its importance for the health of Sons of Norway, each delegate and guest was given a two-sided coin. One side shows the 2014 logo “United in Heritage;” the other features the Sons of Norway emblem and the three legs of the stool: Fraternal, Financial, and Foundation.
Most members have the greatest awareness of the fraternal leg, the many benefits to belonging such as the Cultural Skills Program, Sports Medals, Viking magazine, lodge newsletters, district camps, and more.
Less familiar to many is the financial leg, but it’s critical to the success of the organization. Sons of Norway has a $354 million dollar insurance division. In the last biennium a million dollars a year was contributed by it to the fraternal division. Many fraternal programs would falter without that influx.
The third leg is the Sons of Norway Foundation begun in 1966. It has grown to a six million dollar endowment with a focus on providing scholarships for higher education, grants to lodges and individuals for cultural projects, and humanitarian aid to members following natural disasters.
Donations from members in large and small amounts make the Foundation’s numerous grants and scholarships possible. At this convention $7,600 was contributed by individuals present, in part due to challenges, first from an anonymous donor who would match contributions up to $2,500 and then from delegate Karl Hella, Northfield, Minn., who offered $250 plus another $25 for every additional $250 collected. Similar campaigns at district conventions this year brought in $13,400 for a total of $21,000.
Barbara Rostad has been a Sons of Norway member since 1971, co-chaired the 2010 International Convention in Coeur d’Alene, ID, and was a non-delegate attendee at the Jacksonville convention, including the Leadership Seminar.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 12, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.