Concordia Language Villages: Skogfjorden’s Dahl knighted by Norwegian king


Tove Dahl, right, dean of Skogfjorden, holds the certificate of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, Knight of the First Class, presented to her by Elin Bergithe Rognlie, minister counselor of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. She represented King Harald VI of Norway in knighting Dahl for her efforts to promote Norwegian language and culture in the United States. Pioneer Photo/ Brad Swenson

SKOGFJORDEN — The Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, Knight of the First Class, was bestowed here Saturday to Tove Irene Dahl, long-time dean of the Norwegian Language Village.

By Brad Swenson, Bemidji Pioneer

In a knighting ceremony that lasted two hours at Concordia Language Villages’ Skogfjorden northeast of Bemidji, there were speeches, dances and songs to mark the Bemidji area’s first knighthood.

The award notes Dahl’s accomplishments as dean of Skogfjorden for 27 years “and her enthusiasm and skills to (teach) all these young people about the Norwegian language, but also the Norwegian way of living and the culture,” said Elin Bergithe Rognlie, minister counselor at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., who presented the honor.

Knighting by King Harald V is taken seriously in Norway, she said, an occasion “more formal” than at Skogfjorden, where the ceremony was held in the woods in front of a building with a porch, used as a stage. Most of the 200 observers sat in folding chairs, but there were benches with rosemaling throughout the break in the woods.

The Order of Merit was established in 1985 to honor Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans and foreign nationals. It “may be conferred to Norwegians and foreign nationals in recognition of particularly meritorious services to Norway,” Rognlie said.

“It has pleased His Majesty to honor Tove Irene Dahl in this way in acknowledgement of her work for the advancement of Norwegian language and culture in the United States,” she added.

Immediately after the knighthood was bestowed, the crowd broke into a prolonged cheer and handclapping, capped by Skogfjorden students singing a song in her honor in Norwegian, which included her name.

“Skogfjorden is more things, more stories, more wonderful than any one person can represent or can contain,” Dahl said in accepting her honor, trying to deflect it include the Norwegian language camp itself, not just her.

The village began when people thought they could create a bit of Norway in Minnesota, she said of the village nestled by Turtle River Lake northeast of Bemidji, she said. “The people who have spanned that time to the present are amazing, and the people who are to come in the years ahead are amazing,”

The only way to properly thank all would be to list the names of all who have touched Skogfjorden or have been touched by it, she said.

“There’s a place at Skogfjorden which is awfully special,” Dahl said. “It is a place about imagination, it’s a place about making connections, and it’s a place about reflecting on those connections that one makes. And Skogfjorden is a culture — it represents culture across time.”

Dahl said that “we are truly, truly grateful that the Norwegian government chose to honor us in this way.” Her shoulders are too narrow to carry the achievement alone, she said, so it belongs to the camp, its students and staff.

“I am really honored, I am really humbled and I am really grateful to share it with all of you,” Dahl said. Since she will now have an opportunity to meet the king of Norway, she asked all to help with ideas of what she should tell the king about Skogfjorden.

Saying one of the most personal things she has is her voice, she sang a song and played guitar as part of her acceptance.

“Because of Tove’s efforts, tens of thousands of young people from throughout the United States and the world have had the good fortune to learn about Norwegian language and culture, and about modern Norway’s important role in global peace making and peace keeping,” said Pamela Jolicoeur, Concordia College president.

“Tove’s spirit, energy passion for Skogfjorden, coupled with her academic expertise, have made her invaluable to the language villages and serves as an inspiration to each of us to a path of privilege of observing her at work,” she said.

It was noted that in the audience was the highest-ranking Norwegian Minnesotan, the Rev. David Pruit, retired bishop of the American Lutheran Church, and recipient the Commander’s Cross of the Order of St. Olaf.

Dahl’s father, Tor Dahl, is also an award honoree in also being knighted this year. He is president and CEO of Tor Dahl and Associates, an economist, consultant and associate professor of public health.

Skogfjorden helps carry out the mission of the Sons of Norway, said Jon Tehven, Sons of Norway international board member. The Sons of Norway District 1, which includes Bemidji, has 13,000 members and 90 lodges.

“As District 1 scholarship coordinator, I am well aware of the villagers who come back to Skogfjorden year after year after year,” he said, adding that 75 youth this year received a scholarship to attend Skogfjorden.

“It is youth and your leadership, Tove, that has aided this great environment for our youth,” Tehven said. “And for that we thank you. And we promise to continue our support from District 1 of parents, our lodges and our District 1 board.”

“There’s a special thing to return to here each summer,” said Patricia Thornton, Concordia Language Villages director of summer programs. She added that Dahl’s welcome each summer are the blooming lilies.

This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on Aug. 11, 2009. For more information about the Weekly, call us at (800) 305-0217 or email

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