Embracing heritage through Sons of Norway

Education, enjoyment, music, and mirth at District 5 “Friendly Fifth” Convention

Replica of the box portion of the Oseberg cart, found in the Oseberg ship burial from the early 800s A.D., in Vestfold, Norway, made by Don Rorvig and Rodger Hansen, was on display.

Chesterton, Ind.

Sons of Norway’s District 5 held its biennial convention in Middleton, Wis., June 15–19, 2022. Over 170 lodge members from the six-state district attended, including 105 voting delegates and 65 non-voting lodge members.

There were vendor booths, a Viking-era folk-art display and a silent auction. Evening programs included a showing of a film on the 1840s Koshkonong Norwegian settlement, and a program of traditional Norwegian instrumental and vocal folk music.

Evening singalongs with the Norwegian Singers Association members helped to make this convention an enjoyable and memorable event. The “Friendly Fifth” district really lived up to its name!

Anja, Mathea, and Kaia Diedrich, youth members of Idun Lodge in Madison, Wis., participated in the Sons of Norway District 5 Convention opening ceremonies.

Fraternal mission

Primary emphasis in Sons of Norway lodges today is on the fraternal aspects of Norwegian-American society. These aspects are social, through the monthly meetings and social events planned by each lodge, and cultural, including programs and classes on Norwegian history, society, and language. Sons of Norway members may become tradition bearers who pass on their knowledge of Norwegian culture.

They may learn or deepen this knowledge through programs run by their lodges, through visits to Norway, or language camps and workshops offered by the districts themselves.

Through experiences gained at language and culture camps, in workshops and seminars, new generations of tradition bearers preserve and transmit memories of customs and places close to their own roots, enriching their lives in the present.

Masse Moro

Sandy Olson, director of Masse Moro—“A Lot of Fun”—the District 5 children’s summer language camp, reported on current activities and support for the camp.

Lodge members’ children and grandchildren between ages 9 and 15 are eligible to attend the camp, located near Fall River, Wis. While attending the camp, children are immersed in the Norwegian language and introduced to cultural aspects of everyday life in modern Norway. Individual lodges award scholarships to the camp.

Three of last year’s scholarship recipients gave engaging, enthusiastic reports on their experiences at camp Masse Moro.

New District 5 President Cheryl Wille-Schlesser, Vennelag Lodge member, addresses convention-goers, flanked by the new slate of district officers.

Cultural competency and genealogy

This year’s workshops for delegates and non-voting members included Norwegian genealogy, Hardanger embroidery, and a rosemaling class. All three courses were designed to include people with little or no previous experience.

Several people attending the genealogy sessions had begun building family trees on their own, and many of them had run into “dead ends.”

Jerry Paulson, researcher for the Norwegian-American Genealogical Center in Madison, Wis., gave an overview of Norwegian emigration to the Upper Midwest and described primary sources of Norwegian genealogical information, online and in print. He also explained many of the key Norwegian terms that would help amateur researchers to more easily find information about their ancestors.

Copies of the center’s Research Guide for Norwegian Genealogy were available to participants during all sessions.

The rosemaling course was taught by Lois Mueller of Platteville, Wis. Lois is a veteran rosemaler who has instructed others in her craft for 45 years.

The next generation

Cultural affairs seminar participants heard Dave and Ruth Amundson of Westby, Wis., describe how they contribute lessons on the settling of their town by Norwegian immigrants, as part of Westby’s high school social studies courses.

In this way, the Amundsons help new generations of citizens learn how Westby was founded and formed by Norwegian immigrants. Gaining this knowledge helps to make them tradition bearers.

Owen Christianson demonstrates his skills in production of Viking-era baskets and other containers.

Viking heritage

A Viking-era cultural folk-art display by Sons of Norway members Owen and Elspeth Christianson was sponsored by a Sons of Norway Foundation grant. Owen is a research scientist and builder of superconducting power systems and a master woodworker. He is also a former president of District 5. Elspeth is a retired pediatrician and medical geneticist.

Together. they have created the Viking Chest Project. Owen demonstrated making of wooden household containers and Elspeth showed how Viking-age fabrics were created on looms and with drop spindles. Owen’s broad variety of Viking eating utensils and vessels was exquisite and Elsbeth’s woven fabrics were beautiful. It appears that at least some of the Vikings lived well!

Scandiana Lodge (Chesterton, Ind.) President Jim Nelson’s great-aunt Hulda Berntsen made a posthumous appearance during his concert of traditional Norwegian folk music at the convention!

Norwegian-American history

Gary Swain and his wife, Dana Kelly, board members of the Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society, introduced and showed Kaskeland, Queen of the Norwegian-American Settlements, a well-researched 2019 documentary film on the 1840s Koshkonong Norwegian settlement, once the heartland of Norwegian America.

Music and storytelling

Scandiana Lodge President Jim Nelson gave an evening performance of traditional Norwegian instrumental and vocal folk music. There were lullabies, work songs, humorous airs, and songs of courtship, as well as dance melodies on the seljefløyte and tussefløyte. Near the conclusion of his act, Jim was interrupted by a posthumous visit from his cantankerous great-aunt, Hulda Bernt­sen! As often happens, Hulda complained a­bout her lazy husband, Ole, but she didn’t try to sing, to Jim’s great relief!

The grand chorus of the Norwegian Singers’ Association of America, with a 30-piece orchestra, perform Edvard Grieg’s “Landkjenning” at the closing event for both their biennial convention and the District 5 biennial convention.

On Saturday night, convention attendees were thrilled to hear the 110-member mass choir of the Norwegian Singers’ Association of America perform a grand concert. The closing selection was Edvard Grieg’s “Landkjenning,” sung with the accompaniment of a 30-piece orchestra.

There were also evening singalongs and dancing with members of the Norwegian Singers Association of America during the week, making this convention an enjoyable and memorable event.

This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Jim Nelson

Jim Nelson is a Norwegian-American scholar and musician, who lived and taught in Norway for over 18 years. Nelson is an expert in the Norwegian immigration to the United States, Norwegian folk music, and Scandinavian immigrant music. Now based in Chesterton, Ind., he continues to perform and is president of the Scandiana Sons of Norway lodge.