Facebook group “Brooklyn Norwegians” connects those with Bay Ridge roots.
By Christy Olsen Field
A new grassroots movement to connect Norwegian-Americans has emerged through Facebook: Brooklyn Norwegians. The group was founded just two months ago, and it’s a common meeting space to reconnect with old friends, share photos and stories, and keep a sense of community through the power of social networking.
The group was founded by Erling Dugan, who emigrated in 1959 at the age of five with his mother and sister to join his father in Brooklyn, N.Y. He grew up on 49th Street and 51st Street, near 8th Avenue, also known as Lapskaus Boulevard. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1971, and moved to Norway for his engineering education and work. Today, Dugan resides in Ventura, Calif., as a freelance Norwegian translator and interpreter, and is a regular contributor at www.kvinesdal.no.
After reconnecting on Facebook with Myrna Fredriksen Scott, an old friend from Brooklyn he hadn’t seen for 20 years, Dugan decided to establish the Facebook group “Brooklyn Norwegians” to connect with others who have roots in Bay Ridge and other parts of Brooklyn.
In just two months since its founding, “Brooklyn Norwegians” has grown to over 400 members.
“It’s amazing how much we have in common,” said Dugan. “The most common questions we ask are about what schools and church people went to.”
A high concentration of Norwegian immigrants in Brooklyn came from Sørlandet, the southern coast of Norway. This region is part of the Bible Belt of Norway, and many of the immigrants brought over their strict religious traditions, such as the bedehus (prayer house), Lutheran lay organizations outside of the church.
“Even those who weren’t very religious sent their kids to Sunday School, and most were confirmed in one church or another,” said Dugan.
Though teachers discouraged parents from speaking Norwegian at home and school, the Norwegian community in Brooklyn maintained very strong ties to Norway, and many people moved back to the home country. Most moved to the suburbs.
“We are a special breed, different than the Norwegians in the Midwest,” said Dugan. “A recent project among junior high school kids revealed that 50 percent of junior high kids in Kvinesdal, Norway, had grandparents who had lived in the U.S., and 25 percent had parents who were born in the U.S.”
Members post photos, YouTube videos, recipes and more, and interact with others through comments. It’s a continual conversation about all things Norwegian and the wonderful memories of living in Brooklyn.
Dugan had help from a couple of Facebook friends to get the word out about the group, including Arlene Bakke Rutuelo, owner of Nordic Delicacies in Brooklyn. The group is more than just “virtual” friends – members of the “Brooklyn Norwegians” group will participate in the Syttende Mai Parade of Greater New York in 2012 in the new “Social Networking” category.
After World War II, more than 40,000 Norwegians lived in Brooklyn – the third highest concentration of Norwegians in the world. According to the census, just 1,100 people in Bay Ridge identify as Norwegian.
Dugan illustrates the decline of Norwegians in Brooklyn with the example of his church: “I grew up in 59th Street Church, which held Norwegian language services until the 1990s. Today, the services are held in English and Chinese.”
“When I went back to Brooklyn and saw how it changed, it brought tears to my eyes,” said Dugan. “If only buildings could talk to tell us the history.”
With demographic shifts in neighborhoods and the growing need for community, the “Brooklyn Norwegians” group provides a common space for people to connect with old friends, neighbors and their Norwegian heritage. For more information, visit www.facebook.com and search “Brooklyn Norwegians.”
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 21, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.