Forty years of pure Scandimonium
Nation’s largest Scandinavian festival, Norsk Høstfest, kicks off September 27 in Minot, ND
When Chester Reiten and early supporters determined that Minot needed an event to celebrate Scandinavian heritage, they couldn’t have dreamed of where Norsk Høstfest would be today.
According to his son, David Reiten, Chester’s interest began when he found letters in Norwegian from the late 1800s and early 1900s. He enlisted a translator and sent a letter to their city in hopes of finding any living relatives. Chester was successful and began correspondence with his Norwegian relatives. From that point on, Chester wanted “everyone to take great pride in their ancestry and celebrate it,” said David, who now serves as the Norsk Høstfest president.
The first Høstfest was set up as a fall festival where local churches and other groups would bring Scandinavian food and crafts to sell at the City Auditorium. Duane Brekke, Høstfest board member, remembers when his parents attended the very first Høstfest. They represented the Sons of Norway lodge in Simcoe. The ladies of the lodge would make Norwegian delicacies like lefse, rømmegrøt, and sandbakkelse.
From there, with the help of many dedicated volunteers, the festival has continued to grow each year. “It continues to evolve,” said Reiten. “It’s been a fun process because we involve everybody from the people who come to the people in charge of the halls. We figure out what should change, what should stay, and what should be added. The evolution is a really positive thing for Høstfest.”
Brekke was friends with Chester from the start and saw the evolution firsthand. “When we started the General Store, they focused on bringing Scandinavian cheese to the attendees,” said Brekke.
“We’d cut little samples to give to people and got them to taste it. Jarlsberg was the biggest one that caught on,” Brekke continued. “I talked to the Marketplace Manager in casual conversation and learned that the introduction of Scandinavian cheese to our area made a tremendous difference in their inventory.”
Cheese sales isn’t the only impact Norsk Høstfest has had on the Minot area. Over the years, Schatz Crossroads started selling lutefisk during Høstfest. Home of Economy started selling more skillets to cook lutefisk and now even hosts lefse bake-offs in conjunction with the event.
The one-day fall festival has grown to a four-day festival experience at the North Dakota State Fair Center. But the planning team has never lost their do-it-yourself attitude.
In earlier years, Brekke’s father, Sam Brekke, handcrafted a Viking ship that filled the length of the stage and Duane’s wife, Jeanne Brekke, painted it. She also painted the trolls you’ll still see at the festival.
Becky Piehl coordinates the decorating each year and it takes two to three weeks of volunteer work to transform the North Dakota State Fair Center into a Scandinavian wonderland. “I give Becky a big heads up for how well she decorates the place each year,” said Brekke. “At the beginning, we’d go in the day before, dust off the chairs and tables, and go to work. The first year, people even brought their own tables!”
The mission of the event has remained constant, but some of the logistics have changed. According to Reiten, the most notable changes in recent years include adding Viking Village, renting additional venue space to support more exhibits, upgrading Høstfest University, and recruiting Scandinavian acts.
Norsk Høstfest is held annually in the fall in the North Dakota State Fair Center on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot, N.D. Entering its 40th year, the festival has become North America’s largest Scandinavian festival with tens of thousands of people attending from all over the world. The festival features entertainment, Scandinavian culture, handcrafted merchandise, Scandinavian cuisine, plus a fine dining establishment led by Norwegian chefs. Norsk Høstfest celebrates Scandinavian culture from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. This year’s festival runs from September 27 to 30. For more information visit hostfest.com or call (701) 852-2368.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.