Getting to know Eivind Heiberg
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
The Honorary Consul General in Minneapolis Eivind Heiberg is no stranger to the greater Norwegian-American community. For seven years, he served as fraternal director at the Sons of Norway headquarters in Minneapolis and then as CEO for another 11 years. Since 2015, he has represented Norway in his consular role.
But a few months ago, Heiberg had to take a pause from life in the fast lane with the death of his father in Norway. Then his wife’s father and other family members tested positive for COVID-19 in New York. It became a time of transition for Heiberg, as he left the Sons of Norway, shifting his focus on supporting his family.
Now settled in his new office at Norway House, Heiberg is looking forward to serving the Midwest community with a renewed energy. Recently, I got the opportunity to talk with Heiberg about the changes in his life, as he reflected on his background and what’s ahead.
“Leaving the Sons of Norway felt bittersweet,” said Heiberg. “It’s an organization with a great business model and community engagement; I was very fortunate to work with them over the years.” Heiberg is still a member, of course, and confirmed that he will always be involved with the Sons of Norway.
But with the Sons of Norway moving to their new offices in Minneapolis Uptown neighborhood, there was no longer room for the consulate, so Norway House was somehow the natural landing place.
“It’s very exciting to be here,” said Heiberg. Norway House is an epicenter for Norwegian-American connections, home to Concordia Language Villages, Norway Art, Global Translation Services, and the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce, with the historic Norwegian Memorial Lutheran Church, Mindekirken, right next door. Heiberg is also excited that Norway House will break ground for its new building in the fall, with plans for the consulate to move into a very prominent location there.
He had not even turned 18 when he first came to the United States from Halden, Norway, to play basketball, the fulfillment of a dream. The ambitious young student ended up attending Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and mass communications. He went on to graduate studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, pursuing a master’s degree in speech communications.
Heritage has always played an important role in Heiberg’s life.
“It’s important to understand your roots, where you come from,” he said. He and his American wife, Michele, are parents to triplets, now entering their junior year of college. They have their Norwegian passports and have been to Norway numerous times. Heiberg understands the value of cross-cultural experience and is looking forward to working with more young people as a representative of Norway.
“Norway today is a lot more than the lefse, lutefisk, and baked goods,” he said. ‘”Norway is very progressive and proactive: peace initiatives, business and technology, the maritime industry.” Heiberg stressed that he hopes to “help close the circle in understanding what is happening today.”
These days, Heiberg and his staff, Vice Consul Britt Ardakani and Consular Officer Ragnhild Hjeltnes, are very busy answering questions around the change in Norwegian law that allows for dual citizenship along with regular passport renewals. He has plans to put together a webinar on dual citizenship from the standpoint of native Norwegians who want to gain U.S. citizenship. They also field many questions about COVID-19 and travel restrictions.
But for Heiberg, program development is perhaps the most exciting aspect of his job. As an adopted Minnesotan, he has an excellent idea of what the area has to offer to Norway. He pointed out that many Norwegian businesses already see Minnesota as a softer landing spot into the United States than New York or the West Coast.
“People operate and live in a way closer to what they do in Norway,” he said. “It’s easier to gain ground here; Norwegians understand Minnesota quite well.” And Heiberg understands Norway well and is able to facilitate the connections, working with groups such as the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce and, of course, Norway House.
Finally, I asked Heiberg how the consulate positions itself in the current social upheaval in Minneapolis.
“Norway has played a major role on the world stage when it comes to conflict resolution,” he said. “The Minnesota Peace Initiative through Norway House is one example of what the Norwegian American community does. Where there is dialogue, there is hope for positive change.”
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.