Innovation to overcome challenges
A new Sons of Norway lodge opens and thrives in Illinois
It’s sad that an important institution like the Sons of Norway has had to put a lid on many festivities planned for the celebration of its 125th anniversary. But it is even sadder that many lodges had to cancel their meetings for the months of March and April. In Florida, the cancellations will run through September, with meetings first scheduled again in October—all because of the coronavirus.
Yet, to counter this turn in events, there is good news to report during these unprecedented times. A new Sons of Norway Lodge in southern Illinois, Shawnee Skogen 5-689, has opened. An interview with Bonnie Juul, lodge president, follows.
Victoria Hofmo: How did your lodge come about?
Bonnie Juul: A few years ago, I had connected with the Sons of Norway to find out if it would be possible to open a new lodge. They sent me the list of what needed to be done. I was starting my business at the time, and I could see that it was more than I could do on my own. When Bill Bultinck, counselor, and Wendy Winkelman, vice-president and editor of the lodge, moved to the area, they contacted me. They had the know-how and experience of being members and leaders of other lodges. It is because of their dedication and hard work that our lodge was able to open and is thriving.
VH: Where is it located?
BJ: It is located in the far south of Illinois. We are one hour from Paducah, Ky., and one hour from Cape Girardeau, Mo. We are in an area that isn’t very densely populated, so people have to drive a ways to get to the meetings. I think our official address is Anna, Ill., but the nearest big town is Carbondale.
VH: How far from you is the nearest Sons of Norway lodge?
BJ: It’s a 3½-hour drive in Nashville, Tenn.
VH: How is it going so far?
BJ: It’s going great so far. We have people with varied interests, who are gracious enough to share their knowledge and experience with the entire group.
Wendy and Bill keep all the organization and procedures in place. Wendy warmly welcomes anyone who has an inquiry about membership. We have an engaged and excellent board.
VH: What is the focus of your lodge?
BJ: I would say that the focus of our lodge is to encourage each other’s interests and put the enjoyment and connection of people in the forefront.
VH: What makes your lodge unique?
BJ: I think what makes our lodge unique is that we try not to get caught up in procedure but have the focus on the importance of each individual member. We have wonderful members, with lots of different interests. Perhaps the reason we are growing is that we gratefully receive input from our members and take action on it. We are focused on having a welcoming place for children by encouraging their participation and presence.
VH: Can you speak about future plans for the lodge?
BJ: We have plans to be more of a presence in the local community by participating in parades and other events. Over the next year, we will be connecting with the local university to reach out to students who have been a part of other lodges and would like to connect with a local one.
We have been exploring the idea of offering remote membership and participation in our lodge. Prior to Wendy and Bill moving to town, I had wanted to do this, but lived too far away from a lodge. I craved the connection with my heritage, but there were few options and no lodge options. I suspect there are many people around the country—and the world—who are interested in becoming active members, but they are unable to get to meetings.
Some of our members live in New York state. We are in the process of figuring out how to have them participate from where they live. By the very nature of how spread out southern Illinois is and how challenging it is for members to get to our meetings, we believe we would be the perfect lodge for them. We do not have all the answers on how to do this yet, but we have a desire to connect and to receive input to nurture the connection. By working together, we plan to create an oasis for those who are disconnected. With the current social distancing initiative, we may end up moving in this direction faster than we had originally anticipated.
VH: When so many lodges are struggling to continue, it is wonderful to see a new one open. What do you attribute that to?
BJ: The support of Sons of Norway, Bill, and Wendy, the willingness of our members to participate and contribute their time and ideas. We strive to keep things fun, lighthearted, and moving.
Wisely, besides their eye to implement remote membership, the group has already built an extensive social media component on Facebook and Twitter and includes links to a very well-designed, informative blog from the Sons of Norway as well as the Sons of Norway website. I have to say that this lodge’s attention to remote membership and social media could not have come at a more appropriate time, with social distancing being the new norm. The result could become a model for the entire Sons of Norway organization.
The arrival and momentum of Shawnee Skogun Lodge is a prime example of what you can achieve if you think outside the box—or in this case, outside of the meeting room. It is this indomitable human spirit that has kept the Sons of Norway going for 125 years and will take it into a new era.
This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.