Honoring the legacy of Jon Pederson
Two flags flying high over Norway Block on Syttende Mai
Syttende Mai at Norway House this year was perhaps the most festive since doors first opened in 2015. With the newly completed expansion, the new sculpture “Seeds,” and all the finishing touches in place for landscaping, parking, and more, the “Norway Block” of Norway House and Mindekirken was quite a place to celebrate Syttende Mai this year.
The highlight of the day for many was a bittersweet dedication ceremony for the block’s new flag poles. The Jon Pederson Flaggstengene were officially dedicated in a brief outdoor ceremony on the afternoon of May 17, honoring Norway House’s sorely missed late leader, Jon Pederson.
Jon served on the board of directors of Norway House, including a stint as board chair. He was instrumental in the decision to locate Norway House on the same block as another important and historic Minneapolis Norwegian landmark, Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church. Both through his own personal contributions and through the boundless enthusiasm of his cheerleading and fundraising efforts, Norway House was able to open in their location at 913 East Franklin Avenue in 2015.
Until his untimely passing in August 2019, Jon helped lead the charge toward the building of Norway House’s expansion, a project that finally could break ground two years after his death. His booming voice, resounding laugh, and infectious energy loomed large in the Norwegian-American community. He traveled as often as he could to Norway and around Norwegian America. Every Norwegian he met he called “cousin,” before bending their ear about and encouraging their support for Norway House. Many a Norwegian-American group still recall his visits to their towns to promote the vision for Norway House.
The two 35-foot-high aluminum flag poles now bearing his name proudly fly 10-by-6 feet American and Norwegian flags. They are strategically placed, roughly halfway between Norway House and Mindekirken in the parking lot both institutions share. The significance of this placement was not lost on Jon’s family when deciding what element of the Norway Block should bear Jon’s name and honor his contributions and leadership. Jon felt deeply for the importance of the ties between Norway House and Mindekirken, a church congregation his great aunt Petrine Thorson helped to charter. And the choice of flags to represent him reflected his intense patriotism for both countries and their commitment to freedom.
The dedication ceremony was a collaboration of four organizations Jon championed: Norway House, of course, and also Mindekirken, Northern Star Scouting, and Concordia Language Villages. Jon held leadership roles in all four, and each sent representatives to offer words of remembrance for Jon for the ceremony.
Norway House Director of Communications Ethan Bjelland led the assembled crowd in singing both national anthems while two young scouts, braving the windy day, processed in with smaller Norwegian and American flags. Norway House Executive Director Christina Carleton welcomed the guests and introduced the first speaker, Brad Bakken. Serving with Jon on Norway House’s board, Brad reflected on their friendship and work together. Next was John Andrews, CEO of Northern Star Scouting, followed by Martin Graefe, director of the Concordia Language Training Center of Concordia Language Villages. Both spoke fondly of Jon’s passion for youth leaders and international engagement. Joseph Grødahl, program director at Norway House and member of Mindekirken’s Centennial Committee, spoke on behalf of the church and reflected on Jon’s passion for bringing the two Norwegian institutions closer together. Pastor Arden Haug, former pastor at Mindekirken and friend of Jon’s, offered an invocation and officially christened the Jon Pederson Flaggstengene. In keeping with Jon’s style, Pastor Haug also led the crowd in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The brief ceremony was followed by a time for socializing, where visitors could view displays of Jon’s involvement in the four organizations along with a display of the preliminary plans for a memorial sculpture to accompany the Jon Pederson Flaggstengene. Plans are currently underway with Jon’s family, Norway House staff, and sculptor Finn Eirik Modahl. Modahl is the sculptor of Norway House’s iconic “Seeds” sculpture. Currently proposed is a modest steel structure modeled after a 1960s-era Boy Scout tent, with cairns or rock stacks evoking Norwegian hiking and outdoor life.
On either of two long sides of the tent structure, facing Norway House and Mindekirken respectively, would be a brief explanation of Jon’s ties to each of these Norwegian institutions. In this way, future visitors to the Norway Block will learn of Jon’s instrumental role in solidifying Mindekirken and Norway House as a hub for keeping the United States and Norway closely connected. Thank you, Jon!
All photos by Ingrid Sampson
This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.