Nordic family reunion

Ten-year-old Tormod Torsvik Stokersen with his mother Torill Torsvik Størkersen in their bunads. Photos courtesy of Larrie Wanberg.

Norsk Høstfest in Minot, N.D., brings together Scandinavians of all ages to share stories

By Larrie Wanberg

Grand Forks, N.D.

There are rare times when it happens that crowds of people stroll through corridors of exhibits and activities as if they were attending an extended family reunion, like last week during Høstfest – the largest Scandinavian festival in America.

People greeted each other, engaged in conversations the way distant relatives do, and gathered in clusters to enjoy food, entertainment, shopping and feeling immersed in the best of Nordic cultures.

What struck me as a week-long observer was how much we were all “connected,” despite diversity, and how stories anchored our common sense of “belonging.”

A few indicators of the future stood out: how many seniors had smart phones, how youth were engaged in knowing their heritage, how rapidly the world is going digital, and how diverse cultures were becoming convergent by sharing stories.

Some stories were told in music. I noticed how youth lined the base of the stage at a Dierck Huntley concert of country and pop music, jumping and clapping to a strong beat and high decibel music. At my age, I chose to sit in on Olivia Newton-John’s concert, as I remember her popularity with the troops from Bob Hope’s USO days in the 1970s. She still belts out a song, hits the high notes, and mixes popular, country and nostalgic songs to a large audience that prefers to sway with the music.

I rode one of two busses to the annual wreath-laying event at the Sondre Norheim gravesite at Norway Lutheran Church on open prairie about an hour away. One bus was a delegation from Norway; the other was a bus full of high school students from Minot. This interest by youth and students-of-heritage is reassuring in sustaining cultural values into future generations.

I go to the wreath-laying event most every year, as my father was minister at  Norway Lutheran Church for many years, and was instrumental in locating his unmarked grave, which later was memorialized with a monument. Norheim, known as the “Father of Modern Skiing” from Telemark, died as a homesteader in McHenry County, N.D., in 1897. (For a three-minute film on Norheim’s years as a homesteader in Dakota Territory, see “An Unmarked Grave” at

At Høstfest, the outreach to youth in schools by groups and organizations is engaging and effective in linking students to discover their heritage and embrace diversity. Youth and the digital world are integral in classrooms and in awareness of today’s global village environment.

I observed youth among the exhibitors who had family businesses, as well as performance groups in music, dance and storytelling. Stories are timeless in transferring culture across generations.

For the past eight years, storytelling events and a budding film festival have been building every year with natives from northern Norway (known as Sámi) and the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indians. They produced entertainment, foods, music, dance and marvelous folk stories from the Arctic and early America traditions. Indoor and outdoor exhibits engaged every passer-by. For me with a long lineage of Norwegian ancestry, this event connected as “family,” for as a grandfather, seven of my nine grandchildren share Native American genes.

“Doc” Breen, former chairman of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, compares artifact similar in Sámi culture with Stina Fagerton, an Arctic storyteller from northern Norway.

The common thread of enjoyment from many Høstfest attendees seemed to be the personal stories that were exchanged. A Norwegian genealogist, author and editor told me she volunteered in a nearby exhibit that helped people search their roots in Norway. She was sitting at a computer, when a woman asked her to search a name of an ancestor in Norway. The woman looked familiar but they didn’t know each other. When the name popped up on the computer screen, it turned out they were related. The family gene resemblances were evident.

At dusk, natural story circles formed along lines of 1,300 RVs in a “community” of mobile travelers that shared BBQs and a full menu of tales from their trails. Every morning, coffee, donuts, newspapers and social exchanges were popular in the RV Hospitality Center. With free Wi-Fi, many used their laptops to connect with hometown news delivered to their “digital doorstep.”

As Norsk Høstfest President, David Reiten, says, “Everyone is Scandinavian at Høstfest time!”

Change is happening in the ways we preserve heritage. The base is festival events like Høstfest. Day-to-day, though, digital connections are a large part of preserving stories of heritage across generations. The constant seems to be how families interact with mobile technologies that connect with the wisdom of the past and project core values into the future.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 12, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.