Ole and Lena’s final performance

NY-area Swedes and Norwegians work together in “Ole and Lena” one more time

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

There is a lot of ribbing between Norwegians and Swedes, so it was wonderful to see a collaboration between Sons of Norway and Swedish Vasa Lodges in Long Island. They worked together to build bridges by taking their longstanding skepticism in hand and giving it some comic relief.

How, you ask? By being inspired by the Ole and Lena jokes and stories and giving them a little twist. In this case Ole, a Norwegian bumpkin, marries Lena, a voluptuous Swedish woman.

The fourth Ole and Lena skit will be held on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 3:00 p.m. at St. Mark’s Church in Islip, Long Island. An extra bonus is that St. Mark’s is constructed in the stave architectural style. This year Ole and Lena will celebrate their decades of marriage in “Remembering When.” This production is set at Land of the Vikings, a Sons of Norway retreat that was almost lost. Attendees are asked to dress in their favorite decade’s attire: “Pick an era and go with it.”

The event costs $25. It includes the performance, as well as a smørgåsbord style feast of roast pork, red cabbage, Swedish meatballs, potatoes, veggies, coffee, and dessert.

The idea for the Ole and Lena series cam from Karen Olsen and her husband Steve Helmold. I asked Karen how the productions come about: “Steve and I came up with the idea while at dinner one night. We thought having a wedding of a Norwegian and Swede would be fun.”

“We thought about who in the Zone (Sons of Norway) would be willing … I put together a draft script and the rest was a group effort.”

The three performances to date have been filled with memorable moments. “It is hard to mention only a few highlights. During the first year, the wedding and the first dance, the Chicken Dance … The appearance of the Village People got everyone on their feet singing to ‘YMCA.’

“The second performance was Ole and Lena’s first anniversary. The highlights were the celebrity ball and Bob Carlsen as Baby OP Anderson Olsen in his size 22 Depends being chased by Paul Kornbrekke playing Rabbi Sven Ginsbergsen with a huge pair of pruning shears attempting to do his rabbinical duties … Sonny and Cher and Neil Diamond were featured, as well as Richard Simmons, who was an unexpected hit.

“The third year Ole won the lottery and takes Lena to Hawaii … We had the room filled with Hawaiian shirts … Ken Olsen in his watermelon bra was priceless.”

This will be the final year for Ole and Lena on Long Island. “Those attending will see how the couples have aged,” Olsen says.

In store for this year’s attendees are “many great characters from different decades to entertain the audience and a special tribute to Ole [Roy Berntsen] for his efforts to get Land of the Vikings reopened.”

One wonderful outcome of the Ole and Lena productions was the joining together of the Norwegian and Swedish fraternal organizations. I asked Karen if the Sons of Norway Lodges have any plans to continue to work with the Swedish Vasa: “It is hoped that Vasa and Sons of Norway Lodges on Long Island will continue to join together for many events in the future.”

For further information and tickets please contact Karen Olsen at kolsen2@verizon.net.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.