Pennsylvania’s new Norwegian Consul
Susan Satkowski helps retiring Consul Erik Torp establish 30K Challenge to help veterans
The Norwegian American
Susan Satkowski spread the four old photographs on the table at the law firm Lavin, O’Neil, Cedrone, and DiSipio in downtown Philadelphia, where she is a shareholder. It was the lineage: grandmother Margrethe, grandfather Gunnar—“who died before I was born”—great-grandmother Karin, and great-grandfather Henrik Smith.
Margrethe lived with Satkowski’s family in Staten Island. Satkowski’s father, the son of Polish immigrants, was a captain in the New York City Fire Department, and her mother was an administrative assistant to the international controller for Mobil Oil. “My parents working gave me a sense of a work ethic,” Satkowski said.
From her grandmother, she received her culture. “My grandmother was part of my daily life,” she said. “She came from Kristiansand in 1914. … Gunnar was from Tjøme, which is outside Oslo. They met here. She taught me the language. She spoke English, but she maintained a pretty good social network of her own with Norwegian friends. We lived together, from when I was born until the time that she needed to be in a nursing home, which was way into her 80s. She was a marvelous cook, and I would be the person helping her. She made everything from scratch. Then, there was Norwegian culture. Part of it is religious, going to church, which had a very high percentage of Scandinavians at the time. She was married in the Our Savior Lutheran Church in Manhattan. My parents were married at the Our Savior Lutheran Church in Staten Island. There were a lot of Norwegian goods, decorative items for the house, furniture, paintings. The Nordiske Tidende was in the house.”
Imparting Norwegian culture reaped its rewards, as on April 30, Satkowski was officially designated Honorary Consul for Pennsylvania by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, replacing Erik Torp, who retired after 17 years. Now, she was being interviewed by the heir newspaper of Nordiske Tidende. “They’d be thrilled or crying for joy,” she said of how her parents and grandmother would react. “It’s quite an honor.”
Coincidentally, Satkowski’s husband has been the Honorary Consul for Romania since 2000. “I have been involved in Consular events for him, hosting events with visiting dignitaries,” Satkowski explained.
Satkowski earned a bachelor’s of science degree in economics in 1978 from University at Albany of the State University of New York and graduated summa cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa from the College of William & Mary Law School in 1981. She came to Philadelphia in 1982 and has been a practicing attorney since. Satkowski began her legal career at General Motors Corp. in the Office of General Counsel. She has represented the interests of corporations and other businesses in civil litigation from commencement of a case through appeals and in alternate forms of dispute resolution in many types of cases, including products liability, insurance issues, and commercial matters. She is also admitted to practice at all levels of the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. She is on the board of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia, as well as other organizations. She has two daughters.
There are four main functions of a consul: passports for children under 12; emergency passports should a Norwegian lose theirs—with the paperwork then sent to the New York Consulate for verification and to Norway; contact person if a Norwegian citizen is jailed (“We have to take each case as it comes along, but it is, first and foremost, a contact with the consul,” she said.), and facilitating connections between Norwegian businesses wanting to expand here and vice versa. Much has changed since Torp started.
“When I became the honorary consul in 2001, I didn’t really know many Norwegians at all in this area,” said Torp, who received the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit with rank first knight in 2011.
“The consulate handled all Norwegian flag ships (mostly tankers) calling at the port of Philadelphia, whenever there were log books to be authorized, crews to sign on and/or sign off, or any other matters that shipping agents would traditionally not be involved with. After 9/11, it became very difficult to perform these services because of all the strict security measures.
“Apart from that, it was primarily passports and the Schengen visa we did at that time. That also stopped, because New York took it over when fingerprinting became a necessity for the passports and the visa.
“Among the cases I handled, there was a young man who threatened to bomb a plane at the airport, who ended up in jail here. We visited a federal prison in Pennsylvania, where a Norwegian ended up because of drugs. I assisted in bringing a young Norwegian girl back to Norway, who had been held hostage by her boyfriend. It was always sad when I received a call from a mother in Norway inquiring whether I could check in to see if her son was in Philadelphia or not. Usually, it was because of drugs, and then I had to contact the police. That is what I remember about the more unpleasant things about it.
“There was no Norwegian American Chamber in Philadelphia then, so that is a very good development.”
Torp came to New York in 1968 as a ship broker, then started his own company, Trademar, in 1977 and a decade later moved it to Philadelphia, where he raised three children. Torp ran a number of businesses, including A Taste of Norway, importing Atlantic salmon, which he hopes to restart, and most proudly, CordogBleu. He received Small Business Employer of the Year from the Department of Public Welfare and the Philadelphia County Assistance Office in 2000 for hiring women off welfare to bake the all-natural dog biscuits.
Right now, Satkowski’s immediate goal is to help Torp establish “The 30K Challenge.” Beginning in 1915, marching 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) carrying 24.25 pounds of food and supplies was a Norwegian military exercise, after which, the soldier received a Marsjmerket, the Norwegian Armed Forces’ marching badge. In recent years, it has been adopted by some American military forces as a chance to support charitable causes. Torp’s purpose with “The 30K Challenge” is to have national marches of this distance by all U.S. service branches, carrying the same weight of non-perishable food, to be delivered to veterans’ service centers, as well as raise money to benefit U.S. veterans. It is also a way to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
“I did it myself when I was in the Royal Navy in Norway,” said Torp. “I attended a few around here as a spectator, with the National Guard and ROTCs, and I saw all the enthusiasm. I really wanted to generate money for the veterans. We sincerely hope communities with a large Norwegian presence will pick up on it and arrange these marches for the public.”
“It’s in its genesis, board formation, when you roll up your sleeves and put all the skill sets together,” said Satkowski. “I’m helping him to get this endeavor up and running. Serving U.S. veterans is the focus of raising funds. My grandmother’s son—I did not know him—was killed in the Korean War. So my grandmother was a Gold Star mother. I’m sure that story plays out many times. In a way, I’m circling back to help the Armed Forces.”
In August, Satkowski will make a non-business trip to Norway to rekindle the family connections, this time with her daughters.
“I’ve been back to Kristiansand on four trips because of my grandmother’s siblings who remained,” said Satkowski. “She maintained very close ties. My grandmother’s last trip was my first trip to Norway, so that was a special time. I was 13, and it was in 1969. I got to meet the family. Some of them had lived with us in the New York City area because their daughters were working in New York for a period of time. I was now meeting the entire set.
“I will see Henrik’s great-great-granddaughter in Oslo. With a family of seven siblings, they span quite a few generations. I am kind of on the older side of that generation, so I can stagger in between my mom’s cousins. We’ll do the scenic drive to Stavanger, and then to Kristiansand and see two sets of family, maybe a third, in Kristiansand.”
She’ll be returning with a different title, but still be treated as family.
Michael Kleiner has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 27, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.