“Shy” Warne awarded St. Olav Medal

Philanthropist and Scandianvian radio show host Doug Warne recognized by Norway

Doug Warne, Scandinavian Hour radio show host

Photo: Eric Stavney
Doug Warne laughs as he is drawn by a caricature artist for the Scandin Hour letterhead. In addition to hosting the long-running radio show, he has also founded several scholarships.

Eric Stavney
Seattle, Wash.

As I chatted with Doug Warne in the KKNW studio where he records the weekly Scandinavian Hour, he let slip that he was in Oslo in October and took a stroll down Karl Johanns Gate to the Royal Palace.

“That’s a pretty impressive building,” I observed, remembering seeing it 30 years ago.

“You should see it on the inside!” said Warne. I did a double-take.

“And how is it that you’ve seen the inside?” I countered, knowing he couldn’t be making that up.

He went on to relate how he had had an audience with King Harald of Norway, and how he chatted with the monarch as easily as if they were old friends. He was pleased to meet the king “because it gave [him] a chance to thank him personally for the medal.”

“The medal? You mean the St. Olav Medal for distinguished service to Norway?” I said with wonder. Yes, it was that medal… which hadn’t been awarded yet, but was already decided. Warne received the medal from Norwegian Honorary Consul Kim Nesselquist at a formal ceremony in Seattle on Dec. 1.

I knew Warne was a “known voice in the Norwegian community in Puget Sound and beyond,” as Nesselquist said, due to his weekly Scandinavian Hour show broadcast weekends for nearly 60 years. Since the show can now be heard online across the globe, Warne has spoken casually with several Norwegian strangers who, hearing he was from Seattle, asked if he had heard of this fellow Doug Warne. He says that with a big smile.

But let me back up, for that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In 1959, a young Doug Warne attended University of Oslo’s International Summer School and was introduced to Norwegian culture, where he stayed with the Eng family for the summer. He was amazed at the ease with which the Engs spoke three to four languages, traveled widely, and frequently discussed politics at the dinner table. Coming from Ballard, where he’d never met a foreigner before (so he says), he reveled in the cosmopolitan, rich environment, and it changed the course of his life. He said he left the United States as a naïve young man and came back an adult world citizen.

In later years, when Warne had a daughter, he encouraged her to also study in Norway. That apparently planted a seed for Warne; he became determined to help other young adults study abroad.

But back to the fall of 1959, when Warne returned to Seattle and heard about Svein Gilje giving his last broadcast of the Scandinavian Hour. He was able to pick up the mic and headphones with his partner Ron Olsen and has kept the show alive ever since.

Warne immediately immersed himself in the Norwegian-American community, eventually serving as president for his local Leif Erikson Sons of Norway lodge and the Norwegian Commercial Club, not to mention the number of other boards on which he has served.

As Warne says to me about his many years of service, he saw many opportunities to get people together, and “being the shy, retiring person that I am,” he stepped up and made it happen. He continues to do that on his radio show by announcing Scandinavian events from about 30 organizations around Puget Sound. There used to be more, he says sadly, almost a hundred organizations in the Puget Sound area.

Along the way, Warne has established a number of scholarships through the Sons of Norway and the Norwegian Commercial Club to enable students to study in Norway and experience what he had. As an old schoolteacher, he appreciates what education and opportunity can mean for a young person. Warne is currently one of six elected governors of the Sons of Norway Foundation, which collects money and generates grants and scholarships. Many of these scholarships are involved in sending students abroad, and particularly to Norway.

Because Olsen passed away several years ago, Warne recently decided to enable the next generation to experience the fun of sharing the mic on his Scandinavian music radio show. He isn’t looking to pass the torch on to other people as much as he wants to pass the torch around. I’m one of five lucky souls who have co-hosted the program with him. We are all grateful for Warne’s generous spirit and, being the “shy, retiring guy” that he is, he has pushed us to make room for it in our lives.

In October, when Honorary Consul Nesselquist helped arrange Warne’s audience with the king, he issued a statement, saying “it was an honor to announce that His Majesty, King Harald V of Norway awarded him with the St. Olav’s Medal for his long and great service to the Norwegian American community in Seattle. It could not be given to a more deserving person.”

Jeg er helt enig med det!

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 15, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784.4617.

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Eric Stavney

Eric Stavney is a graduate of the University of Washington Department of Scandinavian Studies and hosts the interviews and music podcast “Nordic on Tap” at NordicOnTap.podbean.com.