Welcome home to the new Norway House

“The 17th of May and 17th of May many times over”

Upon her arrival at Norway House for the grand opening of its new addition, Queen Sonja was presented with flowers, as Executive Director Christina Carleton and other dignitaries stood by.

LORI ANN REINHALL
Editor-in-chief
The Norwegian American

Royal visits don’t take place every day, and usually they are for a very special occasion. And that is exactly what is was when Queen Sonja of Norway came to Minneapolis last month for the grand opening of the new Norway House on Oct. 15, presented by Viking.

The 85-year-old queen had a full agenda for the extended weekend she spent in the Twin Cities, but displaying an incredible level of fitness and stamina, she was certainly up to the strenuous itinerary. After all, she is an avid hiker, a living testimony to the virtues of Norwegian friluftsliv, and everywhere she went, she looked fantastic. The queen is at the same time elegant and regal, friendly and down-to-earth. She took the crowds who came to meet her by storm.

On a crisp, bright sunny morning, a smiling Queen Sonja greeted the crowd that had gathered at Norway Block to celebrate the grand opening of the new addition to Norway House.

Official business

The queen started her visit to Minnesota with a trip to the State Capitol in St. Paul, where she was received by Gov. Tim Walz on Oct. 13. The occasion previewed next year’s 50th anniversary of the state’s National Guard exchange program with the Norwegian Home Guard.

State officials and Minnesota National Guard leaders filled the governor’s reception room for the brief ceremony. Historic gifts from past Norwegian delegations were on display, and new gifts were exchanged between Minnesota and Norway.

The next day, Oct. 14, Queen Sonja visited the Rølvaag Memorial Library at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. There, she cut the ribbon for a new archive space. It didn’t matter that the archives are still under construction. The staff and students at St. Olaf went wild over the queen (see Queen Sonja inspires students at St. Olaf College).

But this was only a prelude to perhaps her most important engagement in her royal tour to Minnesota. On Oct. 15, she arrived at Norway House to cut the ribbon for the grand opening of their new Innovation + Culture Center. It was a day that the Twin Cities Norwegian-American community had been looking forward to for over eight years and a day they will never forget.

Behind the scenes preparations

Getting ready for a royal visit is no small undertaking, but the staff at Norway House showed that they were up to the task. Working together with construction firm McGough, they had to ensure that the new building would be ready for prime time when the queen arrived.

The stage was set and crowds had gathering for an exciting day with the official grand opening of the new Norway House in Minneapolis.

And then there were the logistics of the entire program to put in place. The plans had to be cleared with the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Royal Palace in Oslo. Every precaution possible was taken to guarantee the queen’s safety and comfort. The goal was to mark a grand occasion and put on a party for the entire community. And when the day came, everything came off seamlessly.

A bouquet of posies

As is custom, the queen was presented with a beautiful bouquet of colorful flowers upon her arrival at the plaza in view of the crowd at Norway House. The red carpet had been rolled out, and she was met by an adorable group of children dressed in traditional bunads and Norwegian sweaters.

Norway’s ambassador to the United States, Anniken R. Krutnes, was on the stage to cheer along with the large crowd that had gathered.

The queen bent down to thank the little ones for the gift, and the children seemed to be totally enchanted. And who wouldn’t be? Queen Sonja has a smile that could melt your heart. Most of all, it is a genuinely sincere smile, which gives her an extraordinary ability to connect with anyone she meets. It was only the beginning of a very happy day.

As the queen proceeded through the new Norway House entrance and entered the plaza, the crowd waiting there went crazy with applause and cheers. Many had arrived by shuttle bus, and many had been there waiting in the cold for hours to find a good spot to secure a good view of the queen and the day’s program. And while the temperatures may have been much colder than expected, no one seemed to mind too much. The Norwegian Americans had come dressed in traditional Norwegian sweaters or their colorful bunads made of warm Norwegian wool to keep warm. The sun was shining on Norway Block that day, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. You could feel the excitement in the air.

Anticipation 

Spirits were high, and everyone was ready for the program to begin, after having been prepped by Joseph “Joe” Grødahl, director of programs and events at Norway House. Justin Anthony Spenner, winner of the 2022 Edvard Grieg Society of Minnesota Voice Competition, had already built up the atmosphere singing with his guitar, with Wesley Frye on the piano and Ryan Cihlar on accordion and drums—with all Norwegian songs, of course.

Grødahl had already led the crowd in the Norwegian national anthem “Ja, vi elsker dette landet,” as everyone looked to the new flagpoles, the American and Norwegian flags flying proudly against the brilliant blue sky.

Joseph Grødahl, director of programs and events at Norway House, got the program rolling, as he led the Norwegian national anthem.

Guitarist and vocalist Justin Anthony Spenner, winner of the 2022 Edvard Grieg Society of Minnesota Voice Competition, provided the music, with Wesley Frye on the keyboard and Ryan Cihlar on accordion and drums to back him up.

But now the moment had come, and Queen Sonja and an entourage of dignitaries, including Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, and the Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, Anniken R. Krutnes, stepped up onto the stage.

Of course, Norway House was there, too. Executive Director Christina Carleton looked picture-perfect in her light blue bunad from her hometown, Oslo, accompanied by the emcee for the day, Rebecca Jorgenson Sundquist, senior development officer at Norway House.

A warm welcome

Emcee for the day was Rebecca Jorgenson Sundquist, senior development officer at Norway House.

Sundquist gave the opening welcome remarks, reminding everyone of the printed program of the day’s events to follow along and to keep as a memento. The program contained the Norwegian lyrics of the musical numbers interspersed throughout the program. For the less hale and hearty, there was a reminder that the entire program was being livestreamed via closed-circuit video inside Mindekirken.

Executive Director Carleton was the first speaker to come up to the podium. She took the opportunity to recap the history of Norway House, its missions, its programs, and events. Founded in 2004, Norway House moved to its present location next to Mindekirken in 2015. From the outset, its mission has been to connect the United States to contemporary Norway in the realms of business, arts, and culture. “There is no other organization in the United States like it,” Carleton said.

She thanked the many institutions and organizations that had turned a vision into a reality, including the state of Minnesota, the city of Minneapolis, and the Norwegian government. She also thanked the donors, volunteers, and expressed her gratitude for the donors, volunteers, and the patron of Norway House, King Harald V. And finally she thanked Queen Sonja for making the long trip.

“Your Majesty, we are so very honored that you are with us for celebrating our opening,” she said.

Christina Carleton, executive director of Norway House, welcomed a crowd of about 1,000, under a bright sunny blue sky.

A strong transatlantic friendship

There were more cheers and applause when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar headed to the podium.

Klobuchar is a senior U.S. senator from Minnesota, holding her seat since 2007. She is recognized for her ability to work across the aisle, supporting legislation on issues of security, trade, economic development, and climate change.

But the day was not about Klobuchar’s political platform.

“The sun is shining,” she said, “and the sun is shining, because we are welcoming Her Majesty Queen Sonja, and we are so honored to have her back once again to Minnesota.”

Klobuchar shared a memory of the queen’s last visit to Minnesota with King Harald, when they traveled to Duluth in the northern part of the state. They had walked up the steep hill to the Enger Tower, built in honor of a prominent Norwegian immigrant. A young girl had suddenly run up to Queen Sonja with a paper crown, and the queen put it on. “That is this queen,” said Klobuchar.

Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar ignited the crowds as she extolled the longtime friendship between Norway and the United States.

The senator also made reference to the challenges in the world today, but added a word of reassurance: “The strength of the American-Norwegian friendship will get us through this time,” she said.

Norway has deep roots in the North Star State, home to the largest Norwegian diaspora in the United States, making it the second largest Norwegian population in the world. There were many cheers.

It was an emotional moment when Klobuchar remembered the many great Norwegian-American leaders who have come from Minnesota, including her late friend and mentor Vice President Walter Mondale, “whose spirit is with us today.”

Klobuchar also spoke about the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine and what Norway and the United States are doing within the NATO alliance. She praised Norway for its efforts with Ukrainian refugees and its care for wounded soldiers and civilians. In this context the National Guard exchange between Norway and Minnesota plays an important role.

She concluded, “Now more than ever, it is clear that the connection between Norway and the United States is worth celebrating. And I’m confident that this beautiful expanded facility—just gorgeous—will continue to strengthen our ties to our best friend in the world, Norway.”

A place to come together

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was one of the distinguished guests and speakers.

Next up to the podium was Minneapolis Mayor Frey, who spoke about the beautiful diversity of the city and neighborhood surrounding Norway House, where “everyone is welcome.”

The mayor pointed to the new “Seeds” pine cone sculpture as being emblematic.

“Norway House has long been about planting the seeds of future generations to make sure that all of us in this city can find a wonderful home and can be welcomed and have success,” Frye said. “It’s about a place where we all can gather, get to know each other, celebrate our differences, something that Norway House has been about from the very beginning.”

He then had the great pleasure of presenting the day’s guest of honor, Queen Sonja.

The queen speaks

Regal, relaxed, and stunningly beautiful in her colorful East-Telemark bunad, Queen Sonja addressed the crowd.

“It’s a great pleasure for me to be here at the exciting opening of the new Norway House this morning,” she said. Like others, she mentioned the strong ties of Minneapolis to Norway. “Being here feels like a home away from home,” she said.

The queen talked about the shared experience of Norway and the United States, with two of the oldest constitutions in the world.

“We share hopes, fears, values, and dreams for the future,” said the queen. “On a fundamental level, we understand each other ….”

Without any doubt, the highlight of the day was the cutting of the ribbon by Queen Sonja, which marked the official opening of the new Innovation + Culture Center at Norway House. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Executive Director Christina Carleton held one end, and Mayor Jacob Frey held the other.

The queen offered her congratulations to everyone, especially the Norway House team for the opening of the new Innovation + Culture Center. “With these words, I declare Norway House, Minnesota, officially open,” said the queen.

Five, four, three, two, one …

It was finally time for the ribbon-cutting. Emcee Sundquist called on Sen. Klobuchar and Mayor Frey to hold the ribbon tight —without engaging in a tug of war—as Carleton got out the scissors. After a countdown of five, Queen Sonja playfully cut the ribbon. The official ceremony was over, and the block party began, with more music, food trucks, handshaking, hugs, and much merriment. Norway House had come home.

When asked about the Norway House grand opening, Queen Sonja said that it had been one of the major experiences of her life.

“It shows the importance of the relationship between the United States and Norway, and everything that goes into that collaboration. It is an important place both for Americans and for Norwegians who want to establish themselves here.”

And apparently, Queen Sonja had quite a good time at the festivities.

“It’s the 17th of May and the 17th of May many times over here today,” the smiling queen said.

After the conclusion of the program, visitors entered the Sundet Family Aula, passing by the new “Seeds” pine cone sculpture, another star of the show.

The block party continued with music, food, and merriment, as Queen Sonja took the time to say hello to the many visitors who had gathered to greet her.

All photos courtesy of Coppersmith Photography

Also see A new place for gathering and a new landmark in the November 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

This article originally appeared in the November 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.