Jan/Feb
2017

Uff-da! The Sons of Norway Cherishing the Past While Looking to the Future

Written by Renee Thoreson Photography by Jorrie Johnson
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Many who were raised in Scandinavian-settled areas of the country, such as the upper Midwest, are or have relatives who are, members of the Sons of Norway. The organization is not just for Norwegians; it’s for all who enjoy the Scandinavian culture.  

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS 

In January 1895, a small group of Norwegian immigrants living in Minneapolis formed a mutual assistance organization much like what they had known in Norway. Members paid a weekly fee and received support when need, illness or death made personal resources inadequate. The program became known as the Independent Order of the Sons of Norway. To qualify for membership, “One had to be male, either Norwegian or of Norwegian descent, give proof of being morally upright, in good health, capable of supporting a family, at least 20 years old and no more than 50.” 

Within two years of its beginning, membership totaled 116, including members from north and south Minneapolis. The Daughters of Norway, a sister society, began in 1897. Most of the wives of the founders of Sons of Norway became founders of the Daughters of Norway. With the popularity of the Sons of Norway increasing, they incorporated in order to establish subordinate lodges. The articles set forth as the purpose of the Sons of Norway were to “gather Norwegians around their ancestral heritage of history, language and other cultural arts, to assist one another in sickness and need and to furnish opportunities for sociability.”  

A LODGE FOR ROCHESTER

Kristiania Lodge #47 in Rochester was organized in 1905 and formally chartered with 42 members. By 1919, interest waned and activities ceased. The lodge was reactivated in 1934 with 32 members and area lodges attending in support of the first meeting. Lodge meetings were held at a union hall on South Broadway and in homes. Members paid monthly dues of 35 cents and meetings were conducted in English. 

In 1950, the Minnesotan Daughters of Norway merged with the Sons of Norway, and women quickly became active serving in roles as president and board members. Greta Holand, Kristiania’s first of many female presidents, served as early as 1962. The lodge met at the one-room schoolhouse on Highway 52, Stones Corner School, until it was sold in 2003. The lodge now leases space at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on Viola Road for monthly meetings. Membership is approximately 150 with members’ ages ranging from youth to 94 years old, with an average age of 74. Although many members are of Norwegian ancestry, other nationalities represented include Swedish, Danish, Finnish, German, Scottish and Irish. The Kristiania Lodge celebrated its centennial anniversary on May 20, 2005. 

As a whole, Sons of Norway has over 55,000 members in 380 lodges in Canada, United States and Norway. The mission of Sons of Norway is “to promote and preserve the heritage and culture of Norway, to celebrate our relationship with other Nordic countries and provide quality insurance and financial products to
our members.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MEMBER 

As the largest Norwegian organization outside of Norway, members will find a community of shared values and have access to cultural programming, philanthropic outreach and financial products. Monthly meetings include singing the three national anthems of countries involved with Sons of Norway (United States, Canada and Norway), reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, announcing upcoming events, giving awards, occasionally hearing from Lars and his other brother, Lars, listening to a speaker and having a little lunch consisting of  open-faced sandwiches, bars and coffee. Past speaker topics have included: Norwegian architecture in Minnesota, Norwegian-American women, proton beam therapy, Beowulf, Norwegian antiques, Vesterheim Museum, National Eagle Center and more. 

Members may pursue cultural skills and take classes offered by the lodge. Classes have covered hardanger, rosemaling, Norwegian language lessons, genealogy and Norwegian cuisine. Currently, the youngest member is taking the hardanger class and making an apron for her doll. Members can earn pins in the Cultural Skills Program, providing a framework for learning about traditional and contemporary Norwegian culture. The Sons of Norway also offers student scholarships to children and grandchildren of members applying for college and Norwegian language camps. The lodge is philanthropic with about 20 gifts to organizations in our community including Norway House, Vesterheim Museum, Ronald McDonald House, Hiawatha Homes, Biking Vikings, Ski for Light, Rochester Nordic Ski Club and more. Sons of Norway is also active with International Day in Plainview, Festival of Trees, Salvation Army, Keyboard Club and Honk/Squeak/Scratch/Boom. 

In keeping with the original idea of mutual assistance, Sons of Norway offers insurance products and investment plans, if members so choose. Other benefits are the monthly Kristiania Posten newsletter, Viking magazine and travel services. There’s also a monthly social event with a meal and entertainment. 

ONE AND A HALF NORWEGIANS

“Sons of Norway was something I had heard about in conversations during my growing up years, but I really didn't know what it was all about until I joined the organization,” says Ann Romo, who is 100 percent Norwegian. She joined Sons of Norway in 1995, has served as social director and vice president and has been the president for the last several years. 

“The people in our Kristiania Chapter in Rochester made me feel welcome from the start,” Ann says. “After graduating from Winona State, when my girls had graduated from high school, I had the time to attend and participate more.” Ann oversees the planning for 19 speakers at the meetings and social events every year and enjoys the fellowship between members. “It's been a joy to be a member of Sons of Norway. I am very proud of our Kristiania Chapter and what it does for the community.” 

Darlene Stadsvold, a Norwegian of partly German descent, is also a long-time member, having joined in 1999. Darlene has served as secretary since 2006 and is the lodge volunteer coordinator. In the past, she also served as coordinator for the soup ‘n sandwich portion of the yearly Sons of Norway bake and craft sale held each November. Darlene enjoys the programs and fellowship at the monthly meetings. As a part of the philanthropic arm of Sons of Norway, she has been trimming 300-400 postage stamps every month which are then sent to Norway for sales to collectors and supporting children in need. When asked how she can cut so many, Darlene replies with her Norwegian dry sense of humor, “What else can you do while you watch the news?”

VELKOMMEN IN 2017

Location: Our Savior's Lutheran Church on Viola Road in Rochester

Time: Meetings are held the second Thursday of each month at 7 pm, social events are held the fourth Saturday

Annual Dues for Adults: $41.50 (less for spouse and children)

Future Speaker Topics: Trip on the Hurtigruten, the city of Bergen, DNA Testing and Interpretation, Greenland, Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, Building and Carving a Swedish Warship, Coffin Ships, Hand me a Chisel! and Tromso

Renee Thoreson is an artist, musician, lover of all things Norwegian and a card carrying member of Sons of Norway since 2007.