The Oldest Bygdelag in America - 1899
Re-printed with permission from the Budstikken, December 1999
Willmar Centennial Stevne Summary
By Aaron Hanson
The 100th anniversary stevne of the Valdres Samband took place in Willmar, Minnesota, from Thursday, June 10, through Saturday, June 12, 1999. The stevne provided days of enjoyment and festivities for the 225 people in attendance. The special event featured a strong mixture of seminars, entertainment, genealogy, arts and crafts, awards, singing, visiting, and more.
Registration began at 9:00 a.m. on Thurs-day at the Willmar Conference Center. The welcome packet included a centennial pin that was designed by Eleanor Schultz. The pin features a pioneer planting a tree; according to Eleanor, the pin represents putting down roots in a new world and symbolizes the importance of genealogy to the Valdres Samband. Many members wore the pin on their nametags.
Several new members joined the Samband during the three-day event. Diane Lerohl, secretary of the Valdres Samband, said that 14 new members joined at the stevne.
One family in particular had several new members: the Dean and Ruth Benson family. After attending last year's stevne in Middleton, Wisconsin, Dean and Ruth and their daughter Kathy Doto encouraged the entire family to attend the centennial stevne. And they came! Family members from across the U.S. traveled to Wilimar for the event.
Genealogy played an important part of the stevne. Betty Rockswold, Samband genealogist, arrived at the Willmar Conference Center on Wednesday, and there were already several people there who helped lay out materials. Betty expressed gratitude for those people who carried in boxes of genealogical resources and for Vern Jorgenson, who came on Thursday morning with the microfilm and microfiche machines.
Betty noted that on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there were usually a few people waiting for the doors to open when she arrived at 8:00 a.m.--an hour before start time. In her words, the genealogy room was a "beehive of activity." Every once in a while, there was a hushed excitement, which indicated that someone had made a discovery.
Betty reported that the copy machines were used constantly and were probably happy when everyone went home. She added that she was pleased that so many people discovered new information about ancestors, and she hoped that many people would return for next year's stevne.
Arts and Crafts Show
Fifteen vendors displayed their work and offered numerous items for sale. A variety of Norwegian and Norwegian-American items were represented, including rosemaling, Hardanger embroidery, bunad embroidery, woodcarvings, jewelry, clothing, books, Budstikken back issues, and more. A complete list of the vendors' names and addresses is on page 28.
Eunice Holz noted that a few people donated items for preservation at this year's stevne. Devon Banister of Starbuck, Minnesota, donated two buttons: one is from 1975 and commemorates the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Norwegian immigration to America; the other is a syttende mai button from 1994. Dean Benson, from Hayden, Idaho, donated a four-generation photograph. An elderly man in the photograph is wearing a ribbon that may read "Valdres."
Other activities on Thursday included videos in the Hospitality Room and a "Get-Acquainted Social Time" near the entrance of the Willmar Conference Center.
The first seminar, "Viking Update," was led by Leland Pederson. Leland began the seminar by showing a video called "The Legacy of the Kensington Runestone." He then provided evidence of mooring stones; he showed a replica of a stone with holes that are similar to mooring stones he has seen in Pope County and other parts of Minnesota.
Cathy Paulson provided information about the Valdres Samband web page. Cathy displayed the web page on a wall and showed several highlights from it, including a photo of June Adele Dolva, articles by Betty Rockswold, churches in Norway, and links to other sites. The web site's address is www.valdressamband.org.
In addition to the web site, Cathy demonstrated a translator program called Tolken97. She showed how it could translate English words into Norwegian and described how words could be translated from Norwegian into English.
After the lunch break on Friday, Dr. Odd Lovoll discussed his recent research that culminated in the book The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian-Americans Today. Dr. Lovoll acquired 7,000 questionnaires and conducted 1,000 in-depth interviews to better understand modern-day Norwegian-Americans. His research assistant for the project was Terje Mikael Hasle Joranger, a Valdres who grew up in Oslo.
In his seminar, Dr. Lovoll spoke about ethnic identity and how people preserve their identity through visual symbols like food (giant lefses), ethnic jokes (Ole and Lena), and public displays (Mount Horeb' s Trollway). Lovoll focused upon how people choose their ethnic identy. As an example, he told about a non-Norwegian woman who married a Norwegian and later adopted the food and customs of Norway.
In his remarks, Dr. Lovoll also referred to the Valdres Samband. He said that he appreciated the help of the Samband when he was working on his dissertation about the bygdelag. Lovoll said that no other bygdelag helped as much as the Valdres Samband, and he specifically cited the help of the Narvestads.
"Manners Yesterday and Today in Norway," the final seminar on Friday, was presented by Ann Gesme. Ann spoke about Norwegian customs and behaviors that 19th-century travelers observed in Norway.
Ann pointed out that many behavior patterns from 19th century have survived. For example, parents in Norway set high standards for their children. Some rules that may still apply today are: children are not supposed to ask too many questions, do not mock or ape other people, and do not accept offers of food immediately.
Friday Evening Program
President June Adele Dolva began by welcoming everyone to the centennial stevne in Willmar. She briefly commented on the Samband's long history and directed members' attention to her comments in the preface of the program for more details.
Dean Gesme served as master of ceremonies and helped the program to run smoothly.
The audience sang the American and Norwegian national anthems.
Les Heitke, mayor of Willmar, welcomed everyone to the city and to the stevne. He provided a brief history of the city and expressed his appreciation for the Samband's return to Willmar. He also mentioned the West Central Tribune article about Carl and Amy Narvestad.
The audience sang "O Valdres" under the direction of Howard Lerohl and was accompanied by Jan Lerohl. The song was written by Samband member Gretchen Dokken Hellie.
June Adele Dolva presented gifts on behalf of the Valdres Samband to two active members: Amy Narvestad and Betty Rockswold. The gifts recognized their long-term commitment to the Samband and their significant contributions in helping to ensure the organization's success.
Following the awards, Stephanie Hendrickson performed a fine arrangement of traditional Norwegian songs on the violin. Along with accompanist Marlene Erickson, Stephanie played Grieg's "Solveig's Song," Svendsen's "Romance," and the song "Hils fra meg der hjemme."
La Vonne Hookom, Willmar Sons of Norway president, greeted stevne attendees. She praised the Samband for its centennial and recognized efforts put forth by its members in the success of the bygdelag.
Beatrice Hole then performed on the psalmodikon. One of the few psalmodikon players in America, Beatrice gave a moving demonstration of an instrument that was popular in early Norwegian churches. She drew on a broad repertoire that included traditional Norwegian songs ("Nidelven" and "Pål på haugen") and a modern American song (Elvis's "Love Me Tender").
Palmer Rockswold introduced the play he wrote, which is based on his novel Per, Immigrant and Pioneer
The excerpt of the play at the stevne concerned the character Per and his decision to immigrate to America. Director John Esbjornson and a company of local actors did an excellent job of portraying Per's joys and sorrows in leaving Norway and coming to America.
The final performer on Friday evening was Cathy Danzler-Olson. She provided an upbeat demonstration of the langeleik and performed several dance tunes. Accompanied by her charming daughter Froya, Cathy played an interesting "dokke manns vals" (doll man's waltz) using a doll theater. When she plucked the strings on the langeleik, the puppets in the theater danced to the music.
Doug Ohman, a self-taught professional photographer, offered a slide presentation of churches in his seminar "Historic Gatherings." His talk focused on Lutheran churches founded by Norwegian-Americans. His presentation followed the settlement of Norwegian-Americans from southeastern Minnesota to northwestern Minnesota.
Three folk art seminars took place later in the morning. Eleanor Johnson spoke about rosemaling and the Telemark style that she practices. She told a funny story about a sign at another event that mistakenly referred to her art as "rosemauling."
Nicole Beyl provided an overview of weaving and spinning; she was assisted by Jessica Macy. The wool and equipment came from Beyl's Rising Moon Farm in Foley, Minnesota.
Louis Zachariason spoke about his interest in woodcarving and described the different types of woods used in the carvings he had on display.
Sing-Along, Business Meeting and Memorial Service
Howard Lerohl led the sing-along on Saturday afternoon, assisted by accompanist Jan Lerohl. Members in attendance sang many traditional favorites, including "Nidelven" and "Hils fra meg der hjemme."
June Adele Dolva presided over the business meeting, which began with several reports about the Valdres Samband. Diane Lerohl provided the Secretary's Report, Allard Stevens offered the Treasurer's Report, and Michael Bergan of the Auditing Committee confirmed that the Samband's accounting practices are in order. All officers were reelected to their positions.
The Reverend Conrad M. Thompson presided at the Memorial Service. Rev. Thompson structured his sermon according to the verses in the gospel song "We're Going to See the King."
Following the sermon, Ann Stevens presented white carnations to friends and relatives of departed Samband members.
Those remembered were: Fred Anderson, Cottonwood, MN; Dennis T. Disrud, Minot, ND; Dr. Noland A. Eidsmoe, Rice Lake, WI; Sanford Fosholt, Muscatine, IA; Clarence Gustafson, Minneapolis, MN; Knut Hauge, Lomen, Valdres, Norway; Marvin Holden, Webster, SD; Orville Johnson, Brownsville, WI; Clarice Delores Kiel, Minneota, MN; John C. Koch, Waupaca, WI; Roger William Kuehn, Sr., St. Paul, MN; M. Howard Naeseth, Panama City, FL; Gertrude Nearman, Sioux Falls, SD; Dr. Hal Nelson, Olympia, WA; Laura M. Nelson, Loretto, MN; John Trisch, La Crosse, WI; and Pastor Irvin Tveit, Minneapolis, MN.
The service concluded with a stirring solo of "Den Store Hvite Flokk" by Helen Knutson.
Eleanor Schultz welcomed everyone to the banquet. She spoke about the early days of the Valdres Samband and specifically noted the challenge of transportation, the frequency of meeting in parks, and the joy of gathering with people who spoke the Valdres dialect. Eleanor also spoke about the Norwegian phrase "takk for alt" (thanks for everything) and how it relates to the way many people feel about the Samband.
Howard Lerohl led the singing of the Norwegian Table Prayer with the assistance of Eindride Karlsgodt.
At each place setting, a blue card included a list of food items served at the first Valdres Gjestebø on August31, 1902, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first gjestebø featured rømmegraut, lutefisk, lefse, flatbrød, gammelost, sild, julekake and other Norwegian foods. The centennial gjestebø featured family-style house salads, meatballs, baked chicken breast with orange sauce, parslied buttered potatoes, glazed baby carrots, lefse, rolls, rice cream with raspberry topping, and kransekake.
Eleven kransekaker were baked by Kathy Hendrickson and Ann Stevens; each kransekake was decorated with small Norwegian flags and the number "100." The kransekaker were set on several tables and served as attractive and tasty centerpieces.
Another special centennial feature was the wooden budstikk (message stick) at each place setting. Every person at the banquet received a budstikk with an enclosed message explaining how a budstikk was used to leave a message at a neighbor's house. A total of 330 budstikks were made by Wayne Pitmon of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, for the centennial stevne. Diane Lerohl organized the creation of the commemorative budstikks.
Marilyn Somdahl greeted everyone on behalf of the Bygdelagenes Fellesraad (the National Council of Bygdelag). President Somdahl led a festive cheer to honor the Valdres Samband on its 100th birthday.
June Adele Dolva and Eleanor Schultz read several letters of congratulations. Five noteworthy greetings presented at the stevne came from: President Bill Clinton, Valdres Samband Past President Arne Rosenlund (the only current Board member born in Norway), Acting Consul General Bjørn Eilertsen from the Royal Norwegian Consulate in Minneapolis, the mayors of the six kommuner in Valdres, and the organizing committee of the Valdres Samband centennial in Valdres.
June Adele and Eleanor then presented recognition awards to Diane Lerohl, Stephen Wills, and Eunice Holz. Recognition gifts were presented to Arne Rosenlund and Hilda Kringstad. Fortunately, Arne didn't open his wrapped gift immediately, because it contained earrings intended for Hilda! Diane Lerohl quickly retrieved the gift and exchanged it before any confusion began.
Hardanger fiddler Stephanie Hendrickson led the bunad procession. As she passed by tables, several members joined in the colorful procession of national costumes.
Saturday Evening Program
Howard Lerohl started the evening program with the Call of the Lur. James Belgum, master of ceremonies, warmed up the audience with several jokes. He explained that he had been forbidden to tell Ole and Lena jokes and so decided to tell Lars and Inga jokes.
Following the singing of the national anthems, the Lin-Hans-Rud Dancers (also known as the Hanska Dancers) entertained the audience with a variety of folk dances. The dancers captivated the audience with whirling dances like "Kross dans med seks" (Cross Dance with Six) and humorous pieces such as "Gustavs skal" (Gustav's Toast), where the dancers flirt with each other and try to shout "skål" the loudest.
Next the audience sang "O Valdres," the song by Gretchen Dokken Hellie that describes the beautiful valley and the people connected to it.
Karen Solgard, vice president of the Hardanger Fiddle Association, performed many outstanding songs on Hardanger fiddle. She played a variety of songs, including springars from Telemark, Vestland, and Valdres. Karen learned much about playing the Hardanger fiddle from Tarjei Romtveit in Telemark, Norway, and from Olav Jøgen Hegge. Several people commented afterward that she is the best Hardanger fiddle player they ever heard.
The Samband Singers performed many songs under the direction of Howard Lerohl. Thirty-three members of the 68-member choir sang songs that they planned to perform at the centennial celebration in Norway. The Samband Singers were organized by Diane and Howard Lerohl to perform for part of the American program in Valdres.
Doris Hayes read several resolutions. She expressed appreciation and thanks to many individuals and groups, including the planning committee of the centennial stevne at Willmar and the members in attendance. The resolutions concluded with a wish to see many people at the upcoming centennial stevne to be held in Fagernes, Norway, and the stevne in the year 2000 at St. Cloud, Minnesota.
At the end of the evening, the Samband Singers joined the audience in "God Bless America." A wonderful 100th stevne came to a close with the choir and the audience singing "Aftensolen Smiler."