Sons of Norway
Imagine moving to central Iowa from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean as a teenager – and finding that some people in your new home can speak to you in your native tongue. This is the experience that greeted Solfrid Todd (then Solfrid Forre), who came to America at the age of 15 in 1957 after her mother met and married an American man.
“I was astounded [that people were speaking Norwegian in Slater],” says Todd. “Almost every day someone would speak to me in Norwegian.”
At that time many residents of the area could still speak Norwegian, learned at home from their parents or grandparents who had emigrated to the U.S. This eased Solfrid and her brother Oge’s transition from Norway to Iowa. Solfrid’s husband Don, the current president of the local Sons of Norway chapter, described Solfrid and Oge as ‘celebrities around Slater.’
The original Sons of Norway group started out in a similar fashion in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Immigrants from Norway formed a cooperative of Norwegian-Americans in 1895 to gather socially, contribute to a fund for medical care and also discuss things that mattered to their group, like learning English or farming practices in the United States, all while keeping the culture and heritage of their ancestors alive.
The local chapter, the Kong Sverre, meets in Story City on a monthly basis and organizes some activities for the town’s annual Scandinavian Days. The name is derived from the ship that many local residents’ ancestors boarded to come to the U.S. Though many members are of Norwegian descent, it is not a requirement, but you will need to have an interest in Norwegian culture or history.
Meetings of the Kong Sverre lodge, held the second Monday of every month, usually consist of a social hour and dinner, often featuring Norwegian cuisine and delicacies, and complete with a singing of both the U.S. and Norwegian national anthems. After dinner there is a Norwegian-themed presentation by a member of the group or an invited guest. Past presentations have included members’ trips to Norway or Scandinavia and a man who was just a boy when the Nazis seized control of the country during World War II.
Many members of the club proudly display proof of their Norwegian ancestry, not only in their homes, but when attending events with a Norwegian theme as well. Harriet Sheldahl, 88, a member from Huxley and of Norwegian descent on both sides of her family, wears a bunad, or traditional Norwegian dress, to Scandinavian Days. A bunad is meant to signify which region of Norway the wearer is from - Sheldahl purchased hers in Haugesund, where her paternal grandfather was part of the Norwegian Navy before emigrating to the United States. An authentic bunad like Sheldahl purchased on a trip to Norway in 1979 can be valued from $3,000-$6,000 depending on how ornate the dress is.
“Everyone wants to take a picture of me or have a picture taken with me. It’s good because I can’t really go into the kitchen and help because I’m supposed to be a hostess when I have that on,” she says with a laugh.
Look for members of Sons of Norway’s Kong Sverre Lodge to demonstrate a Norwegian game called kubb at Scandinavian Days in Story City June 6 and 7. Nicknamed ‘Viking chess,’ the contest involves knocking over the opposition’s kubbs (like pawns in chess) and their king. Solfrid and Oge will also be making and serving Norwegian waffles.
The next meeting of the Story County Sons of Norway will be held at Story City Community Center at 503 Elm Ave on April 14. The program, given by Kris Coffman, a student at Luther College seminary, will discuss splits in early Norwegian Lutheranism and why there are so many different churches of Norwegian origins in Story County. Meetings are open to the public, with a charge for the catered meal.