Vikings in Lake Wildwood |

Vikings in Lake Wildwood

More than 5,000 miles separate Penn Valley and the heart of Oslo.

But distance didn’t stop a large contingent of the local chapter of Sons of Norway from celebrating their heritage recently at Lake Wildwood’s Commodore Park.

Sons of Norway was founded as an insurance organization by 18 Norwegian immigrants in Minneapolis in 1895 to protect their members from financial hardship. Its mission today is to promote and preserve the heritage and culture of Norway.

The organization has more than 69,000 members spread across Canada, Norway and the United States. With headquarters in Minneapolis, the organization still offers insurance contracts to members.

On Monday, the members of Gulldalen Lodge held their monthly meeting at Lake Wildwood’s Commodore Park. Guests were met by the flags of Norway and the United States, both colored with red, white and blue; the meeting began with both the American and the Norwegian national anthems.

“We arrange all kinds of activities so our members can learn more about Norwegian traditions,” said Siri Fenson, cultural director of the lodge.

The evening meeting was billed as an ice cream social, but it also included a talent show. The talents varied from performing Norwegian folk songs to playing music on a saw. One contestant even showcased his pea-spitting skills.

Sharing their culture

The Gulldalen Lodge, one of 400 in the United States, was founded in 1982 and has about 110 members.

The local chapter’s theme for the last two years has been Your Heritage Revisited.

“We have arranged bunad and lusekofte fashion shows, Norwegian rose painting demos and folk dance lessons,” Fenson said. Bunad is the name of Norway’s national costume for men and women, and lusekofte is a traditional sweater, hand-knit of wool in geometric designs.

It was obvious that the “sons” (women are also members) of Norway were interested in learning more about this cold country up north, but they seemed to be very familiar with the news from Norway.

“Save your money and buy oil!” one man shouted, well aware of Norway’s booming oil industry.

Member Jim Lucas has written four plays about Norway, Norwegian traditions and the experience of immigrants for the local lodge. Lucas performed at Monday’s meeting as well, singing an old and traditional Norwegian song called, “Det var en god gammel bondemann.”

The title means, “There was a good old peasant.”

Norwegian language lessons have been available and have been very popular, according to Fenson.

Gulldalen Lodge has done several projects through the years, and now is building a Viking ship. The ship can be seen in the next Constitution Day parade in Nevada City.

“We will sail down Broad Street dressed in traditional Norwegian clothes,” an excited Fenson said. In October they will arrange an evening dedicated to Vikings.

Different backgrounds, family ties

Members come from a variety of backgrounds, but most are first, second, third and some even fourth-generation Norwegians.

Fenson was born in Sweden of Norwegian parents. She came to the U.S. in 1962, hired by Pan American Airlines as a stewardess.

“I was committed to stay for a year. That’s 46 years ago!” a smiling Fenson said. She is still a Swedish citizen, but feels more and more Norwegian due to the involvement in the lodge, she added.

Marcia Winborne-Graven is another enthusiastic member. She was born in Minnesota, but all of her family is Norwegian.

“My heritage is Norwegian, and one day I finally got to go and see the country I had been told about my whole life,” Winborne-Graven said. “I’m a member of Sons of Norway to preserve the part of me that’s Norwegian.”

Winborne-Graven moved to Nevada County about nine years ago and has been a member of the lodge since last year. Still, she has a long history within Sons of Norway.

“I used to be the social director of Ulabrand Lodge in San Pedro,” she said. In 1972 she got to meet the former king of Norway during his visit to the U.S.

It was Winborn-Graven’s grandfather who first emigrated from Norway.

“He actually came over to fight Indians, but when he got to Minnesota and realized that the war was over, he went to work on the Great Northern Railroad,” she said.

Although the group’s main focus is Norway and Norwegian heritage, members also dedicate some of their meetings to other countries in the Nordic region. This year, they have arranged both Swedish and Danish evenings.

Anyone interested in Norway and its culture can join the organization. “But 99 percent of our members have Norwegian roots, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Fenson said.

She also is the editor of the group’s monthly newsletter, called Avis, which means “newspaper” in Norwegian.

Alexander Wiesner Barg is a Norwegian high school student conducting an internship at The Union. To leave him a message, call 477-4230.

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