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2001 Stevne in Decorah, Iowa 

Reprinted with permission from December 2001 Budstikken
By Aaron Hanson

 

For only the third time in its 102 year history, the Valdres Samband held its annual stevne in Decorah, Iowa. If You count the 1999 Norwegian-American Bygdelag Centennial as a Valdres stevne, this would be the fourth time to Decorah. This year's stevne took place from June 14 to 16 on the campus of Luther College, with coordinated visits to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

208 people registered for the three-day event, which lasted from Thursday to Saturday. A total of 199 people signed the guest book. Registration took place in the lobby of Centennial Union.

One of the highlights of Thursday, and the entire stevne, was a van tour of the Washington Prairie area. Michael Bergan, who later at the stevne, was elected to president of the Valdres Samband, led the tour. See the related article for a detailed description of the tour.

Another unique feature on Thursday was the Get Acquainted Social. Not unique because of socializing, but because members met at the Bethania Church basement on the grounds of the Vesterheim Museum. Accordionist Don Olsen provided musical entertainment, including songs such as Nidelven and Hils Fra Meg Der Hjemme. Delicious almond puff pastries were served along with coffee, lemonade and water.

On Friday morning, the seminars started with a talk by Steve Johnson, director of historic preservation and facilities at Vesterheim. Steve provided a narrated slide show about the history and current events of Vesterheim. He noted that the Valdres House opened in the open-air part of the museum in 1976. Also of interest are the primstav paintings by Sigmund Aarseth in the Heritage Center and the Etnedal replica dress in the utvandring (emigration) exhibit.

The next speaker, Stan Jeffers, talked about local genealogy resources at the Decorah Genealogy Association and The Preus Library. Stan, who also served on the planning committee for the 2001 stevne with his wife Frances, spoke about the development of the Decorah Genealogy Association. In 1993, nine people went to the public library and requested a place to have a genealogy facility. Since then, the room in the library basement has been filled with useful resources.

Bonnie Rinken, a customer service representative of the Anundsen Publishing Co., conveyed helpful information about publishing a family history. Anundsen, which has been in business since 1868, is probably most famous for publishing the Decorah Posten. Rinken brought samples of published family histories and also distributed handouts about preparing manuscripts.

Friday afternoon featured guided and independent tours at Vesterheim Musuem. One guided tour, led by Vesterheim Guide Marilyn Peterson, explored traditional home furnishings in Norway, colorful bunads (national costumes), and emigration history. Tour members saw the beautiful red dress, made in an Etnedal style, that is on display near the large wooden sailing ship Tradewind.

Across main street (called Water Street) from the main museum building is Vesterheim's Heritage Center. Inside, Valdres Samband member Ann Umess Gesme provided a guided tour of Sigmund Aarseth's primstav paintings. In Norway, the primstav was a calendar stick with symbols that noted important days of the year. Ann told about the myths and legends behind Aarseth's colorful and fanciful paintings.

Back at Luther College in the Olin Building, genealogists worked steadily to track down ancestors. Two rooms were needed to hold all of the resources: one for family histories and one for records, copiers and work space. As usual, Valdres Samband genealogist, Betty Rockswold, moved about busily helping new and experienced researchers.  

Likewise, downtown at offices of the Decorah Genealogy Association (DGA), Stan Jeffers helped researchers track down information. The DGA's collection consists of Winneshiek County records, local histories, township histories, and many other items. The shelves of the basement rooms are packed with books, pamphlets, and a variety of materials.

The Friday Evening Program was held in an auditorium in the Valders Memorial Hall of Science. Certainly an appropriate name for a gathering of Valdres descendants and supporters. According to the Luther College Web site, "Louis and Maude Olsen, who were the principal donors to Valders [Hall], requested that it be named for the Valdres area in Norway, from which the ancestors of Mr. Olson came, and for Valders, Wis., where the immigrant Olsons settled."

Eleanor Schultz served as emcee on Friday evening. The program began with the singing of the national anthems from America, Norway, and Canada.

Les Askelson, Chairman of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, provided a welcome. Askelson, who has a polished broadcasting voice, politely apologized for having to speed off to a race course where he does track announcing.

The audience then sang "0 Valdres" under the direction of Howard Lerohl with piano accompaniment provided by his wife, Diane.  

The highlight of the evening was a dramatic impersonation of the life of Elizabeth Koren by Elaine Hegg. Koren was the wife of Reverend Ulrik Vilhelm Koren, a pioneer preacher in northeastern Iowa. Hegg's monologue was based on the writings of Elisabeth Koren that were recorded in her diary, dated 1853-1855. Elizabeth Koren came from a well-to-do family in Norway, and her personal insights into life on the Iowa prairie are simple, eloquent, and revealing.

Following the Friday Evening Program, stevne attendees gathered outside the auditorium for an informal social hour. Coffee, lemonade, and cookies were served.

On Saturday morning, two seminars were held in Valders Hall. The first, led by Laurann Gilbertson and staff of the Vesterheim Museum, was titled "Vesterheim Handverksbua and Norwegian Textiles." Gilbertson, who is the textile curator, spoke about fabrics and weaving. Angie Reynolds, an education assistant at Vesterheim, spoke about wood carving; she showed some elaborate samples, including an acanthus shelf by Kim Glock. Peggy Sersland, manager of the folk art supply shop, also participated in the presentation.

The second seminar, titled "Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land," was led by Dr. Kathlene M. Stokker of Luther College. Stokker, who teaches Norwegian at Luther, showed slides that highlighted several traditions that immigrants brought with them to America. Some of the Ii1lore colorful illustrations concerned pigs, a symbol of good luck, and beer-making, a preparation for Christmas. Other traditions, which were commonly practiced in America, were setting out a julenek (sheaf of wheat for birds) and julebukking (Christmas fools or masquerading).  

SING-ALONG, BUSINESS MEETING, MEMORIAL SERVICE

On Saturday afternoon, the sing-along, business meeting, and memorial service were held in Valders Hall. Howard and Diane Lerohl led the sing-along. June Adele Dolva presided over the business meeting. Several new officers were elected to the Valdres Samband, including Michael Bergan as president, Doris Hayes as vice president, and Karl Kringstad as treasurer. Two new directors were also elected: Gordon Lee for a two-year term, and Earl Evenstad for a one-year term.

For the first time in several years, Rev. Conrad Thompson did not conduct the memorial service. Rev. Thompson, who was in attendance at the stevne, passed away just one month later on July 18. Rev. Thompson' s funeral took place on July 22 in Burnsville, MN. The closing hymn at the Stevne Memorial Service was the same hymn that Rev. Thompson's family chose for his funeral; "I Know My Redeemer Lives."

At the stevne memorial service, Rev. Henrik Engebretson presided and gave the message. Eindride Karlsgodt read the honor roll. In addition to the hymn "I Know My Redeemer Lives," the audience sang, "Behold the Host Arrayed in White."

MEMORABILIA, MERCHANDISE AND VENDORS

Also on Saturday, stevne goers were able to observe the memorabilia display of Valdres Samband photographs and artifacts. Paul Scheffel, chairperson of Preservation along with his wife Jo, had a very pleasant arrangement of items, including six miniature flags from the Valdres kommuner (municipalities) placed in front of a green, black, and red textile.

Located near the memorabilia exhibit was a display of Valdres Samband merchandise, including past issues of Budstikken and books written by Amy and Carl Narvestad. Stephen Wills, merchandise chairperson, dutifully stood by as members browsed and purchased items.

1\vo vendors were also on hand for this year's stevne. Long-time attendees were Lawrence and Deann Gjenvick from Trolls 'N Things of Muskego, Wisc. A newcomer was Judy Shuros of Designs by Judy from Dorchester, Iowa.

 

SATURDAY EVENING FESTIVE GJESTEB0

Long before the 6:0Opm start time of the Festive Gjestebø (banquet), members started to line up outside the Peace/Hamersold Lounge in the Centennial Union. Always a popular event, this year's banquet proved to be no exception. The banquet room was graced with landscape paintings (including a farm scene by Norwegian-American painter Herbjom Gausta) and splendid views of the Iowa countryside.

Hosts and hostesses were A1lard and Ann Stevens. Tickets were handled by Michael Bergan and Leland Pederson. Doris Hayes, elegantly dressed in a bunad, presided over the banquet. The Reverend Henrik Engebretson provided the Table Prayer.

Attendees were directed to a long table of food where they served themselves buffet style. The delicious choices included pork loin with orange sauce, Swedish meatballs, green beans with almond slices, potatoes, herring, lefse and dinner rolls. Raspberry rice pudding was served for dessert. While members dined at their tables, Stephanie Hendrickson serenaded them with several folk tunes played on the Hardanger Fiddle.  

June Adele Dolva, outgoing president, and Diane Lerohl, secretary, made numerous special presentations. Dolva credited the dedication and help of many people for the ongoing success of the Valdres Samband. Among the many people recognized were officers, board members, and committee chairpersons.

Two items were raffled at the gjestebø. The author of this article was fortunate to win one, a silver picture frame with a viking ship, stave church, and the word "Norge" (Norway) on the top. The other item was a coffee mug.

 

SATURDAY EVENING PROGRAM

The evening program, held in the auditorium of the Center for Faith and Life, began with the Call of the Lur played by Howard Lerohl. Lerohl, an active participant, in this and many past stevnes, also served as emcee.

Following the singing of the national anthems, Diane Lerohl read two letters that provided greetings from Valdres, Norway. One letter was from Valdres Correspondent Jahn Børe Jahnsen, who wrote about the centennial celebration of the Valdres Folk Museum, which included a visit from royal guests Crown Prince Hakon and Mette-Marit. The other letter was from Bjørn Gunnar Østgard, who expressed graditude for the many cards he received from members on his 5Oth birthday.

The first group of entertainers was The Senior Nordic Dancers from Decorah. Not to be confused with seniors in high school or senior citizens, these senior dancers were sixteen years of age and were at the top of their form, having started dancing together in third grade. Directed by Elea Uhl and B. J. Nichols, the dancers performed many graceful moves and were accompanied by live musical performers.

After the dancers performed, Gordon MacMasters and Ellen Blegen provided several musical numbers. MacMasters, who plays harmonica and saw, was accompanied by Blegen, who plays piano. Their folksy playing and offl1anded humor won the adoration of audience members.

President June Adele Dolva, after four years as president of the Valdres Samband, passed the gavel, and the presidency, to incoming President Michael Bergan. Bergan graciously accepted his new position. Thus ended Dolva's many years of service as an officer of the Valdres Samband and marked the start of a new period.

Dean and Ann Gesme offered several resolutions, including one that members will meet again in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 2002. The stevne closed with the audience singing "God Bless America."

[2002] [2000]


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