The Oldest Hardanger Fiddler?
By Carl T. Narvestad
Was the Valdres Sjugurd Strand America's oldest Hardanger fiddler? A Valdres bygdebok refers to him thus, "When the fiddler, J.O. Quale and Knut Ellingboe visited Sjugurd Strand when he was 100, he played a few tunes." Not many men lived to be a hundred and two generations ago, and still fewer played the hardingfele at that age! So, who was he?
The bygdebok elaborated on him: Sjugurd often played the fiddle in the evening or while resting after work. Quale and Ellingboe heard him play "Teigen" and a springar, "Krosshaugen," which he learned from Ola Strand paa Soyne.
Ola was one of the great-est Hardanger fiddlers in his area and, if he was Sjugurd's mentor, the latter may have been a good fiddler, too. Valdres Samband genealogist Betty Rockswold discovered that Ola Strand paa Soyne was married to Sjugurd's cousin.
But Sjugurd was more than a fiddler. The bygdebok continued, "Sjugurd was unusually spry and agile. There is hardly a ceiling in the Øye area which he could not reach with "a stempla rundkast" (a type of halling dance in which the dancer becomes air-borne and kicks the ceiling beams)."
Sjugurd was born in Vang, Valdres, on Oct.25, 1837, and had worked on the Sveji farm south eight summers before he immigrated to the Northfield, Minn., area in 1866, settling on a small farm (possibly in Goodhue County). That same year he married Engeborg Thomasdatter Elton on Oct.25, the birthdays of bride and groom.
They had four children while living near Northfield: Thomas, Gilbert, Thomas (the first Thomas died) and Martin. In 1871, the family moved with their ox-drawn wagon to Wang Township, Renville County, Minnesota, where nine more children were born. Four died in infancy.
Torger, Sarah (Mrs. Iver Soine), Ella (Mrs. Olaf Holien), Mary (Mrs. Andres Brekke) and Sever survived childhood diseases.
Sjugurd Strand's name became Americanized to Sever Guttormson Strand, Guttorm being his father's given name. But in Wang Township, he continued to be called Sjugurd Strond, Strond being a dialect form of Strand.
The centenarian enjoyed good health and was active until he fell and injured his hip the year before he died. Until then he carried himself "in a true soldier manner," said one obituary. After his accident, he was confined to bed but was congenial and cheerful.
Except for his injury, he enjoyed good health and at all times had full possession of his faculties. He began using tobacco at age nine, always ate three good meals and two lunches, with coffee each meal.
Sjugurd died March 13, 1939,after a few days of illness. His wife had died July II, 1937, at age 92.
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Last updated: December 26, 2016
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