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EARLY WANG SETTLERS CELEBRATED IN STYLE

Budstikken, December 1991

Wang settlers

When local Valdres folk gathered on the Ole Oveson farm in Wang Township Renville County, Minnesota on July 31, 1927, a number of the older folk were selected from the assemblage estimated at 700 or 800 to be photographed separate from the crowd photo. They are, back row, left to right: Anton Skrukrud, Ole Rude, Halvor Olson, Knute F. Neste, George Lien, Ole Holien, Gilbert (Guldbrand) Heen, George (Joger, Jejor) Heen, Andrew Elton. Second, indistinct row: Halvor Loftsgaarden, Andrew M Hamre John P. Johnson, Iver Nystuen, Christopher A. Hovda, Andrew T. Sparstad, Sever G. (Sjugur Guttormson) Strand, Nels Thompson. Third row: Henry A. Hamre, Ole T. Kattevold, Ole Wefsemoe, Andrew T. Hoverstad, Nels Hendrickson, TrondOpdahl, Andrew Kjersten, Knut Viken Front row: Marit Flaten, Mrs. Sever G. Strand (nee Ingeborg Elton), Mrs. Endre Thorkelson (nee Syneva Holien), Syneva Loe, Mrs. A. A. Kjersten, Mrs. Nels (Martha) Anderson, Ole 0. Strand.  Olaf R. Strand assisted the author with identification.

By Carl T. Narvestad

So you don't know about Wang township? If you don't it's obvious there is a gap in your education!

Wang township is God's gift to America's Valdres. It is a six mile square area in the northwest comer of Renville County, Minnesota. Apparently the Lord intended it for the Valdres for they occupied about 98 percent of the northem two-thirds, as well as part of the remainder of the township.

The fact that the township and a church are named Wang is evidence that the great majority of the early settlers were from Vang, Valdres. Most of them came via the Valdres settlement in Goodhue County, Minnesota which also has a Vang church. The first settlers in Wang township, however, were from the Oslo area (Christiania), but the masses voted to name the township Wang instead of Christiania, which had been suggested.

The pure Vang, Valdres dialect, a bit different from those spoken in Slidre, Etnedal and Aurdal was spoken in Wang by even the third generation Valdres Americans. The Norwegian language was used exclusively in the Wang church until 1932, after which English services were "permitted" every third Sunday. The by-laws of a local insurance company and of an early coop were in Norwegian. The children often learned their first English when they entered school. And at recess and on the playground Valdres continued to be the principal language spoken when the children played "Norwegian ball" and "jeppe pinne". When A. M. Sundheim, who edited the Valdres Samband magazine "Samband," visited Wang in 1927 he noted, "In pioneer days a couple of Swedes and a German had settled in the area but it wasn't long before both the Swedes and the German spoke the Valdres dialect as fluently as the folk who came from Valdres."

Sundheim and his wife had accompanied J. E. Haugen, then President of the Valdres Samband, to Wang. Haugen had been invited to a gathering of Valdres folk which took place July 31, 1927.

And it was a gathering! The Valdres assembled at the Ole Oveson farm. Sundheim wrote of it in "Samband": "It was towards twelve o'clock when we arrived at the site of the festival, where about 400 automobiles and a great mass of people were gathered.

"The forenoon program, with Pastor A. H. Gjevre of Minneapolis was over. At a long table, shaded by trees, the Valdres ladies were busily preparing to serve dinner. There were no less than 27 giant bowls of rÝmmegraut, a mass of meatballs, flatbrod, lefse and other good Valdres foods.

"We four, who had arrived from Minneapolis (President Hanson's wife was along), were treated as honor guests and, despite our protests, were ushered to a little table on the stage. The remainder filled their cups and plates and sat on benches under the trees and ate and carried on lively conversations in the Valdres dialect. Between 700 and 800 were served. It took more than two hours before those assembled could be served and the majority of them could be posed for a crowd picture." A picture three or four feet long (horizontally) was taken of the crowd and even though it was taken with a camera which scanned the subjects from left to right, the picture cut off segments at each end of the crowd. A separate photo was taken of 32 of the older attendants.

Sundheim gives limited details about the program which followed the picture taking, but mentions that a pump organ had been placed on the stage so there were songs, music and speeches.

The program opened with the audience singing "America" after which G. 0. Gjevre, chairman of the arrangements committee, gave a welcoming address. A sextet sang "Naar fjordene blaaner." Pastor Gjevre spoke, reminiscing about his youth in Vang, Valdres. "Kan du glemme gamle Norge" and "Valdres visa" were sung. President Haugen spoke about the bygdelag movement, the Centennial of Norwegian immigration, celebrated in 1925, and about the Centennial of the Norwegian constitution. More speeches, songs and declamations followed. Sundheim relates, "The clock was now five and we, who should travel to Minneapolis, had to leave. But before we were permitted to depart, we had to enter the house and eat again! A Mrs. Ellingboe was everywhere making the honor guests feel at home and seeing that we lacked nothing."

Not everyone present was an adult. Entire families were present--some encompassed three generations. The writer was there, though only 13 years old. His memories of the event are vague--mostly impressions of the crowd. It was a large gathering, no question about that. It qualified for a description used in Wang which was no doubt brought from Valdres, "Everyone was there, all of Vang and half of Slidre." Those familiar with Valdres geography know that Slidre is the Valdres area adjoining Vang. People had come from all of Wang as well as adjoining townships and from Maynard, Sacred Heart and Granite Falls (and perhaps elsewhere). Yet, one may wonder, "Did Sundheim over estimate the numbers when he related that 400 cars were parked when he arrived, and that the ladies served between 700 and 800 at dinner?"

Those who were young folk at the meeting in 1927 are now the "old timers", but even now they turn out for a Valdres stevne. When the Valdres Samband observed its 75th anniversary stevne, at Granite Falls in 1974, more than 500 attended the banquet. This is the largest number served at any formal banquet of the Valdres Samband, and a goodly number of them were from Wang. 

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