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Nordfjordlaget Through 50 Years

 

A preliminary meeting was held in Como Park, St. Paul, Minnesota, September 8, 1909. Temporary officers were elected

-viz., Rev. R. J. Meland, Minneapolis, Minnesota, president; Rev. Rasmus Anderson, La Crosse, Wisconsin, secretary; and Rev. J. F Nord, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, treasurer. A committee was elected to draw up a constitution and make arrangements for a constitutional meeting the next June. This meeting was held in the Minneapolis Ark Auditorium June 11-13 with a large attendance and a very good program. A local committee with Jens Johnson as chairman, Peter Moe, J. B. Anderson, Lars Solem, and alderman attorney Lars Rand had all taken part to make it a worthwhile meeting. About 300 attended the banquet the first evening. Speakers were attorney Chr. Fosness, Rev. R. Wisnaes, Rev. J. E. Nord, Rev. Anderson, and attorney N. N. Bergheim. Remarks were given by the toastmaster, It. J. Meland; and Mrs. Laura Rigndal Bratager had written a special song, which was sung by a quartet. The following day at a business session in the courthouse, officers were elected, and the constitution was adopted. The temporary men elected at the preliminary meeting September 8, were again elected: R. J. Meland, president; Rasmus Anderson, secretary; and J. E. Nord, treasurer. In addition Rev. R. Bobstad was elected vice president. The next day, a beautiful Sunday, all gathered at Island Park, Minnetonka. Here also a splendid program was given, and a large photograph was taken of the gathering. This picture was later used in 'Nordfjordingenes Historie i Amerika', published in 1940 with Rev. L. M. Gimmestad as its editor. On this occasion Rev.. Gimmestad delivered such a grand speech that he captured the audience and was from that time on its 'peer.'

Regular annual meetings have been held except during the two world war years, 1917-1918 and 1942-1946. At the meeting in 1913 in Minneapolis a resolution was made to gather a fund for Nordfjord, which resulted in collecting $12,000.00. This amount was sent to Nordfjord in 1920 as a memorial gift with the interest to be used for special purposes to be decided on at a later date. A. O. Gimmestad, a banker, succeeded Rev. Nord as the treasurer in 1915, and he continued in this office until his death in 1937.

At the annual stevne in Bricelyn in 1919 Nordfjordlaget received as a gift from Firda Ungdomslag in Nordfjord a beautiful banner, which has always been used at our stevner. In 1924 two prominent Nordfjordings, Jacob Aaland, a retired teacher and historian, and the violinist Jon Rosenlid, arrived in the United States; and Rev. L. M. Gimmestad, who was president, made arrangements so that they could visit all of our larger tracts of Nordfjordings. These two men traveled extensively, Jacob Aaland lecturing and Rosenlid playing the many fine Norwegian 'slaatter' and songs. The next agendum was the receipt of a Norwegian Brudekrone, also a gift from Firda Ungdomslag in Nordfjord, including a diamond-clustered bracelet and a fine Nordfjord lady's dress. This costume and bridal dress has always been worn at our stevner, and in 1949 a real wedding took place at Bricelyn, when Rev. It. J. Meland performed the marriage of Karen and Olaf Ness.

In 1918 the secretary Dr. Carl D. Kolseth began issuing an annual, and this practice continued until 1950. With the exception of occasional speeches in the English language, the Norwegian language was always used at our stevner until 1950. Now the English language has been predominantly used since the younger people, who were born here, use only the English language. It seems strange that the first president of Nordfjordlaget, who in reality founded it, was born in the United States but still preferred the Norwegian language.

In 1935, the 25th anniversary, we could be proud of our accomplishments so far, but one sad discrepancy or failure was the writing of our history. As our records verify, Rev. L. M. Gimmestad was elected Sagaskriver or historian as early as 1912, but on account of various undertakings crowding in upon us, this writing of 'Nordfjordingenes Historie i Amerika' was delayed. Rev. Gimmestad had mailed hundreds of questionnaires; and since I was treasurer at that time, I also sent hundreds of letters seeking subscribers to the book, soon to be ready. I succeeded in getting over 400 subscribers, and when the book was finished and ready for distribution in 1940 at the stevne in Benson, Minnesota, it went 'like hot cakes.' Everyone was anxious to obtain one. The price was $3.00. When I brought in my printing bill and receipts, I reported the expenses as $1,195.95, and the receipts also as $1,195.95. Two hundred of the 600 printed books were left unsold.

In 1939 Prince Olav of Norway and his beloved wife, Martha, visited the United States. Since it had been announced earlier that spring that Prince Olav and Martha would be entertained at a banquet at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo June 9th, the officers of Nordfjordlaget decided to have Nordfjord stevne at Fargo during this time so the members could attend the banquet. Two days later Prince Olav and his entourage were highly honored and feted at the St. Paul Minnesota fair-grounds. There was no suspicion or intimation at that time of the brutal war only two years later, when the king of Norway and the prince of Norway had to flee, not only from Oslo, the capital of Norway, but even from the land of Norway itself. They were able to cross the North Sea, and they found a haven in England, where they remained for about five years, or until peace was again declared in Norway.

In the annual of 1939-1940 Rev. L. M. Gimmestad inserted a poem written by himself with music composed by his daughter, Mrs. Wells. He offered it and dedicated it as Nordjordlaget's special song. No effort was made the following year at the stevne in Ortonville to use this song as the stevne song of Nordfjordlaget. Then, because of the effect of World War II in Norway, Gimmestad's charter song was forgotten. In 1947 a special honor was granted to Rev. L. M. Gimmestad, because R. J. Meland and Elias Rachie, who were then the secretary and president of Nordfjordlaget, made a trip to Norway and had an enlarged picture of Rev. Gimmestad unveiled and donated to the Gloppen museum, which was located near Gimmestad's birth place. A banquet was given the same day in honor of Rachie's and Meland's and other Nordfjording Americans on visit to Norway, and many praises were heaped upon them and the United States Nordfjordlag's activities.

In the 1945-1947 annual were published 52 names of pastors from Nordfjord stock in the United States, several necrologies of prominent Nordfjordings in the United States, and the names of many soldiers of Nordfjord stock, who fought in World War II.

An item as yet not mentioned was the collection of funds for assisting people in Norway to plant trees. 'Kla Fje' as it was termed, was started by Dr. Carl D. Kolset and resulted in a sum of $3,000.00, which was sent to Norway in 1930 and was given to the 'home folks' in Maaloy by Dr. Kolset.

It may be mentioned that during World War II Norway was occupied by the Germans. All Norwegian Americans were deeply sorry and distressed because of this situation, and no stevner were held during the war years. In 1946 the Belview Nordfjordings invited us to a stevne which was well attended. Much business was transacted, including the decision to publish an annual. A report was made about the money gathered by Rev. L. M. Gimmestad to help the many children brought to London from Maaloy after the German raid on that city during Christmas of 1945. This money, amounting to kroner 10,915.28, went sent to the Norwegian ambassador, William Morgenstjerre, in Washington, D. C.

The annual stevne in 1947 was held later than usual, because Rachie, the president, and Meland, the secretary, were in Norway that summer and had requested that the meeting be postponed until their return. These two officers brought extensive reports about conditions in Nordfjord and Norway, in general. Rachie's trip to Norway was published in the annual of 1943-1947, and in the same annual was a picture of R. J. Meland, who was given the Ridder Cross, issued by King Haakon VII of Norway, by Norway's Consul General Th. Siqveland on Meland's 78th birthday, December 1, 1948.

Regular stevner have been held since 1946 at various places. Elias Rachie, who was president after the death of the vice-president Ole Steen in 1944, died suddenly February 22, 1950, and the vice president A. A. Davidson assumed the presidency. He served as such until 1953, when Oscar Gimmestad succeeded him. During his tenure a new constitution prepared by Peter Snede and A. Rye in the English language was adopted at the annual stevne at Clarkfield in 1958. One item, as embodied in the constitution, that none but a Nordfjording can hold office of president of Nordfjordlaget will mean much to Nordfjordlaget.

In conclusion I shall quote a part of a letter received from Professor Herman Gimmestad, a son of Rev. Gimmestad, who was president of Nordfjordlaget for a quarter of a century:

'I hope the problem of leadership for next year and the subsequent years can be worked out to the satisfaction of the majority of its members. It would be an appropriate and deserved gesture, surely, if you were to be recognized in your ninetieth year for the enormous amount of work you have done for the organization and for the time and money you have given to its welfare. Without your unremitting labor it is hard to imagine that the LAG would have been able to achieve so much.'

May Nordfjordlaget's illustrious activities still continue for many years to come!

Submitted by R. J. Meland

 

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