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A Condensed History of Nordfjord Lag in America.

Article written in 2012 by Connie Olson, Plymouth MN

One can only imagine the emotions felt by the Norwegian immigrants who had left their homeland to travel to America. It is not surprising that they wanted to be in contact with others who had done the same. In the early 1900's a group of immigrants from Nordfjord, on the west coast of Norway, decided they wanted to organize and in June, 1909 a preliminary organizational meeting was held at Como Park in St. Paul, MN. Temporary officers were elected and a committee appointed to draw up a constitution and make arrangements for a constitutional meeting. That meeting was held in June, 1910 and, with one exception, meetings (stevner) have been held every year since, except during World War I and II. The constitution states "The purpose of this organization shall be to foster and preserve the cultural values of the emigrants from Nordfjord, Norway and their descendants." The stevner were popular events attended by hundreds of people, many coming long distances, having a chance to visit, hear news from Norway and renew friendships. In 1913 the lag started a memorial fund and in 1920 sent a $12,000 memorial to Nordfjord. Originally, and continuing until 1950, Norwegian was the language of each stevne. The stevner have been in various locations in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Norway.

Many gifts have been received by the Nordfjordlag. At the 1919 stevne in Bricelyn, Minnesota a beautiful banner was received from Nordfjord which was displayed at every stevne through 2010. Another special gift, a complete bridal costume with an ornate crown, was presented to the Nordfjordlag at the 1933 stevne in Fargo, North Dakota. The gown was made by the women in Nordfjord and the crown, belt and other ornaments were created by goldsmith M. J. Hestenes of Bergen. The gift, from the Firda Youth Society, was exhibited at Nordfjord 1933 Syttendei Mai festivities then immediately shipped to Fargo where it arrived on June 6 for presentation at the lag held that year on June 8-10. Obviously the Nordfjordings were thrilled with the gift. From an article written about the event, "...the gift was received not only with happiness, but with an enthusiasm which is seldom seen in the calm and restrained Norwegian character."

The by-laws of the Nordfjordlag specifically designate the use of this treasured bridal costume. Traditionally, each stevne includes a Bryllupsmarsj (a bridal march or wedding procession) with a member of the lag wearing the bridal costume. On a Saturday afternoon at the 1949 stevne an actual wedding took place with the bride wearing the dress and crown. For the Nordfjordlag the wedding procession often began the final event of the stevne as the fiddlers and the bridal couple led the procession to the banquet hall. Depending on the location of the stevne and the weather, this is ideally an outdoor event as it was in Sunburg, Minnesota on a beautiful sunny June day in 1994 when the bridal march started at the meeting site, the Sunburg Community Center and proceeded to the nearby Hope Lutheran Church for the banquet. The music for the procession is Hardanger fiddle music and for many years was usually played by two of the lag members, Oswald Rodi and Albert Svor. The fiddle players were immediately followed by the bride and groom. Next in the procession were those wearing their traditional Norwegian bunads followed by the rest of the lag members and their guests. The presentation of the bridal couple and the bridal march are always a special part of the stevne. The stevne concludes with a banquet and, though the menu for the banquet may vary, it must always include one of the Nordfjordings' favorite foods -- Rommegrot.

The 1981 stevne was held in Nordfjordeid, Norway, and 88 members of the Nordfjordlag in America traveled to Norway to participate. Arriving from Bergen on the boat "Sognefjord" on the morning of June 13, they were greeted with an official welcoming ceremony made extra special because many of the arriving lag members had relatives waiting on the dock to greet them. There were greetings by the Mayor of Eid, music by the Eid band, and presentation of flowers and gifts. A very busy three days of activities followed which included programs, luncheons, concerts, banquets and church services. Bus trips were made to various points of interest including Grodaas, Stryn, Lake Loen, Briksdal, Innvik, Utvik, and Sandane. At one of the luncheons, Nordfjord men and women dressed in traditional bunads (national costume) participated in an impressive ceremony for the presentation of the rommegraut. Another banquet was preceded by a wedding march led by a Nordfjording fiddler, the bride dressed in Nordfjord traditional wedding costume and bridal crown, and everyone dressed in Nordfjord bunads. During the visit, several gifts were received by the Nordfjordlag from the Norwegian hosts.

Norway was again the destination when many members of the Nordfjordlag in America, as well as a group from the Wisconsin Nordfjordlag, traveled to Nordfjord in 2005 to participate in celebrating the 100th anniversary of Norway's independence from Sweden. The group visited the seven communes in Nordfjord and was welcomed with special ceremonies, banquets, and other events in each area as well as having time to visit with Norwegian relatives eager to greet them.

Music has been a popular part of each stevne and everyone enjoys singing the old favorites. In 1940 Lars Gimmestad wrote the Nordfjordlagets Sang to commemorate the stevne. The translated final verse is "Bless this our gathering dear God, with friends and members dear, with richest blessings from on high to crown the coming year."

Originally, the Nordfjordlag was a two or three-day event. In later years we alternated a two-day stevne one year with a one-day picnic the next year. Swift Falls, a small picturesque village in West Central Minnesota, was the site of several Nordfjordlag stevner and picnics. This was an appropriate place for the gathering -- so many Nordfjord immigrants came to this vicinity that an area south of Swift Falls has often been referred to as Nordfjordings' Prairie. Currently the annual Nordfjordlag Stevne is held on a Sunday in September.

In 2010 the Nordfjordlag celebrated the 100th Stevne with a special day of activities that included a presentation of a tapestry from the Fellesraad to the Nordfjordlag to mark the anniversary. The highlight of the day was the dedication of a new banner. The banner originally donated to the lag in 1919 had come from Nordfjord, Norway. It had served us well and over the years had become quite fragile. The new banner was designed with the same picture as shown on the original banner and with very durable material that can last for the next 100 years of Nordfjordlag Stevner. The original banner has been donated to the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

Each September we enjoy celebrating our Norwegian Nordfjord heritage on what is usually a sunny fall day on the shores of beautiful Green Lake. The Green Lake Bible Camp at Spicer, Minnesota has become the "home" for our annual one-day Nordflordlag Stevne. It is in a beautiful setting on the shores of Green Lake and the chapel for the Bible Camp is a Stave church that was built in 1940 and patterned after a Stave church in Norway. At our annual stevne we gather in the rosemaled dining room of the main camp building for morning coffee and registration, followed by the worship service in the Stave Church. After the service, led by a Hardanger fiddler and the bridal couple with the bride wearing the traditional bunad and bridal crown, the procession returns to the main camp area for a group picture followed by the noon meal. The afternoon activities start at 1:00 with the annual business meeting. Following the meeting there is a Norwegian influenced afternoon program and the day concludes with the banquet that of course must always include lefse and rommegrot.

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