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Sons of Norway Grønnvik Lodge turns 25

By Lee Reinsch

GRØNNVIK – You don’t need to love lutefisk or like lefse to join Sons of Norway, you also don’t need to be anyone’s son, or even be Norwegian. All you need is an interest in Norwegian culture.

“Most of us have grandparents or great grandparents who came from Norway,” said Bonnie (Gjersvig) Vastag of Hobart, past president of the local Sons of Norway Grønnvik Lodge, pronounced “groon veek,” Grønnvik means Green Bay.

Vastag’s paternal grandfather came to southern Minnesota from Norway in 1894.

“My dad was a fiercely proud Norwegian, and he would let you know that,” she said.

Vastag has some of her grandmother’s possessions, including her spinning wheel.

“My father always kept one sheep on the farm so my grandmother could spin yarn from the wool,” she said.

Many Grønnvik Lodge members are skilled in fiber crafting, woodworking and rosemaling, which is the Norwegian art of decorative painting.

Vastag also has her grandmother’s trunk, filled with Norwegian books, personal letters and cards from family back in Norway.

“When you think of what they went through, coming over on those boats, the risks they took,” said Grønnvik Lodge member Steve Below. “They left everything behind, to come to a place where they knew nobody. I really respect that.”

Below isn’t Norwegian or even Scandinavian, but his wife, Eileen (Larson) Below, is.

Her grandfather came to northwestern Wisconsin from Oslo.

She edits the Lodge’s newsletter, Med Vennlig Hilsenn, which means “with friendly greetings.”

In 1895, a group of Norwegian immigrants founded Sons of Norway as a fraternal benefits organization to “protect members of Sons of Norway and their families from the financial hardships experienced during times of sickness or death in the family,” according to the national organization.

North America and Norway have some 360 lodges, and Grønnvik is one of 28 in Wisconsin.

Grønnvik recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a dinner at the Swan Club in De Pere.

Grønnvik started in 1994, after regional head Lorraine Selvick noticed that many Sturgeon Bay and Appleton Sons of Norway members drove from Green Bay.

Starting a new branch required at least 40 people, so Selvick placed a newspaper ad and, within a few months, 47 people signed up.

The local group meets monthly, the third Tuesday, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 330 S. Broadway, Green Bay, which is also the site of most of its events.

“We try to pass on our culture in our meetings, with a speaker or presentation or even just show and tell, where people will bring in an item from their family history and talk about it,” Vastag said.

The group hosts no shortage of events throughout the year.

In August, it’s the annual picnic, and in September is the Heritage Breakfast.

October features a silent auction, with proceeds split between local operating expenses and the Sons of Norway Foundation, which provides grants, scholarships for students and humanitarian aid for people who have been through disasters.

In November, it’s perhaps the group’s biggest event, Taste of Norway, a Norwegian potluck featuring classics such as lutefisk casserole, krumkake (a Norwegian waffle cookie made of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and cream), creamed rutabaga, riskrem (a rice-based pudding with cream and raspberry sauce), cold fruit soup (made of dried fruits and thickened with tapioca), and lots of Norwegian cookies.

In December it’s Family Christmas, with activities for kids, such as Nisse the Christmas Elf, who is similar to Santa; making paper swords and trolls; and dancing around the Christmas tree.

Syttende Mai, which means May 17, celebrates Norwegian Constitution Day.

Each summer Sons of Norway hosts a two-week summer camp called Camp Masse Moro, which means “lots of fun,” near Fall Creek, for kids ages 9 to 15.

Grønnvik even has a book club, featuring books by Norwegian or Scandinavian authors.

Vastag said Grønnvik Lodge involves itself in the community whenever the right opportunity presents itself.
It donated a Norwegian flag to Leicht Memorial Park’s international flag display.

The group also contributed funds to the 2017 relocation of a reproduction Norwegian timber-framed house built by Viking reenactors from Stratford, Wisconsin to UW-Green Bay, where it’s known as the Viking House and is used for special classes, especially cooking classes.

“Food is the No. 1 way people preserve their history and culture,” Vastag said. “Think of egg rolls, sushi, borscht.”
Norwegians love making cookies.

Some Grønnvik members like making Norwegian cookies so much that they donate them every year to the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Cable, Wisconsin, Vastag said.

Even the most cursory of internet searches finds dozens of varieties of Norwegian cookies.

“The standard joke is that all Norwegian cookies are made with the same ingredients — flour, sugar, butter, eggs, cream — just shaped differently,” Vastag said.

Ole and Lena would probably agree.

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