I was granted the very exciting task of engaging in a modestly scaled project in relation to Andy Sturdevant’s stellar new book “Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow.” A dozen artists were tasked with a specific reading assignment from Andy’s book to draw inspiration from, or to respond to.
After reading through my assignment “Snakker du norsk?”, I immediately connected the story to my Scandinavian in laws. More specifically, learning about their Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish heritage and familial history through shared stories at holiday meals and family gatherings. Although we had never formally partnered on a art project of any sort, I contacted my mother-in-law, Deborrah Mickelson, and proposed to her a collaborative partnership to create a small project related to “Snakker du norsk?” I was delighted when she accepted my somewhat strange proposal.
Deborrah and I met and developed a short “book report” project about a specific experience she had as a student of North High School. She spent that last month doing some research with the help of her sister in law, Joan Dweyer, and the North High School Alumni Association. She created the following essay for the project. We will be creating a hard copy to submit to the North High School Alumni Association archives.
VI IKKE TYGGE GUMMI PAA
Minneapolis North High School has been a part of my family since 1935, when my mother Berneice was an honor student there. An older brother, Gaylon (class of ’53), played a “hot” trumpet in North’s marching band, and my younger brother, Bradley (class of ’69), played tuba in the band. The summer before my senior year I was an AFS student in Sweden. I graduated in 1959, secretary of the senior class and of the National Honor Society, as well as recipient of the Norse Award and North American Bank Awards.
My mother, always interested in her Norwegian heritage, loved all things Norwegian (including the language) while a student at North. Interestingly, Norwegian was one of six languages offered to students at NHS. The others were Swedish, German, Spanish, French and Latin. (in 2013, only Spanish and French remain.) As a Norse student one could join the Viking Club. In its early years the club awarded an annual “Sigvald Quale Declamation Award.” This award was presented at an event held at Roosevelt High School, where Norwegian was also taught. Not surprisingly, the teachers of the Norwegian classes were Froken (Miss) Farseth and her sister, Froken Farseth. In 1932, students from North Viking Club exchanged letters with students in Oslo, Norway. I’m uncertain how long that tradition continued, as my mother never mentioned it to me as part of her studies.
I began my Norwegian language studies with a great deal of “encouragement” from my mother. Froken Pauline Farseth began teaching Norwegian at North in 1919, so by 1956, 37 years later, she was nearing retirement. Our learning was rote—by the book: words, phrases, no conversation or practice between students. Also, I vividly recall Fr. Farseth standing at the head of our class pounding her right fist on the palm of her left hand chanting “Vi ikke tygge gummi paa North High School! Viikke tygge gummi paa North High School! We got the message—we don’t chew gum at NHS! After 37 years I still recall those words!
Upon Fr. Farseth’s retirement, Mr. Lars Kindem, a fresh St. Olaf graduate, took over in the fall of 1957. With him came new life and energy to our lessons and the beginnings of our class newspaper, Vikinen (The Viking). Sandy, a senior, and I, a junior, were co-editors. Our Norwegian masterpiece was published (purple-inked dittoed sheets) twice monthly. Engraved etnerally on my brain is a picture of Mr. Kimdem reading each treasured copy and laughing heartily as he read each article. Of course, Sandy and I hadn’t a clue as to what was so humorous!
In its earliest years, the Viking Club was comprised of Hansons, Lees, Paulsons, Andersons, Johnsons, etc.—a rather homogenous group of students. The clubs were quite small, averaging 25 students each year. By the fifties our clubs were diverse—Donahues, Tievas, Konkols, Duenows, Brudnoys along with Westlunds, Thompsons, Hjelenbergs, Carlsons and Andersons and averaged 35 students. Always, always, the Viking Club promoted Norwegian cultural understanding through literature, music, dance, guest speakers, drama, food and art.
Because my mother was raised in a foster family (with Norwegian roots), she had nagging questions about her birth family. I’m uncertain how and when she learned that her mother, Olga, was a Norwegian immigrant, raised in North Dakota with her brother, Ole. Olga moved to Minneapolis, met a handsome Norwegian young man, opened a bar restaurant on Washington Avenue called the Model Cafe, and gave birth to my mother. As a newborn, my mom was placed in the Hanson home, where she lived until she finished high school and married. She didn’t know about her birth family until she placed an ad in the Minneapolis Norwegian newspaper, POSTEN. In 1982 an elderly man answered the ad and filled in some details, which eventually led to an ongoing connection with my uncle, two aunts and cousins in Oslo and Bergen. We are truly enriched by our newly discovered Norwegian family.
I married my high school sweetheart, John (NHS ’58) and we recently celebrated our 50th anniversary. As the granddaughter of poor immigrants and the daughter of working class parents, I am grateful for the educational opportunities provided me at North High School. My family’s lives have been greatly enriched as a result.
Deborrah Westlund Mickelson
Illustrations by Michael Hoyt