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Sandra Olson, president of Valkyrien Lodge of Sons of Norway wears a bunad, a traditional woman's costume. This dress was given to Olson in 1996 when she visited Norway. It was originally a confirmation gift to a cousin, who is now 80. Also pictured are three small carvings made by Jimmy Miller of New Richmond and a clock carved by Auden Hogbrenna, a distant cousin of Olson's who is a well-known artist in Norway. (Photo by Judy Wiff)

Valkyrien Lodge promotes Norwegian culture

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More than 100 years ago, the organization was founded to help Norwegian immigrants facing financial hardships in their new country. Today the area Sons of Norway lodge welcomes men and women with some, or just a little, Nordic ancestry to learn about their heritage and celebrate its culture and arts.

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The Valkyrien Lodge, based in Woodville, boasts about 75 members and hopes this month to attract more.

Current members come from Hudson, River Falls, Ellsworth, Spring Valley, New Richmond, Wilson, Baldwin, Downing, Hammond and Menomonie as well as Woodville.

"We try to make it a fun gathering, yet still trying to educate and enrich the Norwegian culture and background," said Valkyrien Lodge President Sandra Olson of Woodville.

She said the group also promotes interest in other, mostly European, cultures.

Chuck Brictson of Spring Valley, one of the Woodville lodge's vice presidents, said he was aware of his Norwegian heritage since childhood when his father would order lefse sent to the house for Christmas dinner.

Brictson's interest in his father's family's background was ignited when he attended a Valkyrien Lodge membership recruitment dinner and met Don Olson, who was transferring his membership from the Menomonie Lodge. Olson talked about starting a Norwegian language class.

"I was very interested in that, so it was a big reason I decided to join," said Brictson, who has been taking Norwegian lessons from Olson for about four years now.

Cooking has been Brictson's lifelong hobby, and he decided to become involved in a Sons of Norway program that encourages in-depth learning of the skills associated with the culture. He completed the three levels necessary to become a cultural skills specialist in Norwegian cooking.

"One of my most rewarding activities has been teaching River Falls High School students in the Foods Class how to make lefse each year, especially while my grandsons were there," said Brictson.

"I joined the organization to learn more about Norway through other people's presentations, be around great people, eat Norwegian food, and to have more connections in the world of Norwegian folk art," said Jimmy Miller, 16 of New Richmond.

"I'm not exactly sure of my heritage, but I know that it's a wide mixture mainly from northern Europe -- likely including Norway, but I'm not sure," Miller said. When a second-grade friend gave a show-and-tell presentation about her Norwegian heritage, Miller became curious. But it wasn't until he started carving in 2008 that his interest grew.

He came across flat-plane carving that started in Norway and Sweden, and he wanted to learn more about the history of carving in Norway.

"I read books, watched videos and scoured online to find out more about the country," Miller said. "I even started to learn the language. Norway just fascinates me, apparently."

In 2010 he went to Woodville during Uff Da Days, mostly for the food. But he also took some of his carvings to show the owners of Lena and Ole's Gifts. Through that visit, he met Sons of Norway members who invited him to talk about his carving at their meeting.

As a member, he said, he enjoys the fellowship, informational programs and the Viking magazine. This past June, Miller's carvings earned him a Red Ribbon, a Blue Ribbon and the People's Choice Award in woodcarving at the National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition held at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. He was also the youngest person to receive a Gold Medal at the exhibition.

"It's so rewarding to get in touch with your roots," said Olson, explaining her ancestry is about 98 percent Norwegian.

Olson, who is retired, has been a member of Sons of Norway for about five years and became the lodge's president in January. One of her goals as president is to develop mentors and thus encourage more young people to join the organization.

Each year the Valkyrien Lodge sponsors youngsters at Masse Moro, a two-week summer Norwegian heritage camp held at Beaver Creek Nature Preserve near Fall Creek.

Olson has visited Norway five times and has found relatives from both her mother's and her father's sides of the family, including some second cousins.

"They roll out the red carpet for you like you're their children," she said of the welcome she's received in Norway.

Some of her relatives have also visited her in Wisconsin.

While visiting the areas her family came from, she also toured the church where her grandfather was baptized and where her great-grandparents were married.

"Because I am so interested in my heritage and the culture, when I went to Norway I just fell in love with it," Olson said. "I don't know how to describe it. It's like going home again."

She said Valkyrien Lodge members are skilled in baking Norwegian delicacies and in art forms such as rosemaling and are glad to teach others.

"We just have a real neat group," she said, inviting others to join.HistoryThe international Sons of Norway began as a fraternal benefit organization in 1895. Its mission has expanded to include preservation of the Norwegian heritage and culture. It now has 410 lodges in the United States, Canada and Norway.

Sons of Norway is now open to both men and women. Today about 55 percent of the members are women.

The Valkyrien Lodge was started in 1905 at Hudson with 28 charter male members. In 1982 it moved to Woodville.

The lodge is named for the Valkyries of Norse mythology, who according to legend, are beautiful young women who ride winged horses, wear helmets and carry spears as they deliver messages for Odin, a major god in Norse mythology.

The Valkyrien Lodge has 10 regular membership meetings a year on the fourth Monday of the month usually at the Lion's Den in Woodville. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. with a social time and refreshments, followed at 7 p.m. by the business meeting and program.

In June the group holds a picnic and in December a Christmas get-together.

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Judy Wiff
Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.
(715) 426-1049
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