Phyllis Wallander’s father was a quiet, gentle person who worked as a skilled painter and paper hanger. He and his brother had been farmers in Sweden, and his brother came first to the United States. Traveling from Västergötland via England to Boston, he was ready to board the Titanic, but he was persuaded by a stranger to exchange boarding tickets for a later Atlantic crossing. Little did he know what would be the fate of the doomed ship.

The Wallanders settled in Cranston, Rhode Island with lots of Swedes for neighbors. In their big house, the top floor held different immigrants as most of them made their way to the Wallanders. Good Swedish food and pastries were always being served, so it became a popular place. With all the immigrants visiting and being housed, the Swedish language was used enough for the Wallander children to absorb their original tongue.


Ellen Maria Dahlgren was one of the young immigrants that stayed with the Wallanders. Accompanied by Fredolph Erickson, a family friend of Phyllis Wallander Carlson’s mother, Ellen had emigrated from Sweden at the age of 16. Sailing on the Cunard Line she left a poor family in Sunne, Värmland with five or six siblings, one deceased, and not much hope for a happy future. Staying with the Erickson family, she became a domestic worker in Providence. Even then the sunny, positive personality showed up in her humor as she served the well-to-do families in elegant homes.

The Wallander children were Pauline, Phyllis, Gilbert (Gig) and Herbert. All children attended Bethany Church in Cranston, though Pastor Sandberg baptized them at home in their living room. The very special bowl used at each of their baptisms has been handed down for the baptisms of the grandchildren, nieces and nephews. In Charlestown, they used the ocean water for the rite.

Being raised with immigrants, Phyllis grew up as a normal American; she never felt embarrassed or unwanted. Her family was hard working, had lots of good friends and became self-sufficient. She remembers having long braids that stretched down to her hips when they weren’t wrapped around her head, even up to grades 7 and 8. But she was never teased. All the immigrants were proud to be of Swedish heritage but especially proud and grateful to be Americans.

Family social activities revolved around the Vasa lodges. When Phyllis married Ken, they first joined Pioneer Lodge, changed to Quahog Lodge, then later in Coventry went back to Pioneer Lodge. Wallander family members were always active in Vasa events.

This family may be the funniest, happiest group I have ever met, not always an image of Swedish disposition. One recalled special event was when Providence had its 300th anniversary celebration. Nearly everyone was dressed in various costumes - there was a viking and various Scandinavian attire - and marched down town in the parade. The Carlsons have visited Sweden several times and had the pleasure of being in both of Phyllis's original family homes.

The whole family was noted for their dancing skills, especially folk dancing. Serving glögg was common at all festive occasions, too. There is a classic Swedish drinking song which Phyllis and Ken particularly liked — if you are lucky, you’ll hear it some day.

By Lorraine Colson Bloomquist, Professor Emerita of University of Rhode Island Dept. of Kinesiology, member of Quahog Lodge, Vasa and member of the Board of RI Swedish Heritage Association