On Oct. 16, 2016 the Swedish Cultural Heritage Society of the Red River Valley celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Sons of Norway in Fargo, North Dakota. There were about 80 people present for the very Swedish banquet. A Scandinavian duo of fiddle and nyckelharpa played old music and members of the audience spontaneously came forward to expertly dance the hambo and the polska. The high point of the evening was the reading of a letter of congratulations sent by His Excellency Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador of Sweden to the United States, and Dr. Jim Kaplan, professor emeritus of French at Minnesota State University Moorhead, founder of the group, spoke on its history.
Present at the celebration were founding members Jim Kaplan, Wallie and Millie Lindgren, and Louise Lund. Other founding members, either deceased or not present, were Bev Paulson, John Clemedtson, and Henning and Susie Clemedtson. After its founding the group adopted some slogans that gave a direction to its mission. One was "We want to take our cultural fate into our own hands,” meaning that we wanted to develop Swedish programs relevant to the needs and wishes of the members. We did aggressive publicity and benefitted from the support of Minnesota State University Moorhead whose president was an enthusiastic Swede. The group was also aided by aggressive networking and we became an affiliate of the American Swedish Institute and the Swedish Council in America. This period in the late 1970s and '80s was, it should be noted, a period of growth in ethnic consciousness spurred by the films “Roots” and "The Emigrants.”
We were also helped by the Swedish Consulate General in Minneapolis, the Swedish Information Service in New York and the Swedish Institute in Stockholm. This support usually took the form of films, traveling exhibits and materials, but just as important were intangible encouragement and pats on the back. We wanted to put on high quality programs and that takes money. We aggressively sought grant funding from the Arts and Humanities Councils of both Minnesota and North Dakota. Being on the border of both states we could put on programs in either state, and choose whichever funding source was most expedient. A real advantage.
We developed close ties with Swedish groups in Bemidji, Hallock and Warren, Minnesota and Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Bismarck and Jamestown, North Dakota, making friends of the leaders in all these towns. One project was to donate books on Sweden to local libraries, and thousands of dollars worth of books was put into the hands of young and old.
Like it was for many Swedish community groups, New Sweden ’88 was a high point; we formed a North Dakota New Sweden ’88 committee and offered exciting programs all over the state.
We presented many successful programs, exhibits on Kosta Boda glass, Midwestern Swedish-American artists, the Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund, Dag Hammarskjöld, the Wasa ship, etc. We presented film series featuring works by Ingmar Bergman, Bo Widerberg, Vilgot Sjöman and Jan Troll. We hosted speakers like Nils Hasselmo, H. Arnold Barton, Anne-Charlotte Harvey, Dr. Mary Swanson Göran Stockenström and others. We presented traveling Swedish choirs, folk dance groups, musicians and theatre troupes that brighten stages all over America. Most of all we enjoyed good fellowship, and people from town and country forged friendships while marching in Lucia processions and dancing around Maypoles.
So this organization, which started because of a highly successful Swedish night course at Minnesota State University Moorhead in January 1976, has persisted in its mission for 40 years. It is still living the mission expressed in its constitution of "increasing awareness and understanding of modern Sweden in our community.” It looks to the future to continue to "enrich its members' lives with the charm and beauty of Swedish culture."