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Sharing a heritage

Members of the Sons of Norway Runic Vennskap Lodge include (standing, left to right): Dale Braunschwieg, Ralph Tillitt, Carol Tillitt, Arthur Isackson, Marcella Isackson, Judy Burkey, Edith Kelly, Elroy Frank, Leland Bennett, Harold Knutson, Marian Wrolson, Duane Moe, Marcia Hoffman, Ronald Wrolson, Darlene Hanson, Lars Nelson, Hazel Walters, Audrey Waage; (seated) Orlinda Hauch, Darline Knutson, Marjorie Moe, Sylvia Johnson, Lars Nelson, Louise Wiley and David Wiley. (photo by Caroline Roers)

Surrounded by mounds of lefsa and thick accents, it comes as no surprise that there is a strong German, Swedish and Norwegian heritage encompassing the Midwest that has not been forgotten over the years.

Though many Norwegian ancestors came to America more than 100 years ago, members of the Alexandria Sons of Norway continue to gather and embrace their heritage.

"A lot of us just love to learn about history. It's great to figure out where you came from and what exactly happened in the past," said Judy Burkey, president of Alexandria's Sons of Norway Runic Vennskap Lodge 530.

The Sons of Norway began 118 years ago when 18 Norwegian men gathered in Minneapolis for one purpose: to protect fellow Norwegians.

A few months before, they had lost one of their men and found out that his family had nothing to live off of without him.

To combat this, the Sons of Norway was created as a benefit society that provided life insurance.

Now, they have more than 600,000 members in 400 lodges throughout the U.S., Canada and Norway. The lodge in Alexandria was created in 1973.

Though the Sons of Norway have expanded in the last hundred years, the original idea of being a benefit society has remained the same.

"They have really modernized the financial benefits and kept up with the times so it will still benefit people today," Burkey said.

This includes things like investments, scholarships and emergency funds. Recently, this emergency fund was used to provide North Dakota and South Dakota families small amounts of money to help during the devastating floods this past year.

Though they continue to provide this financial insurance, heritage and contributing to the community have also become major aspects of the group.

"I personally didn't realize how much Norwegian culture was a part of my life because I was raised by two full-blooded Norwegians, but culture is so important," Burkey said.

To keep this culture alive, the Sons of Norway members love to interact with Norwegians that travel to America and listen to the stories they tell about the country.

Recently, the Sons of Norway helped at the Vikingland Band Festival's Root Beer Float Concert in which the Stabekk School Marching Band from Oslo, Norway participated.

The group also sends used stamps to Tubfirm, a program that collects and sells stamps to help children with handicaps and youth in Norway.

These strong pulls to help the Norwegian community have led the Sons of Norway to also support the community here. Two things they financially support are the food shelf and Garfield school.

From a financial support system to a donation-driven group, the Sons of Norway strives to be available for the people around them and invites people to join them.

"You don't have to be full-blooded Norwegian to be in the Sons of Norway. Some people are connected by marriage while others by relatives. You just have to have an interest and we always welcome new members," Burkey said.

The Sons of Norway have meetings on the first Monday of evey month at 7 p.m. at the Senior Center in Alexandria. Walk-ins are welcome.

"We just want to share what we have and share what we know, get involved in the community, and keep a strong community and financial base. That really is what we are all about," Burkey said.