MARILYN HAGERTY: Ham today, meatballs next in Warren, Minn.
They probably are eating ham on Easter Sunday, but it’s safe to bet the Swedes among us are thinking about a meatball dinner. That will be the highlight of the annual meeting of the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society. It’s coming up at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Community Center in Warren, Minn.
“How nice we can claim meatballs as part of our cultural heritage,” said Lyndon Johnson. He’s a bachelor farmer from Hallock, Minn., who is president of the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society.
He said daffodils are Easter lilies in Sweden. Some people put birch twigs in a vase with colored feathers tied here and there. Then, they can watch little leaves come out.
Those of Swedish descent greet each other today with “Glad Past” as well as “Happy Easter.”
Johnson is the grandson of Swedish immigrants. He said his own father spoke the language beautifully. And it prompted him to go to Sweden to study the language.
He has taught Swedish language and culture during winter months at Heritage Christian School in Karlstad, Minn.
He is a friend of Brian Kays, Thief River Falls, who recently took over the job of creating and editing the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society newsletter. His interest was piqued by one class in Swedish at the University of Minnesota that led to five more classes. He then received a scholarship that helped him spend a semester at Umea University of Sweden. And he has worked at the Concordia Language Village’s Swedish language village, Sjolunden.
Kays has written that northwest Minnesota has one of the state’s highest concentrations of citizens with Swedish lineage.
He notes that Karlstad is a perfect example of how Swedish immigrants from Varmland named a community after their ancestral origin — and one that continues to stand as a tribute to their settlement.
Among their other tributes, the Swedes among us are well-organized. They hold four major meetings each year with plans already set for the “Midsommer Festival and Smorgasboard.” That will be June 25 in the Lancaster, Minn., city park. It will include decorating of a maypole.
Vangie Myhre, a former resident of Warren, was instrumental in early development of the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society. She now lives with her daughter, Gretchen Myhre Anderson, a minister in Amherst, Wis.
She was active in promoting tours to Sweden and editing the newsletter. She was instrumental in establishing the Santa Lucia Fest that became a regular festival.
She felt it was meaningful because as darkness descends on Sweden, citizens want to celebrate light and the winter solstice. St. Lucia holiday is one way to do that.
Vangie Myhre also worked for the establishment of pea soup suppers that have become an annual tradition in this area in the fall. And she took leadership in the beginning of the Santa Lucia festival — now a regular part of the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society calendar in December.
Officers of the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society include Marilyn Mattson, Marlene Silnes and Glenn Johnson, of Warren. Directors are Ron Anderson and Harlow Johnson, Thief River Falls; Stanley DeMeyere and Neil Mattson, Warren; Matt Edman, Alvarado; June Mosbeck, Red Lake Falls, and Eunice Waterworth, Newfolden, Minn.
Unlike Norwegian descendants of the area, the Swedish people are lukewarm to the traditional holiday foods lutefisk and lefse. Johnson said the Swedes call it lutfisk. And he prefers it with a white gravy that has plenty of pepper in it. Oh yes, and butter. He is likely to be seeking out lingonberries. And in the market in Hallock, he looks for a hard rye bread.
People with ties to Sweden know fika refers to the ever popular coffee break. And it is hard for them to turn down a cinnamon bun, known as kanelbullar.