Northwood reaffirms its bond with immigrants and their “western home”Norwegians from Grand Forks, Fargo and smaller places throughout the Red River Valley gathered in Northwood to celebrate once again the legacy of such immigrant pioneers as Northwood’s Anders Wickney.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Norwegians from Grand Forks, Fargo and smaller places throughout the Red River Valley gathered in Northwood to celebrate once again the legacy of such immigrant pioneers as Northwood’s Anders Wickney.
The occasion was a presentation by representatives of Vesterheim, the Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, which for decades has had a strong bond with Northwood.
“We treasure that immensely,” said Myrna Johnson, who with her husband, William, and the Northwood Literary Club, helped to arrange the program Tuesday night at Northwood Evangelical Lutheran Church. It drew about 75 people and will benefit Vesterheim’s open-air division, a collection of historic buildings — including two from Northwood — that interpret immigrant life.
The continuing bond owes much to the Wickney family.
Anders Wickney, who twice walked from Fargo to Northwood while he was “setting up” in the late 1870s, built a small frame house outside Northwood in 1879. More than a century later, it was still in good enough shape that the family donated it to Vesterheim. It was moved in 1982, carefully, to Iowa, where today it represents “the Dakota expansion,” the Norwegian immigrant movement west onto the prairie.
The family also donated pioneer furniture and household items collected over the years.
“It was a good house,” Henry Wickney, Anders’ son, told the Herald at the time. His daughter, Ruth Wickney, had brought him out to see it one last time before it was moved to Iowa.
“It must have been a cold house in the winter,” a visitor said.
“No,” Henry said, “it was a good house.”
He was 92 and died just a month later.
Ruth Wickney did most of the work arranging for the house’s move to Iowa. She was a life member at Vesterheim and a member of its executive council. When the late King Olav of Norway came to visit Decorah in 1987, she was there to shake his hand and welcome him to the Norwegians’ “Western Home,” the translation of Vesterheim.
She was the last of her clan, and she died in 2001.
“There are no more Wickneys, and her friends and those in that age group have mostly died out,” Myrna Johnson said. “That was one of the reasons we wanted to do this. We were good friends.”
Northwood’s other major contribution to Vesterheim is the Bethania Lutheran Church, which was moved to Decorah in four pieces in 1992, along with the original pulpit, furnishings and an altar piece carved by a Norwegian immigrant living near Hatton, N.D.
Bethania was organized in 1883 — the year of the founding of UND and six years before North Dakota statehood. It held its last worship service in May 1989. At Decorah, it represents “the material culture and history” of the Norwegian immigrants.
Vesterheim showcases Norwegian art and folk art and offers classes in Norwegian rosemaling (decorative painting), woodcarving and woodworking and textile arts.
Its main complex occupies most of a square block in downtown Decorah. The museum houses more than 24,000 artifacts, including tools and machinery of early agriculture, lumbering and other immigrant industries.
The Johnsons lived on the Wickney farm for a short time when they arrived in Northwood in the late 1960s.
“We had bought a house, and that fell through, so Henry offered us the farmstead,” Myrna Johnson said.
She remembers using Anders’ house as a storage place for snow tires and outdoor cooking equipment. But she has seen it brought to life again at Vesterheim, refurnished, “and it has been restored beautifully.”
As the children and now the grandchildren of the immigrants die, the old connections are strained, Myrna Johnson said. “It’s kind of natural, unless we instill it in our children, the importance of remembering.”
And that’s happening, she said.
“Some of the younger ones are becoming more involved and interested in genealogy.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to email@example.com.