In 1966, local resident Helga Lund Algyer approached the Decorah Jaycees with an article from the New York Times, “Back Home in Scandinavian Oregon,” about a nonprofit, non-commercial Scandinavian celebration in Junction City, Oregon. Could Decorah do something like this? The organizers of the Junction City festival were helpful to the Decorah team, corresponding primarily by letters and an occasional long distance phone call.
Decorah Jaycees Jerry Aulwes, Mike Dahly, Harry Olson, Darrell Pierce, and Gary Svenson enlisted the help of Vesterheim Director Marion Nelson and Phyllis Leseth to round out the founding team for Nordic Fest. This team set two goals for their Nordic Fest: celebrating the wonderful community spirit of Decorah as well as Decorah’s Scandinavian heritage. They made non-commercialism an important center of Nordic Fest. Decorah is forever indebted to their tireless efforts, dedication, and foresight. The first Nordic Fest was held in July of 1967.
Researcher and author Dawn Svenson Holland writes about the reception and response to the first Fest, “Two elderly Scandinavian women heard about Nordic Fest in San Francisco and took a bus from there to Decorah to be present at the fist event! The food sales of varme pølser, sandbakkels, and vienerbrød in the central business district all proved quite popular. “Velkommen” could reportedly be heard throughout the streets of Decorah in appreciation for Nordic Fest guests from volunteers who stepped up and gave heartily of themselves.”
Community volunteerism for Nordic Fest continues today! Nordic Fest is a nearly whole-community effort each year. An all-volunteer board of directors do the main planning and organizing, which is made possible by year-round volunteer support. Nordic Fest is an unbelievable testament to the power of teamwork. The people of Decorah truly put their heart and soul into creating non-commercial Scandinavian family fun.
Nordic Fest: 50 Years Strong
In 2016, Decorah celebrated 50 years of Nordic Fest. For three years leading up to this milestone, Dawn Svenson Holland and a group of volunteers worked together to publish a book to preserve the history of Nordic Fest for future generations. This beautiful publication is available in limited quantities at the Vesterheim museum shop. Proceeds from the sales support the permanent placement of the Nordic Fest archives at Vesterheim. Get your fill of Nordic Fest history!
Here’s to another 50 years of Nordic Fest fun!