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LET’S COOK: A great ski day starts with Sondre Norheim

By Staff | Sep 29, 2017

The spritz pictured here were made by Jan and Lydia, the "Savvy Spritz makers." These are a family favorite which can be sprinkled with colored sugar. However, we prefer them with decorated roses. I say savvy because they recently made 21 dozen of these for our nephew's 21st birthday. Yes, 252 cookies—plus the many we "sampled" during the baking!

There are clear parallels between Sondre Norheim and the downhill skiing we know and relish today. Norheim, a former McHenry County resident, is credited with inventing a new ski binding as well as introducing the Telemark and Christiania skiing patterns. He performed these patterns before many dear Scandinavians-who were likely wearing Nordic sweaters-as they witnessed Norheim’s performance at the Christiania (Olso) skiing competition in 1868. Fast forward to Britannica in the 1960’s (you know Google’s grandfather!) Britannica stated that Norheim’s ski styles were then adopted by Norwegian and other Alpine skiers. With skis being firmly attached to one’s feet and with the invention of new turns, skiers were zooming down the slopes at record speeds. This is probably why patterned ski outfits went out of style. After all, no one’s eyeballs could focus that swift to see the classic Nordic patterns which feature deer and trees. Thus the reason for solid tone outfits.

Norheim was born June 10, 1825 at Overbo, a cotter’s farm in Morgedal, Telemark. He was a natural skier taking to the sport at an early age. He is remembered as a child and young man who adored the winter hills of Morgedal where he combined his love of dancing and skiing on the slopes. He participated and had great success in ski jumping events and his approach and invention forever put a mark on modern skiing. He along with his wife, Rannei, and their family immigrated to the USA making Olso, Minnesota their first home in May of 1884. On November 20, 1891 the Norheim family become owners of their own farm near Denbigh, ND. Their dreams of finding a better life in America came with a host of complications, and on March 9, 1897, Norheim died at the age of 71.

He went to his grave deprived of fanfare. In fact, very few in the Denbigh area knew of his contributions to modern skiing and the fame of this internationally Norwegian sportsman. He received numerous admirations since his death, including being inducted into the US National Ski Hall of Fame, being the subject of a commemorative stamp which marked the 150th anniversary of his birth, and the lighting of the Olympic Torch at Overbo which was brought to the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Closer to home, we find a statue of Sondre at the Scandinavian Heritage Park which was unveiled in 1987 and a stone with a memorial plaque at his grave in the Norway Lutheran Church Cemetery.

Sondre Norheim, and his wife Rannei, were honored on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at a Commemorative Service at the Norway Lutheran Church and Cemetery in rural Denbigh, ND. In 1981 a sister city relationship was established between Minot and Skien, Norway. Over these 36 years, hundreds of residents of Skien have made an annual pilgrimage to join in this insightful service. The first annual wreath-laying ceremony was held on October 17, 1991 and has become a regular part of the Norsk Hostfest.

The service was held at the beautiful Norway Lutheran Church, built in 1907. The church features a tall steeple and an inviting brick exterior that were made at the former Denbigh Brick Plant. Under the eaves are curved wooden brackets. These, along with the impressive trim work, had been recently painted in a warm, butter yellow hue. Clusters of established trees along the road form an arch. It is an image right out of a Hollywood movie. On Tuesday morning beneath the sky of autumn blue, the vast trees displayed their rich, warm fall pageantry. The church sits on rise and across the road is located the cemetery, mutually overlooking the Mouse River Valley prairie. Together they were rightly placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The service at the Sondre Norheim gravesite included Joan Haaland Paddock playing a Traditional Nordic wind instrument and the laying of the wreaths for Sondre and Rannei. Tone Berge Hanson, representing Norway, laid the lily wreaths and presented remarks about Sondre’s life. The gathering then proceeded to the church where greetings were given by Tomas Bakken from the Skien City Council. The Change of Pace Singers from Minot High School under the direction of Lindsay Kerzmann sang “Norway, my Norway.” They were impressive, to say the least! Norheim was a fine craftsman making and selling items like furniture, skis, even violins. He taught this skill to their seventh born son, Amund, who even crafted rolling pins for Denbigh locals. Ole and Amy Bryn are the lucky owners of such a treasure, and they brought their heirloom treasure for all to see. The morning service concluded with a bona fide excuse for fresh hot coffee, spritz cookies and Scandinavian almond cake. Guests clustered on the front steps and in the church yard to enjoy the autumn gold and conversation. Next year plan to come and experience a part of North Dakota’s heritage which is highlighted by Hostfest in a place that is truly exceptional.

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