On Oct. 14, Queen Sonja of Norway made her fifth visit to St. Olaf. The visit was part of a larger tour related to Norwegian-American history in the region. Queen Sonja is the wife of King Harald V, the King of Norway.
President David Anderson ’74, Student Government Association President Sebastian Pham ’23, and Anderson’s wife Pricilla Paton greeted the Queen upon her arrival to Buntrock. The group walked through Buntrock and the Quad to Rolvaag, where the majority of the visit took place.
Students lined the balconies in Buntrock and the sidewalks in the Quad. Many waved Norwegian flags, which were handed out to students who have taken or are taking classes studying Norway or Norwegian.
The main portion of the Queen’s visit to St. Olaf occurred in Rolvaag. The St. Olaf College Archives, Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA), and Rolvaag special collections put together a series of exhibits showcasing St. Olaf’s connections to its Norwegian roots.
Anderson gave a welcoming speech, and NAHA Executive Director Amy Boxrud ’89 talked the “common Norwegian roots” between NAHA, the College archives, and the Rolvaag special collections.
Students Leah Berdahl ’23, Skye Federation ’23, and Teague Lars Peterson-McGuire ’23 read aloud from the archives’ collection of letters from Norwegian immigrants to the United States. Peterson-McGuire read in part from the letters of Ole Rølvaag — Rølvaag was a Norwegian immigrant, a St. Olaf graduate, author of “Giants in the Earth,” and a professor of Norwegian at St. Olaf.
“Reading for the queen was kind of nerve-racking, but it was really, really cool to share stuff from the actual archives,” Federation said. “It was such an honor to have her here.”
“It was cool to take the archives out of the basement for a little bit,” Berdahl said.
“It was like there were two things going on. There was the fact that it was exciting to take the archives out of the basement, and show off some of the cool things that we have that are usually in a dark closet, and to read out some of the letters that we have,” Berdahl said. “And then there was like, oh, we’re doing that for the Queen of Norway.”
Norwegian professor Kari Lie Dorer and Head of Strategy for Library Collections and Archives Mary Barbosa-Jerez also addressed Queen Sonja and the assembled guests. Dorer focused on the classes on Norwegian and Norway offered at the College. St. Olaf can “maintain connection to Norway with course offerings,” Dorer said, including “a wide range of courses in English to explore Norway’s past and Norway’s present.”
Queen Sonja viewed the collections assembled by NAHA, Special Collections, and the Archives for the occasion.
Lead Archivist Kristell Benson and Librarian for Special Collections and Archives Instruction Jillian Sparks presented the collections to Queen Sonja and explained the collections’ significance.
“I think this is a really good opportunity for people to hear a little bit more about what the College Archives, Special Collections, and especially the Norwegian-American Historical Association can do and does do on
campus,” Benson said.
Benson presented the Ole G. Felland photograph collection — Felland was an early librarian at St. Olaf, and the collection includes many photos of the construction of the College. “It was wonderful. It was a really neat opportunity,” Benson said.
Four students then presented exhibits on their research relating to Norway to Queen Sonja. Caroline Flaten ’23 presented her research with Helen White ’23 on Ole Rølvaag’s novel “Giants of the Earth.”
Esmir Hodzic ’23 discussed Norwegian Americans’ “path to whiteness” and Ole Rølvaag’s views on racism, which Queen Sonja called “a giant task.”
White presented her research on Norwegian immigrants to Texas in the nineteenth century, and Erik Moe ’23 presented his research with Ryan Kiser ’25 on the 1925 centennial of Norwegian immigration to the U.S.
Both White and Moe gave their presentations in Norwegian to Queen Sonja. The students and the Queen then exchanged comments in Norwegian.
“[Queen Sonja] said thank you, it was beautiful, it touched my heart,” Federation said.
“It was an incredible honor just to share your work, but also to the Queen of Norway, and the fact that she found it impactful, or it touched her heart, that was very meaningful,” Berdahl said.
Queen Sonja’s visit concluded with a private ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Special Collections vault in Rolvaag and lunch with the Board of Regents.