A Short History of the Norwegian Society of Texas

The History

The Norwegian Society of Texas (hereafter referred to as The Society, or NST) was established March 8, 1975, in the Sesquicentennial year of organized Norwegian immigration to America 1825 – 1975.

Norwegian immigrants began arriving in Texas in the 1830’s, then under Mexican rule. And, over the years, people often talked about of having some sort of society, but being obverse to formal organizations it took a while. In November, 1974 17 people of Norwegian birth or decent gathered at a church in Dallas to discuss options which led to the forming of several committees to evaluate approaches to some formal organization. It was decided to approach the Sons of Norway to extend membership to people in Texas.

It was determined that Sons of Norway, which had no insurance license to operate in Texas would not be able to help in this regard, but that it would pursue the possibility of setting up an insurance business in Texas with the concomitant fraternal arm which always accompanies that business. However, it would take at least two years before such an operation could commence.

In February of 1975, the original planners, now grown to 29, met again in Dallas, and decided that it would not do to wait for Sons of Norway but to establish a Texas organization. Working groups were set up to start a nonprofit organization in Texas. The name was selected – Norwegian Society of Texas. Wayne Rhone was selected as Legal Advisor and charged with the official applications. Gunnar Engen was charged with developing a Constitution and By-laws. It was decided also that NST should be managed by and organization called the Althing after the Icelandic Parliament – the first established parliament in the world. That is a board of director with a President and the usual officers.

The formation documents were adopted and the officers of the Althing elected in a meeting of 104 charter members in Dallas on March 8, 1975. And on March 25, 1975, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts issued the charter to NST as a nonprofit corporation. The incorporators were Carl Sorenson, also elected as the first President, Gunnar Engen, Vice Precident, and Wayne Rhone, Legal Advisor.

In the 35 plus since its establishment the NST has grown from a Dallas group to a statewide organization with chapters in 8 of the major cities in Texas. It publishes a Medlemsbok (membership directory) a statewide Nyheter (newsletter) and each chapter issues newsletters on subjects of interest to the members. In l976 NST became affiliated with Nordmanns Forbundet.

Texas Flag MapMajor holidays of Norway and the discoverer of America are celebrated — Syttende Mai, St. Hansaften, Leif Eiriksson Day and Jul. NST has a well known folk dance group called the Leikarringen which performs in Texas and even in Norway. The members have varied interest including learning Norwegians, baking, current events in Norway, and having a good time promoting the heritage.

Close ties with Norway were established early, with Ambassadors of Norway and Consuls General as guest speakers at formal events. Presidents of Nordmanns Forbundet, including General Wilh. Moore visited often and Hon. Paul Thynnes, as well as Directors General of the organization. The most outstanding visitor was King Olav V who spent several days in Texas in 1982, as guest of NST. He appeared at the Texas State Fair in Dallas and visited Clifton/Norse which is now named the Norwegian Capital of Texas due to the efforts and requests by NST. Also in that area, known as Bosque County, governmental approval was obtained to dedicate (on October 20, 1975) a county highway as the Cleng Peerson Memorial Highway, in recognition of his stature as Father of Norwegian immigration to America. Cleng Peerson spent the last 15 years of his life in the Clifton/Norse area and is buried at Norse Cemetery (Our Saviors Lutheran Church.

King Olav V visited the State Fair of Texas during his visit in 1982
King Olav V at the State Fair of Texas during his visit in 1982

Many special events are part of the life of NST including participating in the downtown Dallas Parade with the Viking ship Ormen Lange II, named after Olav Tryggvasson, perhaps the most famous Norwegian Viking. This ship was originally built in the 1970’s but reconstituted a few years ago by the Viking Chapter of Dallas. It is nicely featured on local media. It is also frequently requested to participate in floats elsewhere in Texas.

History of famous Norwegian immigrants to Texas, such as Elise Warenskjold, also known as the Lady with the Pen (and the first Norwegian woman to get a divorce in Norway) is cherished and studied by many. An immigrant house has recently been restored. This was the house of Jens Ringness in Clifton. This is a special project by the NST Chapter in Bosque County supported by all the members and the Historical Society of Texas.

Ringness House MuseumThe motto of NST says it all: “Vi skal holde ved like vaar norske arv”.

(We shall maintain our Norwegian heritage.)

 

Submitted by

Gunnar Engen,

Past President of the Althing