King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway packed king-sized goodwill and graciousness into their four-hour visit to Duluth on Monday.
Duluthians – and people from throughout northern Minnesota and Wisconsin – responded in kind, waving Norwegian flags, singing the Norwegian national anthem with gusto and laughing at the king’s lutefisk joke.
Eleven hundred people endured gusty breezes in Enger Park at mid-afternoon for the centerpiece event of the day as Harald and Sonja participated in the rededication of Enger Tower. Harald was following in the footsteps of his parents, then-Prince Olav and Princess Martha, who came for the original dedication of the tower on June 15, 1939.
“Standing here, I can easily see why so many Norwegian immigrants decided to settle here in this area, by the splendid shores of Lake Superior,” Harald said from the base of the newly refurbished Enger Tower. “They must have missed Norway and those they left behind, but I’m sure they found comfort in this peaceful and beautiful landscape. Thanks to recent extensive restoration work, Enger Tower will continue to be a symbol of the hard work and dedication of the Norwegian immigrants.”
He said it was particularly moving to take part since the tower originally was dedicated by his parents.
Harald and Sonja’s day in Duluth began at noon as their entourage arrived from Minneapolis by helicopter. The king paused at the air base to acknowledge the three-decade-long exchange program between Norway and the Duluth-based 148th Air National Guard.
Then a motorcade took the royal party to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, where 500 people waited to greet the king and queen at a $100-a-plate luncheon.
Two Harbors native and opera singer Andrew Gangestad performed two pieces at the dinner, one of them by Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Grieg. Members of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra also performed. The king and queen were presented with an icy-looking glass replica of Enger Tower by Michael Tonder of Two Harbors.
The royals were escorted into the DECC by Ralph Jacobson, president of the Two Harbors Sons of Norway lodge.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness, wearing a boldly striped tie that mimicked the red, blue, and white of the Norwegian flag, acknowledged his nervousness as he addressed the royal guests and the luncheon audience. He also noted that his own ancestry is Norwegian.
“Duluthians take great pride in Norway’s international leadership, a strong and important voice on issues related to the environment and the promotion of peace and reconciliation,” Ness said. “We are proud of our Norwegian heritage. Thousands of Duluthians share our Norwegian ancestry and that Norwegian heritage from Leif Erikson Park to Norway Hall, from Enger Tower to Takk for Maten.”
That heritage was evident when many in the audience clearly knew the words and proudly sang as a 14-member ensemble from the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra played the Norwegian national anthem.
Harald, who spent five years as a child in the United States with his mother and sisters during World War II, speaks flawless and unaccented English. He addressed the Norwegian Americans in his remarks.
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“My sense of pride at the Norwegian immigrants and their descendants has been reinforced,” the king said. “You have made, and are continuously making, great contributions to all aspects of American society. Today, I understand that there are 1 million Minnesotans who call themselves Norwegian Americans and that there is still a strong Norwegian footprint in this state. Many towns, buildings and individuals have Norwegian names. Many of you cherish Norwegian food and traditions. Lutefisk and lefse is still being served.”
The reference to the much-loved, much-hated Norwegian meal drew a laugh from the audience.
There were somber moments, as both Ness and Sen. Amy Klobuchar made references to the July 22 terrorist attacks in which scores of Norwegians were killed. Asked later about what effect those attacks had on Norwegians, the king said it had strengthened his country.
“I think now Norway is a better place to live than it was before the 22nd,” he said. “The country is more together. We’re looking after each other more.”
Morris Gjessing attended the original Enger Tower dedication in 1939. Gjessing, 85, lived in West Duluth then and in Moose Lake now. He didn’t hesitate to pay his $100 for the royal luncheon, ride up with his son and take the bus ride to Enger Park.
Gjessing, whose parents emigrated from Norway, said he thought the 2011 version of the event was more exciting than in 1939. “They made a special occasion this time. It was well-advertised.”
But the 1939 event was warmer, Gjessing acknowledged. It included a trip to Knife River and the fishing operation there.
Ness made reference to the blustery conditions at Enger Tower. He noted that park improvements will continue over the next two years. He suggested the community will have another celebration at the park in 2014. That also will be the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bert Enger, the Norwegian immigrant for whom Enger Tower and Enger Park are named.
“And I think we’ll have to have it in July,” Ness said. Behind him, the king laughed heartily.