In a corner of Ballard, herring and heritage
Every weekday, from 10 in the morning until around 2:30 in the afternoon, you can still witness the mythic Ballard. It's the Ballard of...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Norwegian Constitution DayToday in Ballard
EVENTS BEGIN at 10:30 a.m. and last into the evening.
Parade: 4 p.m., beginning at the corner of Northwest 62nd Street and 24th Avenue Northwest, and onto Northwest Market Street.
Nordic entertainment: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Bergen Place, at Northwest Market Street and Leary Avenue Northwest.
Lunch: Noon- 2 p.m., Leif Erikson Hall, 2245 N.W. 57th St.; $25 per person.
Dance: 8 p.m.- midnight. Leif Erikson Hall, featuring the band Miles from Chicago. 21 and older, no-host bar, $20 per person.
More information: www.syttendemaiseattle.com
Norwegian open-face sandwichesIN NORWAY, THESE are called "smørbrød," from the words for bread and butter. The ingredients are meticulously arranged in a variety of patterns. Here are some of the basic ones to try at home (if you can find reindeer meat):
• Smoked salmon slices on white bread, with scrambled or hard-cooked eggs and dill.
• Shelled shrimp or crabmeat on toast, with mayonnaise and lemon.
• Sardines in tomato sauce on whole wheat, with hard-cooked egg slices and fresh dill.
• Roasted reindeer meat on whole wheat, with poached apple wedges and lingonberry preserves.
• Sautéed minute steak on whole wheat, with leek rings, tomato and parsley.
• Cured ham on whole wheat, with scrambled eggs.
• Gamalost (a pungent traditional Norwegian cheese) on whole wheat, with butter and parsley.
Source: Sons of Norway headquarters, Minneapolis
Every weekday, from 10 in the morning until around 2:30 in the afternoon, you can still witness the mythic Ballard.
It's the Ballard of fishermen and tradesmen with Norwegian accents, who reminisce about coming to America for the better life.
You can visit with them over lunch: traditional Scandinavian open-face sandwiches, of course, featuring pickled herring and smoked salmon. You can spend time with guys like Per Ostenbo, a 73-year-old retired plumber who drives down from Redondo Beach to be with friends.
All for three bucks.
It's the Leif Erikson Lodge of the Sons of Norway, and it's turning 105 years old this week. With a membership of 1,602, it's the largest in the country. It's the ninth oldest of these fraternal lodges in the country, in fact, with the oldest being in Minneapolis.
The 23-year-old lodge building on Northwest 57th Street has a peaked roof and wood carvings, and just past the main entrance is a room with a homemade sign reading, "Velkommen Kaffestua."
That's "Welcome to the cozy coffee place."
A changing community
The conversation here is of friends who have known each other for decades.
Ostenbo tells of leaving the old country for Canada in 1956, having been offered a job.
"I wanted adventure," he says.
It turned out that there was no Canadian job.
"I had $80 in my pocket when I got out of the ship in Montreal," he remembers. "I didn't speak the language. Finally I got a job in a little machine shop."
Six years later, he ended up in Seattle, because Ostenbo played soccer, and he was offered a job with a semipro team here at $50 to $75 a game.
The folks here are mindful that outside the lodge, their Ballard has been changing all around them.
Next door is a six-story condo complex. A two-bedroom unit there starts at $445,000. Across the street, the entire block is a big hole in the ground. An old QFC was razed to make room for a new one, with six floors of apartments above it.
The lodge is three stories high.
"It looks like a little dollhouse, next to that condo," says Pat Bjorkelo, 82, another of the visitors at the kaffestua. You can't help but notice the members' ages. About half are over 60.
On this recent morning, one of the youngest people there is Diane Aronsen, president of the kaffestua. She's 54. She organizes the rotating group of volunteers who each day make the sandwiches and run the kitchen.
"I have 28 volunteers, and of those, only three of us are under the age of 70," Aronsen says.
It could easily seem like being in your grandmother's kitchen — if your grandmother was Norwegian and gently urged you to have another calorie-packed waffle smothered with jam.
Another of the visitors is Keith Johnsen, 53, a real-estate agent from Arlington.
Once a week, he picks up his dad, Dagfinn Johnsen, 84, in Shoreline and they go to the kaffestua.
Keith loves the food, and he also enjoys the exposure to his heritage.
"But if my parents weren't here, I probably wouldn't make the trip," he says.
Expanding its scope
The Sons of Norway was founded in 1895 in Minneapolis with 18 charter members. Back then, it was common for the new immigrants to be injured or killed in logging accidents. So members made weekly payments so that they and their families could get medical care.
From those beginnings grew an organization that now has 400 chapters worldwide and 66,000 members.
Today is a big day for the chapters, as it is Norwegian Constitution Day. In Ballard, there will be a large parade, and the lodge will host a lunch and an evening dance.
But how to entice younger members? It's been on the mind of Russ Oberg, 70, president of the Ballard lodge.
Folk dancing? Crafts? Language classes?
"Skiing! Oh, my goodness, skiing is our national sport," Osberg says. "You know, our district has its own lodge at Snoqualmie Pass."
An analysis of the 2000 census showed that the population of Ballardites with Nordic heritage had shrunk to just a fifth of the neighborhood.
These days, you don't even have to be of Scandinavian heritage to join the lodge, you just have to express an interest in its culture. Annual dues are only $46.
Meanwhile, there still are plenty of sandwiches to be made, topped with not just pickled herring and smoked salmon, but cold cuts, egg salad and goat cheese, too.
The volunteers make 100 to 150 sandwiches a day. Last year, from those $3 donations, they gave $25,000 to the association.
Century of memories
At a table with four other men, Asbjorn Sorensen, 79, of Shoreline, pointed to his friend Per Ostenbo, the plumber.
"That man there, he's a slave driver," Sorensen said. "I had a stroke digging down there."
What Sorensen meant was he helped dig the foundation of the lodge — built entirely by the members to replace the old lodge — which was finished in 1985.
Ostenbo wanted a deeper foundation, and kept encouraging his fellows to dig. And Sorensen really did have a stroke.
At another table, Margit Varnes, 88, describes coming from Norway with her husband and five children. He was a fisherman, and so she had worked their Norwegian farm mostly by herself.
"It was such a big farm, lots of acres of potatoes, all kinds of vegetables, fruit, corn," she recalls. "I'd work myself to death.
"I said, 'We're leaving.' " They moved to Ballard.
Later, Richard Svensson, an 84-year-old retired engineer, brings out an accordion. He plays waltzes, polkas.
One of the men hums along. Varnes does a bit of a dance.
Outside, construction trucks rumble by.
Here inside, though, for just a bit, time has stopped.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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