IcelandicHeritage Day

Published on Thu, Jun 24, 2004
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Icelandic Heritage Day

You are invited for coffee and dessert!

The city of Blaine has declared Tuesday, June 29 as Icelandic Heritage Day. Many of Blaine’s early settlers were of Icelandic descent and today there are many descendants of these early settlers here in the Blaine area. On June 29, a group of 27 Icelandic visitors will be in Blaine for a short stop on a tour of the U.S. and Canada. We plan on extending our hospitality to these visitors, starting with a luncheon at the Grace Lutheran Church, followed by a short tour of Stafholt, the Blaine Harbor and the Blaine and Hillsdale cemeteries.

Following the tour, from 2:30 - 4:30 the visitors will be hosted for dessert and coffee at the Blaine Community Center, and all interested citizens are invited to join in this time of fellowship.

A committee of interested Icelandic heritage citizens has been planning this event and will be putting small Icelandic flags on the gravestones of those identified as Icelandic in the Blaine and Hillsdale cemeteries. These flags will be in place until that evening and will then be stored until next year when we hope to repeat the Icelandic Heritage Day.
Those on the committee include: Carl Westman, John Sand, Bob Gudmundson, Jana Peterson, Jerry Gay, Elinor Blakely, Leonard Breidford, Sigrid Powers and Jan and Bjorn Hrutfiord.

The essays on this page illustrate only a small part of the Icelandic heritage

By Bjorn Hrutfiord
Icelandic names can be difficult and the naming system described elsewhere is not well known. My father chose Hrutfiord as the family name, it is derived from Hrutafjordir, a fjord in the north of Iceland where the family lived before moving to the U.S. Hrutafjordir was simplified to Hrutfiord, Rutford and Ruthford by family members.

My father’s name was Snorre Bjorn, he went by Barney and my mother’s name was Astbjorg, which was never used, she went by Bella. Mom was raised on the family farm on the Blaine Road and she and her two brothers walked to school to the one room California Creek schoolhouse. My father lived on a farm in Duluth, Minnesota, until he came to Blaine as a young man. The farm in Duluth is currently the University of Minnesota - Duluth campus.

I began a collection of misspellings of my last name when I left Blaine for college. It didn’t take too long to reach more than 30. The misspellings became really bad during my days as a grad student at North Carolina, the southern U.S. just couldn’t cope. (Try spending a Canadian coin in the south!) The total misspellings in my collection quickly exceeded 50 with the addition of the problems of my first name Bjorn, which appeared as Pajorn and further corrections. The problem began to shift from amusing to irritating so I threw the whole collection away.

By Jan Hrutfiord

Growing up in the Icelandic community of Blaine meant family to me. My grandparents Rannveig Hannasdottir and John Johnson Westman came from Iceland, leaving their families behind. Grandma was one of 14 and the only one to emigrate to Canada and then the U.S. Grandpa was also from a large family, with one half brother going to B.C. Icelanders settled where there were other Icelanders already living and the community became the family.

Hospitality was very important in this community, with pannekakur (rolled up thin pancakes sprinkled with sugar) and vinarterta (a layered cake with prune filling, up to 10 layers high) usually available in the household for visitors. Many visitors from Iceland came to stay for weeks with my grandparents, as they had a large farmhouse to put these guests up comfortably.

Grandpa raised sheep and milk cows and had a smokehouse with sides of mutton hanging much like hams. (I enjoyed the smell of this meat much more than the taste.) He had been a farmer/fisherman in Iceland and my father and uncle continued the family tradition of fishing.

The Blaine schools had a large number of students of Icelandic descent, many first Americans, who although their parents and/or grandparents spoke Icelandic, my generation did not speak the language fluently, if at all. But we knew the other families and that their families and ours were friends.

In Iceland, the children get their last name from their father’s first name, with son or dottir added. There were many Johnsons, Petersons, Thorstensons, Sigurdsons, Gudmundsons, Olasons and so on in Blaine. Not too many had the dottir ending, as the women took their husbands’ names in America. Then, some names were changed when an immigrant came into the country. My grandfather, John Johnson, was told there were too many John Johnsons, pick another name! He took Westman, from the Westman Islands in Iceland where he had been recently living. In Blaine, many other families had place names from Iceland, such as Breidford, Skagfjord, Hrutfiord, Vopnford, Eiford, etc. We could usually recognize an Icelandic name. Many of the older generation’s names were definitely different. My father was Eythor, my aunt was Doma (Domhildur), an uncle was Hannes, there were Runas, and Sigurdurs, Solveigs and Thorkills. If you visit the Blaine or Hillsdale cemeteries, you will find many of the old names on the gravestones.

By John Sand

During the late 60s, I lived the life of an urban pioneer in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. One heroic day, I rescued a battered lady mannequin from certain ill fate by pulling her out of an alley dumpster. She hosted a few ’60s parties before my Icelandic mother adopted her, named her “Thora” and found her a respectful home in the lobby of Stafholt, the original Icelandic home in Blaine. Mother was a nurse at Stafholt and Thora became the official greeter of Stafholt’s guests, wearing mother’s native Icelandic costume.

She had a happy stay at Stafholt for over 12 years until a lobby remodel forced her to early retirement in a storage closet.

Luckily, her retirement has short-lived. Since 1985, Thora has been happily greeting guests to the heritage room in Ballard’s Nordic museum, back in her native Seattle.

By Jerry Gay

Doma Westman, my mom and an Icelander, grew up and graduated from high school in Blaine. Immediately after school she went to live in Washington, D.C. to assist in the war effort. My mom translated vital military messages and security briefings into Icelandic during WW II. After the war, she married Fred Gay and moved to Seattle and later to Lynnwood in the 50s, where I grew up quickly. Each time Doma would call her mother Rannveig in Blaine, they spoke to each other in loud energetic Icelandic. When she talked to her dad John, while visiting the family farm on Dakota Creek, it was always in the same spirited Icelandic language. My brother John and I were English speakers only and so we never really knew what deep secrets they were keeping from us or for that matter even when to ‘chime in’ with our best one-liners to impress our declining Icelandic ancestors.

Visiting my grandparents and working summers on their Blaine farm represented the best moments of my ‘imagined Iceland’ to me. When we would go and meet my grandparents’ friends living in Stafholt it was like being directly transported to this distant but often spoken of foreign country. Here the Icelandic sharply tongued language could be heard coming from every residential corridor. My uncles, Eythor and Hannes also lived in Blaine and could speak Icelandic fluently and most times that was far too often for my untutored lips and tortured ears benefit.

However, it is during the Christmas season that I truly remember why I love my Scandinavian heritage. At every Yule gathering, I want to gorge myself on the delicious homemade prune cake my grandma called “Vinetarte.” It’s my very favorite cake of all and reminds me that I’m truly half Icelandic, although I can’t speak a word of the language.