The Friendly Fifth

History of Lodges

Circle City 614
Carmel, Indiana

A Brief History of Circle City Lodge 5-614--Carmel, Indiana
by Glenna Divine, Lodge Historian
The Indianapolis area has had a long history of various organizations for Norwegian-Americans to gather together. There was the Norway Club in the 1930’s and 1940’s and around 1970-1991 there was the Norwegian-American Club, to which many of our current lodge members belonged. Many of these people also belonged to the Swedish Vasa organization, and still do.
However, in 1987 Arnold (Arnie) and Ragnhild Johnsen moved to Carmel, Indiana, from Kingston, New York, where they had belonged to a Sons of Norway lodge. They missed their Sons of Norway connections and attended meetings of Scandiana Lodge 600 in Chesterton, Indiana, a few times and also joined Vasa, where they met other Norwegian-American families, including Burt and Jean Bittner. After a while there was an interest in organizing a committee to see about starting a Sons of Norway lodge in Carmel. A group started meeting in the Johnsens’ home to plan how to build the group of about 10 to the 40 members needed to install a lodge.
There was a setback at one point. Several people were worried that the only thing Sons of Norway did was try to sell you insurance. Arnie assured them that was not true, it was available but not pushed. However, when the representative came they had sent an insurance agent, not someone to help organize a new lodge. Arnie felt his credibility was damaged and the committee disbanded. Then, after he and Ragnhild attended a Christmas party at Scandiana, and attended the District 5 convention in Wisconsin, they decided to try again. This time they had the help and support of then District 5 President Jim Holms. Mr. and Mrs. Holms made several trips down from Michigan in support and in the latter part of 1990 things started to take shape.
The first meetings in 1991 were at the Carmel American Legion Post. The Sons of Norway Lodge 5-614 Institution Dinner Dance was held November 23, 1991. At that time three names were listed to vote upon: Circle City, Crossroads or Restauration. Obviously Circle City was the winner. Later, with the help of Lauralee Martin, the meetings were moved to nicer quarters at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Arnie Johnsen was the first president and held that position until March 1994 when he and Ragnhild moved away. Jean Bittner became the second president of the lodge.
Alma Lathrop, one of the charter members, has fond memories of a lodge trip to Norway to learn traditional dances and to ski in the afternoons. This trip was taken before the Winter Olympics were to take place in Lillehammer. They were also able to visit some of the horses that were to be in the Olympics and go on some buggy rides. One fun evening she remembered while they were in Norway was teaching their hosts the game of Spoons. After the scheduled events, many members went on to visit family and friends in other parts of Norway or just to tour. Once they were all back in the USA and comparing notes they were surprised to learn that many of them had been fed the same type of meal. It was a reindeer meat dish in a cream sauce with peas and carrots. They decided to fix the same dinner together, substituting deer meat for reindeer meat. Another of Alma’s memories was how Jean Bittner was instrumental in raising early attendance at the Friday night meetings. She started bringing soup and other dishes to feed everyone and attendance picked up. From there it has led to our tradition of having a meal at all our Friday night meetings. Sometimes it is a carry-in dinner where everyone brings something and sometimes it is preplanned and we pay something to cover expenses.
Over the years we have been a very active lodge, promoting our Norwegian heritage and culture. From the early years of the Norwegian-American Club throughout the 25 years of Sons of Norway, Circle City Lodge has had an impressive booth at the annual International Festival. Several years we have been awarded first place and in many other years we have placed with some kind of honor. The lodge has also sponsored rosemaling classes. Jean Bittner made arrangements for Lois Mueller, a Vesterheim Gold Medal rosemaler, to come teach a rosemaling workshop for a few days. It turned into a 20-year tradition with our lodge. We have also had a weekly rosemaling group with John Gundersen, another Vesterheim Gold Medalist, and Sally Hurst leading and teaching. Other craft classes have been chip carving taught by David Wantz, cooking classes led by Bia Martin, and Nordic gifts, also by Bia Martin.
John Gundersen taught a Norwegian language class for several years and a lodge library has been a welcome feature of our meetings. We can check out a wide variety of books, magazines and videos in both Norwegian and English. Over the 25 years of Circle City Lodge's existence there have been 12 different presidents. Many of us feel it has been a great advantage to have had so many different people serve in that role. With so many talented leaders, each one has brought a new perspective, new talents and new energy to the lodge. Our monthly meetings vary from craft work stations, piano or Hardanger fiddle concerts, choirs and soloists, movie nights, travel presentations, history and genealogy talks, and various guest speakers on a myriad of topics. One guest speaker was Todd Ferris, the Season 3 winner of the “Alt for Norge” reality TV show in Norway. One of our lodge members is Roy Samuelsen, who sang opera all over the world and has honored us at times with his singing. Each meeting is entertaining, informative and fun. The lodge has also taken various field trips to places of interest. One such field trip was to SAMARA, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in West Lafayette, Indiana, with refreshments afterward at the nearby home of Bob and Linda Sorensen. For many years we celebrated St. Hans Day in June at the summer home of Bill and Ileen Smith near Greensburg. We had a bounteous pitch-in meal, many splashed and swam in the Smiths' pond, Bill on his riding mower pulled a wagonload of children over the rolling green hills, and the event ended with a big bonfire and sometimes Norwegian folk tales. Other activities are Third Wednesday Lunch get-togethers, walking groups and book clubs. The lodge also encourages members to work on Cultural Pins and several members have done so. Jean Bittner earned her Gold Medal in 2008. Julefest in December is the highlight of our year, attended by more than 100 members, friends, and their families. We have a fabulous dinner, a silent auction, a visit from Santa and Julenisse, and Norwegian dancing around a Christmas tree that we decorate with mittens for needy children. Several of our past presidents have said the lodge accomplishments they are most proud of are the many scholarships the lodge has provided to youth going to Masse Moro summer camp in Wisconsin each year; our 25-year participation in the International Festival, sponsored by the Nationalities Council of Indiana; and recently our participation in the Indianapolis 500 Parade. Past president Dagrun Bennett remembers “sitting in the Panorama Lounge of the 'Kong Harald' the year Bob and I traveled on Hurtigruten with Jean and Burt. As we passed the Arctic Circle, I wrote my President's letter for the Luren. That incident tied together the two parts of my life so perfectly, and thinking back I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to be involved in Circle City Lodge.” We welcome new members, visitors and members of other lodges just passing through to our meetings the second Friday of each month, except for July when we have no meeting, held at King of Glory Lutheran Church, 2201 East 106th Street in Carmel, beginning at 6:30 p.m. You will find us a warm, interesting and fun bunch of Norwegian-Americans!