The Friendly Fifth

History of Lodges

Solvang 457
Westby, Wisconsin

Solvang Lodge 58, Daughters of Norway, was organized in Westby, WI on April 16,1916 by a group of women of Norwegian descent, with the help of Head Lodge President Karen Hasund of Chicago, IL. With only twenty-three charter members they could meet in homes the first years.

Many interesting tales have been told of the WONDERFUL times they had at their meetings---until the lights winked---and they had to quickly adjourn. In those days there was electricity only until eleven o'clock at night, so the winking of the lights was a signal they had just fifteen minutes to get home before the lights went out. Members brought their work to meetings, such as sewing carpet rags, knitting, crocheting, or any handwork available. There was always a delicious lunch served by three or four of the ladies.

With a gain in membership they found they could no longer meet in the homes, so they met in Mitby Hall upstairs over a tavern. The men had to move the beer cases so the women could get up the steps. A few years later when the group met in the Utility Hall (now the City Hall) an organ was purchased, later a piano, because there was always an interest in singing and music. Up until 1956 the Norwegian language was used in conducting the meetings, but then English was adopted.

During the early years Solvang had a Drill Team, sixteen women dressed in white uniforms; with red, white, and blue satin streamers and head crowns. The Drill Team appeared at many functions, both in Westby and neighboring communities for installation of officers, 17th of May celebrations, Fourth of July parades, Fall festivals, etc.

Solvang was usually represented at the Head Lodge Conventions, the first delegate being Nora Grossman, who later became a trustee in the Head Lodge. At the "History-making" convention in June of 1950 in Minneapolis, Thora Lunde and Myrtle Hovde were delegates. At this meeting, the Daughters of Norway decided to merge with Sons of Norway. On December 31, 1950 a new charter was issued in which all members of Solvang D of N #58 in good standing were declared to be Charter Members of Solvang Lodge 457. Although Solvang had become part of Sons of Norway, it was not until October 1971 that men were allowed to join.

Solvang Lodge has always been active in community affairs, sponsoring booths and participating in the pageants celebrating the Centennial of Wisconsin and the 95th and 100th anniversaries of the Vernon County Fair. With funds made available through money-making projects, the work of many welfare organizations has been supported: Red Cross, Cancer drives, Polio Fund, March of Dimes. At Christmas the residents of the Children's Home in Wittenberg, WI, the Old People's Home in Stoughton, and the Norwegian Seamen's Mission have been remembered. During the wars, women of the lodge did knitting and sewing for the Red Cross and Norwegian Relief, and donated money to the hospital at Camp McCoy. In 1985 a gift of $500 was made to the Bekkum Library in Westby.

Giving support to all events and organizations that help preserve Norwegian heritage has been important to Solvang Lodge. In a community where many are of Norwegian descent, the lodge has sponsored groups from Norway and the United States: Mike and Else Sevig of Minneapolis, the Oslo School Band, Norse Pop Band, Youth Symphony from Minneapolis, as well as several choral groups. Trips by chartered bus have taken members to Little Norway and the Cave of the Mounds near Mount Horeb, WI; to Decorah, IA in 1952 to visit Luther College and the Norwegian Mission, and later to the Norwegian American Museum; to Spillville, IA to see the famous Billy Clocks.

The lodge takes part in the 17th of May celebration in Westby by having a float and a marching unit, as well as having a Norsk bake sale open to the public. Our demonstrations on lefse baking and the making of rømmegrot have also drawn attention. Each Syttende Mai Solvang sponsors a princess candidate. As another example of our concern for our heritage, our lodge was one of those who delivered signed petitions to have October 9 designated Leif Erikson Day.

Each year a Memorial Service is held at the May meeting in which a tulip or lilac branch is placed in a vase as each deceased member's name is read. Members who are sick are remembered, and when sorrow comes, a memorial gift is sent. When members celebrate their 50th Anniversary they receive a gift of money. A lodge sponsored household shower was held for members who had lost their home in a fire. We do try to uphold the purposes for which the Lodge was formed.

Good fund raisers have been the raffle of quilts, sweaters and other items, bazaars, rummage sales, and bake sales. In 1982 we sponsored our first Spillemans' Lag, such a huge success it has become an annual event.

Our float represents us at many area parades - a horse drawn wagon pulled by Otis Leum's purebred Belgian horses.

Each year we exchange programs with the lodge in Spring Grove, MN, and now that we have a sister lodge in Viroqua (Jotunheimen), we also share programs with them. Exchange students from Norway have provided many good programs, and members from our own lodge show slides from trips to Norway and other places. The last few years we have made more use of the programs from the Heritage department.

In 1982 the Gunderson-Thrune plan, which later became the Norskedalen Heritage Center, was explained to us. We have helped to sponsor and maintain the program ever since. Lawrence Bakke donated a log com crib to the pioneer farm, after we used it for our float in the 17th of May parade. Our Solvang Singers present programs at Norskedalen and also share programs with other lodges.

The membership of Solvang has remained fairly stable over the years, but in 1982 we took in 60 new members. We received special recognition from the Fifth District at the convention in La Crosse. We have met in the Vernon Electric community room for a number of years. Special lodge anniversaries have been observed, the last one for our 70th year in 1986. There was a catered dinner followed by a program featuring piano selections by 93- year old Marie Bergh.

To quote 'Sadie Melby, a former lodge secretary, in one of her reports:
"Look not mournfully into the past; it comes back not again. Look wisely to improve the present as it is ours."

.... Lillian Leum

The preceding history was originally published in the 75th Anniversary book of District Lodge 5.

The following update was provided by Solvang Lodge 457 in August 2008

As in every other organization changes have also come to Solvang Lodge in the past twenty years. Some ideas and activities have continued as: lunch and socializing at every monthly meeting, some members continue their membership, some older members have dropped out, some are unable to attend meetings and some have passed away. We celebrated our 80 and 90 year anniversary, we have our annual exchange meetings with Spring Grove, Minnesota Lodge, Christmas caroling at Nursing and Assisted Living Homes and to home bound members. We sponsor annually a young girl in 17th of May Princess contest, have a float in the 17th of May Parade, sponsor a youth to Youth Camp if interested in attending, have a silent auction and raffle for fund raisers, collect stamps for Tubfrim, use programs from Headquarters with tapes, slides, discs etc. for our meetings, attend 5th district seminars and send delegates to 5th district convention, donate cookies to Barnebirke contest, have foreign students and attendees to Youth Camp speak to our meetings about their experiences. We have sponsored music groups from Norway for concerts, have a picnic and Christmas party, give Life Memberships and pins to members for years of Membership, have a Moment of Silence and send a card and memorial for deceased members, donate money to various organizations, and publish the Lodge newsletter.

With a change in leadership there have been changes in Lodge activities. As one might say "out with the old and in with the new". Some of the activities that have been dropped are: no program exchange with our Sister Lodge) Jothenheimen of Viroqua and Wergeland Lodge of LaCrosse, no square dance group or Solvang Singers and Players, no marching unit or Drill Team for the 17th of May parade and other parades, no kitchen band or bake sale, no flag of Norway flown at the stabbur because it "walked away", and no lodge trips.

Even so many of our members are very busy with Norse heritage activities but not under Sons of Norway leadership as: the Friday afternoon Old Time music program for 17th of May since 1982, we have taught hundreds of students (with hands on experiences) at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center how to make flatbrød or lefse there and at other places, too, and in the Blacksmith shop, as well as guides there and furnish music there and Nursing and assisted Living Homes and other places, making and serving Norse food for various activities, taught Norse baking in schools in Westby, Viroqua, and La Crosse, sponsored a bunad show, members who have been ill or hospitalized or have passed away have been remembered with a card and a plant or a gift of money, and to members celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary.

The evergreen tree Solvang Lodge planted on the "Trail of Lodges" at the Vinland Center in Loretto, Minnesota in 1984 must be quite large by now as well as the trees Solvang Lodge planted at the Stabbur in Westby in 1990. We even had a bit of fame when our Lodge went to the Myron Floren concert in La Crosse and presented Myron Floren with iefse and a large rosemaled plate in 1983. We have taken tours to the Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, where several of our members furnished music on the stage of the theater. Our members have, done community service to help clean up after storms in the Westby and Norskedalen area, have repainted the Sons of Norway shield on the signboards by the highways leading into Westby. The By-Laws of our Constitution have been updated in 1992. We donated a few hundred dollars to Westby Library and Norskedalen Center and had Fund Raiser for Norskedalen Center in 1993.

Some new activities Solvang Lodge have introduced are: to put monthly notices of meetings in the newspaper and send cards of activities to house-bound members. We've had some very interesting programs where people tell of their trips or connections with Norway, as the story of the boat Hjemkomst. We have a new meeting place which is the community center with no steps and plenty of parking spots. For a couple of years Norwegian classes have been held before the regular meeting is held. We now have a small library of books people can borrow. New activities are: serving a pancake supper and a Norsk breakfast during the 17th of may weekend and Silent auction and raffles as Fund Raisers. We did the first Norsk Frokost in 1996 but was dropped again until now. We now have a giass enclosed bulletin board where we can exhibit various awards, etc. We have taken a huge map of Norway and indicated on it the area of Norway from which each of our members forefathers immigrated which is displayed there. Our membership remains about the same but we may have a few younger members.

What is the future of Solvang Lodge?

We hope to continue many of our present activities and get more members actively involved, maybe some new ideas as: teach children some simple folk songs and folk dances--maybe in school, continue the Norwegian classes before the regular meetings, learn some new Norwegian songs ourselves, get the youth involved, have former members rejoin, increase our membership, re-connect with our sister Lodge in Viroqua, begin work on the Skills program as many of our members do those things already, continue baking demonstrations, present more heritage programs in schools, maybe get more involved with the community at Christmas time, have another Bunad Show and wear our bunads more at 17th of May, and maybe receive another 1st prize float in the 17th of May parade as we did in 1987. We look forward to many happy interesting programs in the future.

Lillian Leum