By Bob Lind, INFORUM.COM
St. Olav’s Medal was given him “in recognition of his great service to Norway, in particular in his active work to promote knowledge and appreciation of Norwegian culture, language and history in the United States, especially in the Upper Midwest.”
With that, all that remains, he thinks, is for Rothsay, Minn., to erect a special billboard. After all, how many communities can claim three former residents as recipients of this honor?
Norway over Caribbean
Verlyn, of Moorhead, was Concordia College’s library director for 30 years as well as a professor of history and Scandinavian studies before he retired in 1998.
This King of Quips is 100 percent Norsk and spoke only Norwegian when he was growing up on the farm home in Rothsay, giving him, he says, the distinction of being Concordia’s only professor who had to repeat first grade because of his poor English.
He graduated from Concordia in 1956, earned master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Minnesota, taught in Elizabeth, Hawley and Waconia, Minn., and joined the Concordia faculty in 1962 thanks in large part to his former instructor Hiram Drache of Fargo, who put in a good word for him.
He met his wife, Evonne, at Concordia, who later worked in Concordia’s communications office. She’s 7/8 Norwegian; Verlyn married her despite the 1/8 of her that is Swedish. They have three daughters: Kristi (Bob) Sundlie of Troy, Ohio; Karen (Greg) Schulz of Stillwater, Minn.; and Randi (Ken) Stevenson of Bonney Lake, Wash. They also have three grandsons. It was those guys who got them to Norway last year.
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Verlyn and Evonne offered to take the family on a Caribbean cruise. But the boys had a better idea; they wanted Grandpa and Grandma to take them to Norway. Then, while that trip was in the plans, Verlyn received a letter telling him he would be a recipient of the medal and asking where he’d like the presentation to take place.
Well, we’re coming to Norway, anyway, he said; how about the building with real meaning for him and his family, where his great-grandfather had been baptized in 1854?
So in June 2008, in that church, the head of staff of the royal palace made the presentation. Looking on: his family, the U.S. vice-ambassador to Norway and about 200 others. The ceremony was followed by a roast reindeer dinner for 48 guests that lasted four hours. And it was all due to Verlyn’s contributions to Norway-U.S. ties.
Done it all
Verlyn has published many articles, given countless lectures, led many tours to Norway, conducted classes, was a visiting professor at a university in Norway, been an adviser to a museum in Norway, is active, as is Evonne, in the Sons of Norway; well, look, Verlyn, what haven’t you done?”
“I haven’t been in jail yet,” he says. That’s good. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to join others in working on a current project: establishing a database listing descendents of people from his ancestral area in Norway. The list now has 9,000 names, and he figures there are 2,000 to go. Projects like that, he says, “keep old people out of trouble and off the streets.”
They won’t be going to Norway this year. But they’ve already got two tours to lead there next year.
The Anderson home is filled with antiques, many of them with Scandinavian ties. He and his wife, he says, “are the only young things in the house.” Now, that house is home to his most recent prized possession: the St. Olav Medal. In connection with that, Verlyn thinks Rothsay should erect a billboard saying it’s the home town of three Olav Medal recipients: the late Fargo attorney Chet Serkland, the late Sidney Rand, a president of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., and himself.
He’s just kidding, of course. (Maybe.)
One final question, Verlyn: As a purebred Norwegian, you must like lutefisk. Right?
“Right,” he says. “Evonne and I both do, especially the way they make it at the Sons of Norway. “Besides,” he says, “lutefisk keeps bacteria down.”