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Arland O. Fiske:

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Scandinavians have been coming to America since the days of Leif Erikson. Until after the war between the states, many of them melted into the English speaking world. After the war (1865), when they came in large numbers and formed strong ethnic communities, they began to organize into fraternal groups to preserve their Old World values.

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Eleven immigrants of Swedish descent organized the “Independent Order of Vikings” in Chicago on June 2, 1890. They had as their goals “Unity of fellowship, help in time of need, and a sound investment in the future.”  Though founded by Swedes, who still make up the largest part of the membership, since 1951, all Scandinavians and spouses have been welcomed into the fellowship. In the latter part of the 19th century, the “Windy City” became a Mecca especially for Danes, Norwegians and Swedes who came to seek their fortune in the New World.”

Those early immigrants were mostly young and adventurous folk who had advanced social ideas. One of their first projects was to organize a fraternal society called “Vikingarne” to pay sick benefits and funeral assistance to immigrants. Then they organized a “reading club” for the intellectual advancement of their people so they could get ahead in an English speaking society. In more recent times, they have established scholarships for high school students whose families are members. They also give a full tuition grant for a member to attend the International Summer School at the prestigious Uppsala University in Sweden.

Fiercely proud of their Scandinavian roots, these “Vikings” erected a statue of a prominent Swede, Carl von Linne (1707-1778), that stands in Chicago’s Lincoln Park along Lake Michigan. Linne was a botanist and explorer who was the first to frame principles for defining genera and species of organisms and to create a uniform system for naming them. In 1892, the name of the organization was changed to the “Independent Order of Vikings” in order to identify with the culture of their new land.

It wasn’t long before new lodges sprung up in the Chicago area ,where six are active today. Fifty-two local lodges make up the organization in 16 states including Colorado Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah Washington and Wisconsin. Many of the lodges own the buildings where they meet. A newsletter called the “Viking Journal” is published monthly.

The heart of the organization is a life insurance program. This work began during the immigrant days when Scandinavians needed to look out for each other in a strange world. Junior Clubs for young people under age 16 sponsor sporting events, dinners, parties and instruction sessions to learn Scandinavian dances.

As you might expect, the Independent Order of Vikings is famous for its smorgasbords. Any Scandinavian holiday is an excuse to bring out food, the but especially Christmas, Lucia Day (Dec. 13), Midsummer Day (June 26) and the Octoberfest.

A national convention is held every two years. Seventeen officers and members of the Executive Council are elected to govern and promote the organization.

Next Week: Tracing a Family Name.

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.

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