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Arland Fiske: The Scandinavians of Detroit

When we got a Finnish daughter-in-law from Michigan, I didn’t realize how many Scandinavians lived there.

I was surprised to learn from Dordi Glaerum Skuggevik’s book Utvandringshistorie Fra Nordmore (“Immigration History from Nordmore”) how many people from that part of Norway settled in Michigan. I suspect that if I visited in the Traverse City area, I’d find some distant relatives. A lot of Finnish people immigrated to northern Michigan and to the Upper Peninsula.

One of the best-secrets in the Middle West has to be the vigorous Scandinavian community in the Detroit area. I’m surprised they haven’t renamed it “Fjord City.” The Norse Civic Association was founded by the Detroit area Scandinavians in 1934. The Nordic News, a quality publication, appears 10 times a year.

Twenty-eight Scandinavian organizations hold membership in the association. The ethnic backgrounds come from Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Among the organizations are singing groups, folk dancers, a business women’s club, senior citizens, stamp collectors, a Jenny Lind Club, the American-Scandinavian Foundation and the Scandinavian Symphony Society of Detroit, besides Danish, Norwegian and Swedish cultural lodges.

Each month the Nordic News announces the special events of each group. The newsletter told an interesting story about the Finnish Cultural Center. It began in a basement in 1965. Nine years later a building was dedicated. It seemed foolish at first to make such an investment. More than 6,000 Finnish-Americans were invited to discuss the project. Today, 1,700 families are members of the Finnish Center Association. It’s a handsomely designed building that does credit to Finnish architectural fame.

What impresses me most is their Scandinavian Symphony Orchestra, with both a Symphony Society and a women’s auxiliary to support it. They play some pretty fine music. One of their programs featured a highly talented cellist and works by Dvorak, Auber, Rossini and Hugo Alfven, a Swedish composer. You can be sure they also play the compositions of Jean Sibelius.

I was also interested to learn that there is a Swedish Engineers Society of Detroit. The “Motor City” has consulate offices from each of the Scandinavian countries and they participate actively in the Association. Advertising is popular in the Nordic News, especially travel to Scandinavia.

If you have friends living in the Detroit area, tell them to get in touch with this interesting group of people. Maybe they’ll get an invitation to the Danish Club of Detroit for a Sunday brunch.

It’s no wonder that the Hjemkomst Viking ship stopped in Detroit on its way to Norway in 1983. It was given a royal welcome.

These are people worth knowing.

Next week: The American Swedish Institute.


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, including 2012’s “Sermons in Psalms.”