ASHF Preserves Swedish Heritage

Attendees of the 13th annual Scandinavian Folk Festival, held at the Gerry Rodeo Grounds from July 18-20, will have that opportunity thanks, in part, to the American Scandinavian Heritage Foundation of Jamestown.

The foundation is a primary sponsor of the annual festival, as well as a variety of other holidays and events rooted in Scandinavian tradition throughout the year.

Founded in 1966 as the Jamestown branch of the national American Scandinavian Foundation, the foundation has worked to preserve the values and traditions of its ancestors. Upon its conception, the purpose designated by the foundation was “to strengthen the bonds between residents of Scandinavian descent, and all people with an interest in Scandinavia, through a firmer understanding of the heritage of the respective communities.” In a broader sense, it sought to “promote and advance the relationships between the United States and the Scandinavian countries.”

According to Roland Swanson, who served as president of the American Scandinavian Heritage Foundation from 1982-85, the group’s formation was originally intended to enhance and project the culture and traditions of a Jamestown population that was overwhelmingly Swedish at the time.

“At one time, Jamestown was one of the largest Swedish communities in the country,” Swanson said. Although the Swedish culture was prevalent in the time of the American Scandinavian Heritage Foundation’s inception, the group foresaw that it was in the best interest of its members to be proactive in maintaining its presence in the community in the coming years.

In December 1982, during the time of Swanson’s presidency, it was announced by the American Scandinavian Foundation that it would be severing ties with its independent group organizations which it was overseeing. Swanson said this was due to the overwhelming size to which the organization had grown, and the national group was losing control of individual branches.

“In order to avoid litigations, the national group decided it was going to sever relations with all of its divisions because they were not going to subject themselves to litigations and financial problems,” he said.

A few months later, in early 1983, the Jamestown group was officially incorporated under its present title of “American Scandinavian Heritage Foundation.”

Since then, the foundation has been active in the observance of traditional Swedish holidays and a number of other activities throughout the area, such as: “midsommar frukost,” or midsummer breakfast; Scandinavian Day; and “Skordefest,” or Harvest Festival. It also celebrates Swedish Christmas, which Swanson said begins annually on Dec. 13 with St. Lucia Day, and ends on Jan. 13 with “Tjugonde Dag Knut,” or St. Knut’s Day.

At its apex, Swanson said the group regularly had more than 100 active members at a time. While membership has decreased through the years, the American Scandinavian Heritage Foundation of Jamestown is still doing its part to honor the traditions of those who came before.