Like most Las Vegans, Ellen Rogers came from somewhere else. In her case, she missed what she had left behind in Southern California, a Sons of Norway lodge, which did not yet exist in her new community.
Norwegians interested in celebrating about their heritage simply joined in the activities of a pan-Scandinavian group called the Nordic Society of Las Vegas.
Rogers decided to do something about it. She contacted the Sons of Norway headquarters in search of at-large members living in Southern Nevada. She took out advertisements in the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. She wrote letters and placed telephone calls, aided by Lollo Sievert, who would later fill many roles, including co-editor of the lodge’s first newsletter with fellow Norwegian Olav Richard Crone-Aamot.
By December 1991, Rogers convened a meeting of 24 potential members at a local clubhouse and an interim board of directors was formed with Ellen’s husband, Roy Rogers, a Californian, serving as chairman-elect.
At the next meeting on January 19th, 33 people attended, including two Sons of Norway district directors, who described the offerings and benefits of the organization. Crone-Aamot, who hailed from Norway, gave a historical presentation about conditions in Norway and Europe generally that lead to mass migrations to the United States.
By the group’s fourth meeting in March 1992, 42 people were in attendance, and plans began being formulated for the lodge’s first Sytendde Mai celebration, which would also serve as the group’s first official general membership meeting.
At that May 16, 1992, official charter meeting, officers were installed, with Crone-Aamot becoming the first president of what would be named the Vegas Viking Lodge, a moniker he had suggested. The event was held at a popular local restaurant, the Port Tack, organized largely by E. Bernice “Bee” Belzone, originally from Minneapolis.
The official charter was issued five months later on October 15, 1992, with 110 members – with no more than one or two native Las Vegans and perhaps eight who were from Norway.
Keith A. Aleckson, Lloyd H. Anda, John A. Anderson, Jon M. Ansok, Judy O. Banks, E. Bernice “Bee” Belzone, Vernon D. and Anna M. Bennett, Jerrilynn Bishop, Carl P. and Oleda C. Brandsness, David R. Brandsness, Judith T. “Judy” Bronken, Grant O. and Oline R. Brown, Jr., Knut and Dorothy Buset, Marian F. Carlson, Olav Richard and Carolyn D. Crone-Aamot, Duane A. Denver, George J. and E. Margaret Eldridge, Patricia M. and Richard C. Ennes, Sissell Foss, Amy R. Frankenfield, Dolores A. Fuller, Orville Goplen, LeRoy J. and Shirley E. Grong, Helen Steffen-Groth and Roy A. Groth, Aaron J. Hammer, Gloria J. Hammer, Richard B. Hammer, Norman J. Hanaseth, Donna and Jon Hauge, Beverly J. and Kenneth H. Hirth, Carl Jarnberg, David A. “Ole” Jellum, Fred E. and Ruth Karner, Richard P. and Donna T. Killian, Gwen L. Knighton, Christian E. Kolberg, Wallace C. Kolberg, George H. Larsen, Lawrence L. Larsen, Linda M. Larsen, Carol E. Lommen, Greg A. Lommen, Rikka A. Lunde, Dorothy E. Lutter, Violet M. Mattsfield, Helen H. Mortensen, Ingrid Mortensen, J. Harry Mortensen, Marlene K. McCauslin, Ragnhild “Ronnie” McCormick, Alfred T. and Gail M.J. Oasen, Charles Olson, Larry D. Olson, Sr., Lorna K. Ozawa, Henny Pappa (later Morse), Alice J. Pearson, Conrad O. and Joyce S. Petersen, Arthur J. and Siri H. Poehls, Gus W. Prather, Arlene Rasmussen, Roy E. and Ellen M. Rogers, Harold E. Rood, Carolyn J. Rose, Ida Russell, Raymond W. and Rowena J. Rustvold, Alice H. Salvesen, Roy Sather, Else G. Schuster, Annie Mathisen, Joseph A. Sharpe, Arlon R. and Suzan Sibert, Seton A. Sibert, Deborah Sievert, Robert F. and Helen L. “Lollo” Sievert, Corinne H. Simpson, Margrethe Smith, Edmund E. and Ethel L. Soderman, Christian M. and Mildred B. Stovner, Robert L. “Bob” Sturgeon, Raymond E. Sutton, Sandra Syslack, Theodore and Florence Szramek, Theodore Szramek, Jr., Jody K. Walleen, Neal E. Westphal, and James L. and Beverly E. White.
In 1995, the lodge launched its first website with Lollo Sievert serving as “Web mistress.” Sievert, originally from Skedsmo, Norway, also designed the banner, unveiled at the lodge’s fifth anniversary banquet, held at “The Orleans” casino, and attended by Sons of Norway International President Penny Joseph-Knudsen. Today, the lodge also communicates through social media in the form of Facebook and Twitter.
Through the years, the activities of the lodge have remained relatively consistent. Monthly meetings held almost monthly have featured food, socializing and a program usually having a Norwegian or Scandinavian theme.
Significant annual events have included a holiday bazaar, Christmas party, Syttende Mai picnic, lapskaus dinner and silent auction, the latter having been discontinued in recent years, and a popular lutefisk dinner that was in its 21st year in 2019, an event originally organized by Art and Siri Poehls, a lodge president, and coordinated in recent years by lodge presidents Gwen L. Knighton and Robert L. “Bob” Sturgeon.
In 2005, the 100-year anniversary of Las Vegas’s founding and of the founding of modern Norway, the lodge constructed a Viking ship, named Ormen Korte, which it enters every year in the popular Sons and Daughters of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Henderson.
The ship, whose construction was overseen by Sturgeon, is also featured at school events, special occasions, and the popular three-day Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival, which the members attend in Viking garb. At 2018’s renaissance festival, more than a thousand people climbed aboard the ship to pose for pictures.
The lodge has also worked to highlight Norwegian and Scandinavian culture by hosting Norwegian musicians such as pianist Knut Erik Jensen and the Lindesnes accordian club. In 2019, it is hosting the Stoughton (Wisc.) Norwegian Dancers.
Members Annie Mathiesen, a one-time lodge president, and Alice Salvesen have taught Norwegian language classes over the years. Lessons in wood carving, lefse making, and other popular activities also have been offered.
The Vegas Vikings have been active in reaching out to Southern Nevadans by appearing at community events such as international food festivals, college international days, cultural exhibits at Las Vegas libraries and museums, and more. Lodge members have taken part in an “Adopt a School” program and attended California and Arizona Krestsstevnes and local sporting events, including baseball games and even a roller derby, where one its members competed.
In 2001, with Knighton serving as president, Vegas Viking was named by Sons of Norway as its international and sixth district Lodge of the Year. Knighton would serve in many capacities, including newsletter editor since 1995.
In 2009, the lodge hosted a reception for Norway’s consul general, whose visit was covered by the local NBC and Fox television affiliates, and in early 2010 persuaded Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus to join the Friends of Norway Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. The 2000 U.S. Census showed 21,333 people who identified themselves as Norwegian as living in Clark County. Another 2,540 described themselves as Scandinavian. There also were 21,404 Swedes and 11,024 Danes in Clark County, according to Census figures. The 2010 Census did not break out Scandinavian ethnicities.
Charitable support has focused in recent years on providing more than $30,000 in scholarships to needy Norwegian-American students in the Las Vegas area pursuing college studies. But the lodge also has lent its support to a pledge drive for the local PBS television station and collected greeting cards and stamps for St. Jude’s Ranch for Children and pop tops and stamps for Ronald McDonald House. The lodge has also been a strong supporter over the years of the Norwegian charity Tubfrim, sending in more than 3,000 pounds of stamps.
Other charities supported over the years include Goodwill Industries of Southern Nevada, The Salvation Army, Spirit Therapies, the Shade Tree Shelter for Women and the local First Presbyterian Church.
Spare change is often collected at Vegas Viking and community events for the scholarship fund via a small stabbur hand-made by lodge member George Eldridge, who also created a wall map of Norway that holds the pins of lodge members. The map is erected at every lodge meeting and the pins show the locations of the towns from which the members or their ancestors came.
Today, the lodge thrives with about 120 members and continues to do be an important voice for Norwegian and Scandinavian culture and heritage in Southern Nevada, as well as a magnet for those looking to celebrate our past while improving prospects for the future.
– Compiled by Lodge President Erik Pappa, Feb. 27, 2019
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