Norsk Høstfest: An Historical Overview
How a one-day, one-hall, one-time event grew into an annual, international gathering
 

A crowded Oslo Hall as people sit for the start of the next stage show.
By Keith R. Darnay

Chapter 1: Høstfest Origins In 1978, the first Høstfest made an inauspicious debut. Held Oct. 27 and 28 at the Minot, N.D., Municipal Auditorium, the event was labeled "First Annual Norsk Hostefest Norwegian-American Fall Festival."

By today's standards, the gathering was a very small one -- the entire event at that time could fit into just one of today's Høstfest halls.

Minot Mayor Chet Reiten, honorary chairman of the event, proclaimed the festival was to celebrate, "the end of a bountiful harvest, joyful fellowship and thanksgiving."

Folk dances, music, heritage displays and a wide variety of Scandinavian foods were offered to the 2,500 people who attended.

The spirit and purpose of the event was actually embodied three weeks earlier, when Norwegian parliament member and United Nations delegate Odd Vattekar of Oslo came to Minot. He was in North Dakota to visit relatives, effectively bridging the gulf of space and time between the old country and new through a common family heritage.

Chapter 2: Growth and Change
By every measure, the first "Hostefest" was a success. Linguistically, however, it left something to be desired.

A few observant area Norwegians discovered a slight aberration in the festival's name. "Hoste," they noted, means "cough," and a "Hostefest" by implication would mean "Coughing Festival." "Hoste" was later changed to the correct "Høst," and people stopped coughing and started celebrating.

In 1979, the Høstfest incorporated. A board of directors was formed to ensure the event would be able to continue on an annual basis. The two-day event was expanded to include more exhibits and entertainment.

A number of Norwegian performers appeared at the Høstfest that year, including baritone solosit Noralf Garborg, pianist Kaare Ornung and Hardanger violin player Anund Roheim.

Attendance increased to 3,000 visitors.

Chapter 3: The Perennials
1980 marked the start of a new decade and the addition of someone who has become a Høstfest tradition: Myron Floren. Long a popular accordionist on "The Lawrence Welk Show," Floren was such a hit at the 1980 Høstfest that he was invited back on a permanent basis. He was one of the event's first "big-name" entertainers, and it showed in the attendance that year: More than 6,000 people.

Floren helped establish part of the Høstfest's core identity, one of the elements that, year after year, lends a consistent personality to the event upon which all other acts and programs are built.

Høstfest Association president Chet Reiten was asked at the end of the event whether there would be a Høstfest in 1981. "I think so," was his reply. "If we can keep making it a meaningful program"

Meaningful.

Over the next few years, the meaning of Høstfest was never in doubt.

Chapter 4: Global Recognition
In 1981, over 190 people from Norway attended Høstfest, including dignitaries from Skien who came to celebrate "sister city" ties with the community. Høstfest helped cement that relationship.

In 1982, Norway's premier violinist, Egil Gundersen, wrote a special composition to honor Minot and Høstfest, a fanfare titled "Greetings from Skien to the Høstfest in Minot, 1982."

In 1983, Princess Astrid of Norway visited Høstfest. She also visited the nearby grave of Sondre Norheim, legendary Norwegian skier and man credited as "the father of modern skiing."

Chapter 5: Role Models
In 1984, the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame was established. Designed to honor Scandinavian-Americans who have distinguished themselves in their fields of expertise and in service to mankind, the hall is filled with outstanding personalities and dignitaries.

Among them: former vice-president Walter Mondale, travel and hotel entrepreneur Curt Carlson, Olympic ski captain and former Minot resident Casper Oimoen, Apollo astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

Although its core purpose is celebrating Scandinavian heritage, the Høstfest has blossomed to envelop a celebration of many cultures.

Today, it is not unusual to go from Swedish accordion music to Caribbean Drum performances to South American flute playing and Native American hoop dancing.

Chapter 6: The Core Meaning
After visiting the event out of curiosity in 1987, the managing editor of the Great Falls Tribune in Montana wrote, "It is almost unbelievable, offering a variety of entertainment, ethnic and otherwise, wrapped up in a well-organized package. The celebration . . . is the envy of neighboring cities, but also a model that would be difficult to duplicate."

Perhaps the best compliment paid to the value and purpose of Høstfest came from three visiting Norwegians in 1986: "We Norwegians have undoubtedly much to learn from you who honor and respect the good old traditions," they wrote in a letter to The Minot Daily News. "We are grateful for your efforts to preserve and develop good relationships between all nations ­ between modern America and the ancestral country in which more than four million Americans can trace their roots. This gives strength and perspective and inspires new practical efforts to preserve the common heritage."

Keith R. Darnay has written about the Norsk Høstfest for newspapers and various publications including, "Scandinavian Review." His e-mail is keith@darnay.com.