The Norwegians have arrived in Minneapolis. Again.
Their descendants are heading back to the old neighborhood now populated by Hispanic and East African shopkeepers.
Small-business owners Jon Pederson and Julie Ingebretsen, who trace their several-generation Minnesota roots to Norway, are among the principal drivers of what could be a $15 million transformation of a block at 10th Avenue S. and E. Franklin into the just-opened Norway House business and culture center, and a planned event-and-banquet hall.
The complex will be called the National Norwegian Center in America.
“We have 900,000 Minnesotans of Norwegian ancestry,” Pederson said. “Now we have a national center to connect our country and Norway on many levels.”
On the other side of the block sits Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church and the only scheduled U.S. Sunday services spoken in Norwegian.
The first phase of the center is just-opened Norway House, 913 E. Franklin Av., a 12,000-square-foot renovation of a former credit union. It includes the trade office of Telemark County Norway; office space for Norwegian-American organizations; Concordia Language Villages and its village parks leadership program for Minneapolis inner-city kids; an art exhibition space, and several businesses, including East African Housing Services in one of several integrations with the new immigrant businesses.
Julie Ingebretsen, whose Norwegian immigrant grandfather founded the Minneapolis Scandinavian shop named for the family more than 90 years ago, has opened a second outpost, featuring a “kaffebar” (coffee bar), including Somali tea, and a “gavebutikk,” gift shop.
Ingebretsen once observed that, if a buyer had emerged, she probably would have sold her multi-building E. Lake Street store in the 1980s and moved to Bloomington. She was sick of neighborhood crime and vacant storefronts. But E. Lake has rebounded smartly, and so has business, thanks partly to new neighbors such as Dur Dur, a Somali bakery; San Miguel Bakery and Pobla Nita restaurant and grocery store. And there are dozens more like them.
“We take pride in being one of the first immigrant businesses on Lake Street, and owe our success to the support of the ever-changing neighborhood and the more dispersed Scandinavian-American community,” Ingebretsen said the other day. “We look forward to contributing what we can to another street of immigrants, Franklin Avenue.
“We love the Norway House building, and long-range vision. We look forward to using the basement space for classes that we don’t have the space or equipment for at our main store, and collaborating with both Norway House and Mindekirken on creative, new ideas for classes and events. And there’s a parking lot. What a luxury!”
Pederson, 65, is the work-your-way-up president and owner of Ruffridge Johnson Equipment Co. in Minneapolis who made a donation to the Norway Center project a decade ago. The board was considering buying the Van Dusen Mansion near downtown or space near the Guthrie Theater on the Mississippi River.
Pederson, who became chairman, focused on E. Franklin. It was once a hub of Minneapolis-Scandinavian life and was a lot more economical place for thrifty Norwegians.
“Thirteen million dollars or $15 million for this Norwegian center is a lot less than the $35 million that the Swedes raised for their expansion [of the American Swedish Institute on nearby Park Avenue],” noted Pederson. “Norway House will serve as a convener and connector of Norwegian-American business, education and cultural organizations. And to new immigrant businesses and organizations. Our second phase will be the event center. Our Swedish Institute friends have encouraged us. They are backlogged with events.”
Laura Cederberg, marketing manager of the nearby American Swedish Institute welcomed the Norwegian American plans, but added the Swedes have room to do more.
“Since the addition of the Nelson Cultural Center to the historic Turnblad Mansion [at the Swedish Institute], the number of visitors, programming and events at the museum have nearly quintupled,” she said. “ASI’s expanded programming and events have been heralded as some of the most innovative in the arts community and there is ample room for more on our award-winning campus.”
The idea of an American-Norwegian center was pitched in 2004 by Royal Norwegian Consul Thor Johansen and endorsed by the King of Norway. Pederson, who has raised several million dollars, said donations have ranged from $300,000 to $1. Not all are Norwegian.
A Kandiyohi County native, Pederson dropped out of college, served a Vietnam tour in the Marines, and returned to graduate from Concordia University in Moorhead in German and International Studies. He bummed around the world with his thumb and working odd jobs for a couple of years. He met his Moroccan-born wife in Paris in 1976, on a break from studying music in Germany.
Injured in a construction accident a few years later, with his wife and a baby at home, Pederson took a sales job at Ruffridge Johnson. He bought it 30 years ago.
A barrel-chested, easy-to-grin fellow, Pederson is passionate about Norway House, the Boy Scouts and Concordia Language Villages. He eschews talk of his war experience, but delights in discussing international excursions with Boy Scout troops and Norway’s reputation as an international peacemaker and foreign aid donor.
“I’ve just got a passion for this Norway project,” Pederson said. “Five hundred donors so far.
“God knows, at work, they see me on the phone and they know I’m working on this. But nothing worse than somebody who says, ‘I’d really like to do this or that except for A, B or C.’ We’re going to get it done. It’s amazing how many in Norway know about this project. Telemark County even has committed $200,000 to the project.”