The wind on the hill was brisk, but the smiles were warm as St. Olaf College welcomed the King and Queen of Norway back to campus Friday.
The enduring friendship between the college—established by Norwegian immigrants in 1874—and the Norwegian royal family was a central theme of the day’s events. King Harald V and Queen Sonja visited a beginning Norwegian language class, mingled with students at a reception, and attended a Sammenkomst, or gathering, at Boe Chapel.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, King Harald told the audience of students, staff and community members that he was struck by the charm and peacefulness of the campus and the surrounding landscape.
“It has been said that God created the land while people created the cities. If that is true, Northfield and St. Olaf have been lucky both with God’s and men’s work,” King Harald said. “Such a beautiful place must also harbor good people. There could not be a starker contrast to the tragedy that struck Norway and our young people in particular so hard on the 22nd of July this year.
“I would like to thank this opportunity to thank you, the American people, for your support and compassion in the wake of those terrorist attacks. Change is certain, progress is not. We all, people and countries, share a common future, its risks and responsibilities, its hope and progress.”
St. Olaf senior Gus Connelly was one of two students who spoke at the chapel gathering.
Connelly was attending the University of Oslo’s International Summer School last summer when Norwegian right-wing extremist and confessed mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb in downtown Oslo and went on a shooting spree at a youth camp.
Connelly, a theater and Norwegian major from New Brighton, MN, told of attending a vigil of remembrance and solidarity, and the impact that it had on him.
“I left Norway with the confidence to trust the people around me, and with the inner calmness that was a result of the experience I lived through. My summer in Norway will always hold a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to go back,” he said.
St. Olaf President David R. Anderson also spoke, noting that as the college continues to change and evolve, so does the country of Norway.
“We are eager to engage with modern Norway, and we count your gracious visit today as an opportunity for students, staff and faculty to pledge our continuing energies toward that engagement,” he said.
Since the King and Queen’s last visit in 1995, the St. Olaf campus has undergone several notable changes, including the construction of Buntrock Commons, where the King and Queen enjoyed a private luncheon in the Kings’ Room (which was closed to the public due to the presence of an actual king).
Before the King and Queen’s arrival on Friday morning, Buntrock buzzed with excitement as people waved small red, white and blue Norwegian flags and angled for a good view of the front doors.
Pam Nerhus, Kay Costa and Sandy Valek stood in prime position at the top of the stairs with their friend Valerie Bollinger, a St. Olaf staff member who was wearing a colorful traditional costume called a bunda.
Nerhus, a retired Greenvale Park Elementary media specialist, said she also showed up the last time King Harald visited.
“It’s fun. When you’re 100 percent Norwegian, you feel like you should welcome him,” she said.
Economics majors Pål Prøitz and Henrik Woods were among the dozen St. Olaf students from Norway who attended a private reception with the King and Queen, whom they described as approachable.
“It’s very special, definitely,” said Prøitz, a junior from Oslo.
Woods, a sophomore from Jar, said, “It’s not something you do every day. Not a lot of people get to meet the King and Queen.”
OTHER MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE ROYAL VISIT TO MINNESOTA
St. Olaf College
Sammenkomst at Boe Chapel
Minnesota Public Radio
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Duluth News Tribune
Norway's king and queen represent changed nation
Northfield History Collaborative
Norway's Crown Prince Olav and his wife, Princess Martha, Visit Northfield in 1939