Church display recalls Høstfest history

Jill Schramm/MDN A display at First Lutheran Church tells the history of Norsk Høstfest. The tapestry at right was donated to the display by Brenda Morelli.

Minot’s annual Norsk Høstfest celebration traces its roots to four Lutheran churches that heeded the call of their bishop 47 years ago to celebrate the anniversary of Norwegian immigration to America.

Documents from the celebration that became Norsk Høstfest were uncovered at First Lutheran Church during relocation of old church records, when the church’s team of historians took on the task of cataloging the documents and placing them in archival storage.

Barb Solberg, one of the five-member team, said they came upon a scrapbook for a Norwegian-American Sesquicentennial Heritage Fair. The Sesquicentennial marked the 150th anniversary of the departure from Stavanger of the first Norwegian emigrant ship to America in July 1825.

“There were 52 people on board. That counted the crew and the passengers. It was a 97-day trip,” Solberg said. A baby was born to an emigrant family on the way.

In 1975, Fredrik Schiotz, presiding bishop of the American Lutheran Church, the precursor to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,  invited congregations with Norwegian ancestries to celebrate the 150th anniversary. He identified 16 congregations with significant ancestry ties to Norway. Among them were those in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Portland, Oregon, but also Fargo, Minot and Williston. His letter to Minot came to First Lutheran.

The women’s auxiliaries of First, Bethany, Zion and Christ Lutheran in Minot planned the program held in the Minot Municipal Auditorium Oct. 3 and 4, 1975.

First Lutheran’s historians have created a display in the church that highlights the history of the festival and includes some of the artifacts. Items on display include the 1975 program bulletin and an advertisement in The Minot Daily News for the heritage fair celebration. Admission buttons cost $1.

There were 475 exhibits at that first festival, according to the records. With help from Sons of Norway, the auxiliaries cooked and baked to feed the crowd. Statistics recorded 69 gallons of rommegrot, 50 gallons of sot suppe, 156 dozen lefse, 800 dozen cookies, 28 pounds of coffee and 110 loaves of bread served. The auxiliaries had anticipated feeding 8,000 people at their lutefisk dinner. 

In addition, on Oct. 19, Bishop Dagdinn Hague of the Tunsberg Diocese, Church of Norway, traveled from Norway to be guest speaker at a Norwegian worship service at Minot State College.

After the event was held a second and third year in the auditorium, Chester Reiten and others saw potential for the festival to become much larger. Reiten was a Minot broadcasting company owner who served as Minot mayor from 1970-84 and state senator from 1972-88. Reiten started the organization that sponsored the first Hostefest in 1978 in the All Seasons Arena. Anniversaries of Norsk Høstfest are celebrated from that year.

Based on admission buttons from First Lutheran’s collections, the Hostefest name changed sometime in the early to mid-1980s to Høstfest, correcting the spelling for a Norwegian fall festival. The celebration grew to become the largest Scandinavian festival in America.

This year’s celebration is set for Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in the State Fair Center.

The history of First Lutheran Church, started in 1883, is really the history of Minot and its early settlers, Solberg said. Researchers who want to glean from that history can call the church office for information on accessing it. The church also has a library of biblical and other books in the Norwegian language.

Prior to creating the Høstfest display, which currently is on view, the history team had developed displays honoring church women and telling about the State Fair, based on the records.

Solberg said the team plans to create a veterans display to eventually replace the Høstfest exhibit and are working on another detailing the history of Trinity Hospital. A focal point of the Trinity display is likely to be a photo of First Lutheran’s Rev. T.F. Gullixson, a leader in the effort to establish a hospital, with a shovel at the groundbreaking for the new hospital in 1922.


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