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About Us--Our History

We have been an organization for more than 60 years.

The Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture, Inc. was originally founded as The Wisconsin Institute of Scandinavian Culture on July 6, 1960.

Guide to the Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture Collection

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Guide to the Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture Collection, 1960-2023

The Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture (Nordenfolk) collection shows the influence of ethnic Scandinavian roots on local Midwestern culture and documents the activity of the organization both regionally and abroad. Includes primarily meeting minutes, program materials, and correspondence from 1961-2023 (bulk 1970s-2010s).

About Us

Our Story

The Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture, Inc. was originally founded as The Wisconsin Institute of Scandinavian Culture on July 6, 1960.

The eight original incorporators included:

 

1.         A. Elmer Anderson, Grand Secretary of the Scandinavian-  American Fraternity

2.         Mrs. Kempton German, wife of an Eau Claire Physician

3.         Orville Torgerson, Physics teacher at Memorial High School in Eau Claire

4.         Ralph Gilbert, vice-president of the American National Bank in Eau Claire

5.         Trygve Ager, reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune

6.         Henry Christoffersen, attorney from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

7.         Gerald Thorpe, President of First National Bank in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

8.         Lawrence Wahlstrom, Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at Wisconsin State         College in Eau Claire.

From the very beginning, the purpose of the organization was, and continues to be “To promote a better understanding and appreciation of Scandinavian and Finnish culture among all people regardless of age, nationality, race, color, or creed”.  This includes the people, places, and environments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

Other than a few colleges and universities, the founders felt that there were few sustained opportunities for people to learn about the history and culture of the Scandinavian countries, about the contributions of that culture to our own heritage.  In 1973, MWISC partnered with Midwest Area Universities to promote and appreciate the Scandinavian, Finnish cultures with a weekend event called the Wahlstrom Nordic Workshop held at Beaver Creek Reserve in Fall Creek, WI.

 

From the humble beginning of 10 members, membership has been as high as 450.  Over the ensuing years, the Institute has sponsored or cosponsored many events such as the Syttende Mai celebration together with the Ager Association and Sons of Norway. We also participate in Culture Fest held at UWEC that celebrates many cultures.  A wide variety of events were brought to the area that included, musical groups, lecturers, dancers, gymnasts, and other artists from large cities as well as rural area.

 

A typical visiting group from Scandinavia would be comprised of about 45 persons, the reason being that most motor coaches would accommodate that size of group comfortably.  Participants were provided food and lodging in the homes of MWISC members and others in the community they visited.  This activity lead to a people to people exchange and resulted in many lasting friendships.  The Institute was responsible for placing foreign students in homes of it’s members, these students attended local schools and universities.

 

In early 1971, fifty acres of land were purchased and another 19 acres were donated by the Amundson family shortly thereafter.  This land is located 6 miles west of Eau Claire, WI in Dunn County.  This land is bounded on the South by the Chippewa River: on the West by Elk Creek: on the North by the County Highway: and on the East by a line of Norway Pine trees.  The elevation varies from 110 feet from the lowest to the highest point.  This land is one of the most picturesque and beautiful locations in the Chippewa Valley.  A great deal of time, energy, and funds have gone into the development of this site.  The members of MWISC have done everything in their power to preserve this land in it’s natural state.

 

What was needed was a permanent institution whose sole objective was to accomplish the purpose of the organization.  Specifically, by establishing a Nordic Center on its 69 acres of land.  The Nordic Center was to emphasize modern Scandinavia; not be a museum.  Included among its goals, it was to:

1.         Provide the facilities at the Center for those individuals and groups who wish to use the   Center as a retreat while studying particular aspects of Nordic culture.

2.         Encourage the study of the Nordic way of life in schools, colleges, universities, and in   formal and informal study groups.  Age was not to be a limiting factor.

 

3.         Promote the interchange of cultural programs between Scandinavia and the Midwest such as exhibits, musical groups, lecturers, entertainers, artists, craftsmen, students, teachers, films, and travelers.

 

4.         Work with other individuals and groups who have similar interests.

 

Since its’ inception, the main goal of the MWISC was to establish a Nordic Center that would include some of the following features:

            A Library and media learning center for it is here that a substantial part of the learning about Scandinavian Culture would take place.

            An Auditorium seating for about 350 where lectures, demonstrations, film showings, choral groups and general entertainment would be presented.

            A Restaurant that would have the capability of serving large groups and would accentuate Scandinavian food in a Scandinavian atmosphere.

            An Exhibit Area that would house permanent as well as traveling exhibits.

            Arts and Crafts area that would make it possible to learn about Scandinavian Art and Crafts.

            An Amphitheater that would take advantage of the view of the Chippewa River Valley.

            Cottages that would provide accommodations for small groups who would wish to use the Center as a retreat.

            A Sauna that would be heated by either wood burning or electric heat, this would stand on the ridge overlooking Elk Creek.

 

Dr. Lawrence Wahlstrom, who was a visionary, put these ideas into a planning stage by securing Alvar Aalto, the world famous Finnish architect, to prepare the drawings for this project, which was assured recognition world wide.  Many efforts to raise the funds for the construction of the buildings was ongoing for many years, but unfortunately not enough to accomplish this vision. Due to the lack of adequate funding and the deaths of Alvar Aalto and Lawrence Wahlstrom, the Nordic Center was not built.  It would have been the last Alvar Aalto building in the world.  The model that was made of the Nordic Center has been given to Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan.  So when other potential visions for the land didn’t come to fruition, the decision was made to sell the land.

 

The Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture selected Landmark Conservancy, as their steward of the land in 2022, because of its mutual interest in land preservation and protection of wildlife habitat.  We hope that people will enjoy hiking the trails, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and being out in nature.

 

More history published in the newspaper Norway Times

Lawrence F Wahlström and the Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture
By Leif Sjoberg--- August 22, 1985 for the Norway Times
This is in brief, the story of a remarkable man from Eau Claire Wisconsin. Lawrence F Wahlstrom, now 70, the youngest of eight children, of Aurora, Florence County, Wisconsin, where his parents (from Vastmanland and Varmland Sweden) had settled. Lawrence received his B.A. in Chemistry and Geology from Lawrence College, Appleton Wisconsin (1932) and his PH.D. in Mathematics and Education from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1950). As you might figure, teaching mathematics has been his livelihood to this day. He reckons he will retire from teaching in 1986.
If Professor Wahlstrom has always employed mathematical precision in every delicate dealings with the trigonometrical triangle: “University administration –faculty—students”, is more than can be ascertained in this context. It stands to reason that Dr Wahlstrom has done something more than what is arithmetically correct, he must have been wise and endlessly patient to have been Chairman of the Mathematics Department at the University of Wisconsin for 32 years, from 1948 to 1980.
Mathematics, an important but basically an auxiliary science, proved already in the 50’s, beyond the shadow of a doubt, to be inadequate to Wahlstrom as a mission in life. His life’s equation just would not work out unless he had some other, to practically unknown, quantity to deal with. That concerned his roots.
Finding his Roots
His parents had become good Americans, busying themselves with more pressing matters than telling their eight children about the old homeland. As an adult, Lawrence with his wife, Dorothy, daughter Linda, and son Jon, repeatedly visited the Scandinavian countries, making comparative studies of Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Finnish, and Swedish history and culture. In the process he found his roots. Not only did he learn the Swedish language, he also taught Swedish at no cost to the University in Eau Claire! Then Lawrence, by inner necessity, envisioned a pretty down-to-earth antidote to the abstract mathematical science he was hired to teach. It is known as “The Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture”. The original incorporators were Trygve Ager, A. Elmer Anderson, Gerald O. Thorpe, Henry Christofferson, Mrs. K.L. German, Orville Torgerson, Ralph Gilbert, and L. Wahlstrom, primus motor. In 1973 he selected an incredibly beautiful 50-acre site for the Scandinavian center. A few years later the “Richard Amundson Memorial Park” of eight acres was added.
Lawrence Wahlstrom engaged the world-famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, to design the Center. There is every reason to believe that it will become architecturally as well as functionally a landmark of Scandinavian genius.

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