Merlin and Zola Hoiness
Merlin and Zola Hoiness
Harmony HealthCare residents, Merlin and Zola Hoiness, along with a volunteer of seven years, Di Eickhoff of Fountain, provided a surprise Norwegian luncheon for Harmony HealthCare residents and staff on Sept. 26.

According to Eickhoff, whose husband Kenneth, was a resident at the care center in 2005, "Life should be celebrated every day, as each day we're here with our friends and loved ones is a gift to celebrate!"

Eickhoff continues to celebrate the gift of life by bringing her smiles and joy, and creative luncheons. Her surprises keep the residents guessing as to what she'll bring next week. She brings treats each week, from the first of April to whichever comes first, the first of November or when the first snow begins to fly.

Merlin Hoiness contacted Eickhoff to coordinate the Norwegian surprise luncheon and the plan was set in motion.

Everyone enjoyed sampling rolled lefse offered with butter, white sugar or brown sugar, Uffda Chips, Eickhoff's delicious rommegrot and Norwegian butter cookies.

Merlin, affectionately given the moniker of "Mr. Lefse," started a fledging lefse-making business in the Harmony IGA store, back in 1980, never realizing the capacity for its greatness and growth.

"We literally built it up from scratch, preparing and rolling the lefse in the back of the store's deli," Merlin shared. "We couldn't make enough lefse to supply both of the Harmony and Rushford stores so a move to an empty building in Harmony was our next move," Merlin added.

"We started manufacturing our hand-rolled lefse with nine people working together, and in two years we moved to a main street location," he continued.

During that time, Merlin modestly shared that he designed a machine that could now roll the lefse, and increase the production of the lefse.

Merlin said that it was there that a mistake was made that opened a new door to the small business. "While making potato doughnuts, I accidentally dropped a piece of lefse into the pot of fat and said, "Uffda." Hence it was the beginning of a new product, Uffda chips, Merlin shared with a smile.

Soon after that, Jason Davis, host of "On the Road Again," came and filmed the process of making Uffda Chips, which was aired on KSTP out of Minneapolis in 1985.

"We were unprepared for what followed next," he added. "Daytons Department Store of Minneapolis, contacted us on a Thursday and ordered 500 bags of Uffda Chips to be delivered on a Tuesday. We had no packaging in place so I had to work fast," he said. "I went to the local bakery and purchased bags, found boxes from a box company in Winona, had a label made from the local news office in Harmony and made our deadline," he said with another smile.

Later a local newspaper man from Rushford would design a label for the Uffda Chips which are now sold in three flavors - plain, onion and cinnamon and sugar.

The move to Rushford and the beginning of Norsland Lefse followed in the same year of 1985 and the rest is history.

In that same year, Merlin placed an ad in the Montana Gazette, advertising his lefse and in a week's time he received 24 orders out of Cody, Wy.

"And so this was the start of our mail order service which today is a big part of the Norsland Lefse and mailed all over the United States. And today, Norsland Lefse has nine machines which roll out the lefse dough, staffed by nine employees, and have also included a Norwegian gift shop," Merlin concluded.