The Lanesboro Sons of Norway Lodge President David Susag shows the damage to the 1952 addition to the original 1910 building. The entire building is going through a structural assessment made possible through a Legacy Grant from the state of Minnesota.  PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
The Lanesboro Sons of Norway Lodge President David Susag shows the damage to the 1952 addition to the original 1910 building. The entire building is going through a structural assessment made possible through a Legacy Grant from the state of Minnesota. PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
North America's oldest Norwegian-American male choir will be visiting the 103-year-old Sons of Norway Lodge building in Lanesboro on Sunday, May 5, from 3 to 5 p.m. The 146-year-old Luren Singers from Decorah will be putting on a concert to benefit future work that needs to be done on the building.

Choir member and Lanesboro resident Glen Jensson has been a part of The Luren Singers since 1999 and sees the significance of the choir coming to perform at the Lodge. "We thought it would be fun to have them sing here. It's supporting the Lodge. It maintains the Norwegian heritage in the area," Jensson shared.

The Luren Singers were originally organized by four Norwegian immigrants who were homesick. They started a choir to sing familiar tunes they loved from their homeland and today's choir now has around 70 members.

According to the Luren website, "Every two years, The Luren Singers participate in 'Sangerfest' which performs public concerts together with guest orchestras and other artists." The chorus has also traveled to the capital of Norway, Oslo, to perform for the King of Norway at his royal palace.

The concert in Lanesboro this Sunday is free, however a free-will donation is suggested to help out the Lodge.

Sons of Norway

The front of the Sons of Norway Heimbygda Lodge is recognizable with its columns and sunrise image. The original hall where the Sons of Norway organization meets and holds other public events was constructed in 1910. In 1921, a kitchen area was added on and a final third addition was created in 1952. The Sons of Norway didn't acquire the building until 1960, but they have owned it since then.

The Sons of Norway organization was founded in 1895 in Minneapolis. The original purpose of the organization was to create an insurance company for members. The organization was also, at that time, only open to men with Norwegian ancestry. However, today, the requirements for membership have changed. Men and women can be members and one does not need to have Norwegian ancestry. One should have an interest in Norwegian culture and heritage.

Lodge President David Susag said he has learned more about his Norwegian heritage since joining the Sons of Norway. The Southeast Minnesota area, he shared, has quite a bit of Norwegian culture. Despite the presence of many Norwegian descendants, the Lodge has seen a downward trend in participation.

"We're not that good about promoting ourselves. It's a work in progress," shared Susag. "A lot of people don't realize that you don't have to be Norwegian or a man to join."

Susag is hoping to maintain and then increase the numbers of the Lodge through their annual activities and in fixing up the building. "We are surrounded by Norwegian culture and we don't really think about it. People eat lutefisk, Norwegian cookies and lefse. You don't see it too much beyond the Midwest," explained Susag on the unique presence of Norwegian heritage in the area.

The Lodge currently holds an annual Norwegian breakfast and lutefisk dinner in the fall at the lodge. Members also sell rhubarb desserts at Lanesboro's annual Rhubarb Festival. The lodge helps out in the community by having members volunteer as ushers at the Commonweal Theatre, donate money toward biking and skiing events, and renting out their building for community events.

Building assessment, furnace donation

The meeting place for members has been deteriorating in some places. The siding of the 1952 addition is crumbling in one of the corners closest to a rock facing and concerns have been raised about the presence of asbestos. The overall structure of the latest addition is failing and becoming unsafe for people to walk around in. The wood columns are shifting and the entire front of the building needs to be trimmed up, shared Roger Bothum who has been coordinating the assessment being done on the building.

There is water damage in the kitchen and possible issues with the electricity and plumbing. Recently, Jon Willford of Vis Plumbing and Heating, Inc., in Lanesboro donated a new Lennox High Efficiency furnace to the lodge. Multiple problems were discovered with the old furnace and instead of paying the high expense of repairing it, the Lodge opted to instead pay for the installation of a new one.

"They've been trying to renovate and it's a pretty neat building and good organization. Funding is sometimes an issue and I felt like we could put something together for the lodge," shared Willford.

The current assessment is being done through a $7,000 grant through the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment from the Minnesota Legislature. An architect is evaluating the condition of the building and will present the lodge with a prioritized list of what issues need to be resolved.

According to Bothum, once they receive the list, the members will be applying for a larger grant to get the work done. "I think we have a good chance to receive the grant. It's an historic building and promotes Norwegian heritage," said Bothum.

"It's going to take time, but in the long run, it will benefit the Sons of Norway and the community," stated Susag.

The money raised from the freewill donation collected during Sunday's concert will go toward the work being done on the Sons of Norway Lodge.