By Valorie Arrowsmith
It all started at the 400th anniversary of the small Dalarna township in 2007 and has since become a tradition
The fifth Venjan Reunion celebration took place in late August in Dalbo.
There were 49 visiting Swedes among the 186 people who gathered at the Dalbo Fire Hall for an evening meal, a time of reminiscing, and official greetings.
The North American relatives came from all over the country to solidify connections, share photos, check on genealogy updates, and have a good time together with their Swedish cousins visiting from Venjan (http://www.venjan.se), a township west of Mora in Dalarna.
The pattern for this gathering is every other year. During the first reunion 20 people crossed the Atlantic to attend. The number grew to 125 in year two to meet up with relatives. The third reunion was held in 2009 with 39 participants, and in 2011 70 Americans traveled to Venjan for the gathering. Isanti County resident Keith Engstrom, one of the main coordinators says that there is talk of going back to Sweden in two years.
Dalbo resident Don Olson served as the co-host for the evening. He was joined by Leif Mörfors, a historian from Venjan. Olson began with, “How many Olsons and Johnsons are in the group? I’m probably related to all of you.” He welcomed everyone to the gathering and offered a synapses of the common history shared by the group.
He remarked about how tough the Swedes were when they arrived in Dalbo, citing an example of one young immigrant with only 15 cents to his name, but despite that he became successful. He again reminded everyone gathered about “how tough you Swedes are” and was corrected by the Swedish visitors to be inclusive and say, “We Swedes.” Everyone laughed and he repeated, “OK, WE Swedes.” Olson has recently compiled a history of Dalbo Township, and these books were given to each head of family member among the visiting Swedes.
A major initiative of the evening focused on official business. Olson and Mörfors signed a proclamation declaring a sister city relationship between Venjan and Dalbo Township.
The common history began in 1869 when 62 Swedish emigrants ages 1 to 72 years old, left Venjan on foot, walking 250 km to Arvika, then took a train to Oslo. After arriving at New York by ship, they traveled to Chicago and then took a boat to Minneapolis. From this group 17 people came to Isanti County and stayed together in a log cabin over the first winter in neighboring Maple Ridge Township. In 1871 they started a school and the Salem Lutheran Church. This inspired more of the immigrants from the Twin Cities to move to both Maple Ridge and Dalbo Townships.
Mörfors said, “The immigrants wrote many hundreds of letters home” and he has copies of over 200 of them. These “Amerikabrev” were also significant in encouraging more immigrants to move to the area to join former neighbors and family members.
In 2007 Venjan celebrated its 400th anniversary of the founding of its community by Karl IX. Mörfors said that in the early years there were no roads or tracks so people did not leave the area. When it was time to marry, “You just married the girl next door, or you jumped over the ditch to catch her.”
This means that without much moving in or out, many people are related and Mörfors said, “There is an 85 percent risk or chance that you are related to the people on the street if you have connections to Venjan.”
Author Mörfors has written the book “I Kum frå Wenjad.” He said, “For me being a historian it’s important to think of those women and men who took this long trip to another country leaving family behind.” Perhaps he was echoing Olson’s recognition of “tough Swedes.”