History of NSC


Spring term 1990, students in Beginning Swedish at Olympic College (Bremerton, Washington) asked their instructor, Dr. Brian Magnusson, to supplant their autumn language course with a series of public lectures on Scandinavian history and society. The idea struck Magnusson as not only something beneficial to his students but also as an excellent way of providing the many Scandinavian-Americans residing in the Peninsula region between Bremerton and Tacoma with a deeper understanding of their cultural roots. Supported by a number of enthusiastic students, including Ed Wood, Yvonne and Roger Collins, Lauralee Lundgren, Robert Geiger, and two visiting teachers from Denmark, Alan and Gertrude Tarp, Magnusson was able to offer the first Nordic Study Circle lecture series which began October 19, 1990, with a spirited discussion by Alan Tarp titled "The Danish School System." Under the rubric Nordic Milieus, five more lecture were held that year and included subjects as diverse as "Environmental Protection in Sweden" and "Gustav Vigeland: Master Sculptor" to "The World of Finnish Kalevala." Gratuities were paid through proceeds from a community julfest (Christmas party) arranged by the students in Magnusson's Swedish class. Thus began what has become a community study group whose goal is to preserve and promote public interest in North European history, culture and institutions.

Early on, the NSC Coordinating Committee was established. Its first members were primarily of Swedish extraction and came from Magnusson's Swedish language courses. Through the years, however, this group has come to reflect a much more diversified ethnic fabric, as has the Circle in general. Indeed, NSC prides itself in many non-Scandinavians who attend its lectures. Coordinating members during the 2004-2005 lecture series are: Scott Alexander, Esther and Oliver Callson, Marianne Jonasson, Helen Garner, Brian Magnusson, Don Olson, Gene and Barb Pearson, and Shirleyanne Sargent.

In 1991, it was decided that the lecture series should also deal with Scandinavian-American topics every second year. The 1991-1992 program was therefore titled The Nordic Periphery: Scandinavian Cultural Traditions in the New World and ranged in topics from the Vinland sagas to Swedish architecture in America. By 1994, the organization felt financially secure enough to invite its first "Visiting Scholar" (from out-of-state to speak) at a special two-lecture Saturday session. Our visitor that year was Professor Byron Nordstrom, Department of History, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota. Other visiting lecturers have included Professor Oddvar Hoidal (San Diego State University), Dr. Ulf Beijbom (Swedish Immigrant Institute), Professor Ann-Charlotte Harvey (San Diego State University), and Heikki Hanka (Hyväskylä University, Finland). This year's visiting scholar (2003) will be Dr. Mika Rantenen from the Finnish Migration Institute in Turku/Åbo, Finland.

A decision was also made in the early 1990s to divert any extra proceeds from lectures and other NSC events towards contributions of money, documents and/or Nordic/American artifacts to selected institutions. Though its funds are limited, NSC has nonetheless made significant donations to the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, the Special Collections and Archives at Pacific Lutheran College, Tacoma, the 1996 Pierce, Kitsap, and Thurston County Swedish Immigration Sesquicentennial fund, the Point Fosdick Branch of the Pierce County Library (Gig Harbor), and the fund for the purchase and restoration of the old Community Church on Fox Island.

Just twenty-five people were members of NSC in 1990. Membership today numbers approximately sixty to seventy individuals, though the number vacillates from year to year according to lecture themes. In 1995, for example, membership reached into the nineties, when the series was titled In the Shadow of Tyranny: Northern Europe 1939-1945. Membership remained high the following year during the Swedish Immigration Sesquicentennial.

Though not affiliated with any educational institution, the Peninsula Nordic Study Circle purposely maintains a high academic standard in selecting its lecture topics and the individuals it invites to speak. Further, NSC's annual Christmas celebration, held each year in the old Fox Island schoolhouse, has become a veritable family tradition for the members and their relatives. With its customary julbord, Lucia and Scandinavian sing-along, this event has cemented strong ties between members and between NSC and its sister organizations Vasa Lodge Norden and the Order of Runeberg (Tacoma). These facts prompted one visiting scholar to proclaim, "NSC is a very special organization in today's Scandinavian-America." We in NSC would certainly like to think so!