Jeff’s Alt For Norge Q&A



1. Tell me, where do you live and how old are you? What do you do for a living?

I am 47 years old – Who knew I would live so long! I’ m a graphic designer, and I have owned my own boutique design company called Replace for 20 years. We are a small shop of 8 full time artists. Ive won a lot of design awards internationally and nationally. My work is in the Smithsonian Institute, the Minnesota Historical Society and mostly likely somewhere in your house.

2.Is your family very “Norwegian” at home in traditions, etc.?

I am 100% Scandinavian. 50% Swedish, 50% Norge. I am the youngest of a working Norwegian farm family of Eight children. My father spoke Norwegian before English as a child and my uncle actually went to grade school not knowing any English at all. My upbrining was extremely Norwegian, BUT definitley more on the Janteloven side of the Norge experience. Every Christmas we had Lingonberries Lefse and Lutefisk (I proudly LOVE Lutefisk! So there!!) The family history is deeply rooted in the Norwegian-immigrant experience. My ancestors came to prairie of North Dakota and literally made homes out of Sod and went on to thrive as farmers. I am the owner for of the same family farm that has been in my family for 5 generations since my family emigrated from Toten. My father was fluent in Norwegian until his death in 1993. His friends still alive back in North Dakota still speak fluent Norwegian. I was just talking with my Dad’s best friend actually, Ralph Knutson, who at 85 years old recently was an interpreter for a traveling Norwegian in North Dakota. As a kid, like my father, I hunted for food on the plains of North Dakota. Eating what I shot. Antelope, Mule Deer, White Tail, Sharp Tailed Grouse, etc. I am still an avid hunter today, but now I do Ecosystem hunting, harvesting only animals that I can eat and that are overpopulating their environments. I am also a very active member in the largest Lutheran Basilica in North America, Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis MN, where I’ve served on the advisory committee. When the water is frozen, I take my children and a car load of their friends downhill skiing every Saturday and I take them all Cross Country skiing every Sunday. When the water is NOT frozen, I paddle the lakes and rivers of Minnesota every week with my friends and family. The struggles, failures, and victories of the hardscrabble Norwegian immigrant farm experience has permeated every step of my life. I worked the farm every day as child with my father (Goodwin) and my Uncle (Milford) arguing in Norwegian every God Damned day. My two sons and my wife honor the best of that experience in our daly lives in Minnesota. I come from a very big, mostly crazy, hard living, gun shooting, farm-equipment driving, North Dakota Farm family. They are literally the salt (and dirt) of the earth and will give you the shirts off their backs at the drop of hat. They might also punch out cops at the drop of a hat. That’s the mix I had growing up. I was driving full time as a farm kid from age Nine: Badly I might add. My dad was a pretty rough and rugged old Norwegian-American farmer, and as a result we all work like crazed dogs. Goodwin (my dad) spoke Norwegian fluently as did all of his old timer buddies. My ND family made me what I am, and I love them warts and all. And trust me, friend – there are PLENTY of warts. We grew up with not a lot of money, a whole lot of guns, unlimited access to heavy duty, dangerous farm equipment, a lot of cold ravenous North Dakota weather, and a whole lot of heart. My sister Janet is probably my best friend in this wild wicked mortal coil. Janet is the 7th kid in my family and I am the 8th. When we were kids pretended we were Earnie and Bert. She and I agreed when we were in college that we would raise our kids in the same city on the planet. And we did. I am very very close to my sister Janet’s two sons, Henry and Freddy. Along with my two boys, we have a full on boy-zone crazy freak show going on most of the time. I take her kids and mine kayaking, canoeing, skiing, camping, and general danger-boy hijinks. I co-own my family farm with my 2 brothers, which is as contentious as hard-headed Norwegians could possibility make it. The farm has been in the family for nearly 120 years. We often say 4 or 5 of them were good years. it has been at least a few years since my oldest brother tried to punch me in the face with intense anger. I take this as real tangible progress for both of us. We all bear the scars of a pretty rough and ragged childhood, I bear those scars with pride. When I had kids, I was surprised to hear myself say “NEI!” rather than “NO!” It actually shocked me. That is what my DAD would say to me when I was messing around. And it was baked deep into my brain. We honor all the Norwegian traditions of my youth.

3. Had you been to Norway before you participated in Alt for Norge?


4. Has you and your family had any contact with your family in Norway through the years?

None to my knowledge.

5. When did your ancestors emigrate to America and when was it?

I grew up by the Sheyene River in Horace, ND. what I have here below is gleaned from a book: The Family History of Even Johnson “The Sheyenne KIng” by Duane O. Johnson. Even Johnson (my great- great grandfather) departed from Norway July 1867. Even and his wife Oline had worked on a farm, Gran Biskebakken, in Vestra Toten. They first settled on a farm in Spring Grove, Winnebago Vallley, Minnesota for four years. They moved to land near the Wild Rice River spring of 1871 and in July of 1871 they moved to land on the bank of the Sheyene River in Normanna Township. Chistian, the oldest son of Even took his last name from the farm in Norway — Gran. Even’s beginning name in Norway was Even Johnsen Skjolaas. The name Johnsen came from his father — John Gulbrandson. When Even came to the US he changed his last name to Johnson. Skjolaas was the name of the farm where Even was born. There are LOT of other branches from my family, but none of them are as researched as Even Johnson. I believe I have some other family from Stavanger, but the records are not easily found.

6. During the production period you get to eat a lot of unusual Norwegian food that most Norwegians never eat. What was you favorite and what was the worst you ate?

Oh by far, my favorite thing was fish for breakfast – EVERYWHERE. Wherever we went, there was an endless supply of fish at the breakfast table. Fun Fact! My dad I would sit down together with quart jar of pickled herring and eat the whole thing in one sitting. It disgusts my Southern California wife, but I love it – I love it so…..

7. How do you sum up the weeks you had in Norway and what was your favorite place to visit?

This is impossible. Trying to pick a favorite place in Norway is like trying to pick your favorite Child. I would say only this – I was completely destroyed and rebuilt by my Norge experience. After my father died, I really sort of packed away all the Norge experiences that made me into a box and maybe deliverable put them on ice. Of course I have no doubt Ive become a very successful designer BECAUSE of my strong Norge work ethic and my Norge-American experience, but still – I had become disconnected from them. I have discovered that MUCH of what i simple called “ME” was really “The Norge ME”. I ski and paddle all the time. I hunt. I raise my children in the Norwegian Lutheran tradition. I have 5 weeks paid vacation for my employees (a rarity in the U.S., but commonplace in Norway). What I have learned form Norway is that my roots are deeper than I ever knew – and my branches are now much stronger form the experience. And I cant wait to come back HOME, I not describe myself as a Norwegian born in America.