Thursday, March 20, 2014

January 2014

Farsælda Frón

Icelandic Association of Chicago
Volume No. 16 Issue No. 1

From the President’s desk

The next chapter in our history!

Gleðilegt ár og takk fyrir það liðna – Happy New Year and thanks for the past - using a direct translation from Icelandic.  IAC had a fantastic 90th birthday year and we are starting 2014 strong with new board members Welcome Kolla Kristjánsdóttir Fass as our Secretatry and Óli Ólafsson as our Chariperson of Marketing and Membership. I am also happy to report we are keeping the low membership fee the same and the ticket price for Þorrablót is unchanged from previous years.  You can read about that and other updates from our General Meeting in the newsletter.  I hope all of you, and many more, will join our group and help write the next chapter of The Icelandic Association of Chicago.

The latest news out of Iceland tells us the economy is thriving, except, for the housing market, which keeps inflation up.  The rental market is making it very hard for renters, who are mostly younger people or students, to leave the nest.  One bedroom flat in Reykjavík is going for $1,400 a month with two months advanced payments and two months security deposit.  On top of high rent, it has become increasingly difficult to find a place and it is common to have a bidding war.  Tourism is one section of the economy that is flourishing with record breaking numbers everywhere.  The question has become how to limit access to some of the busiest tourist attractions or how to charge for access.  The goal is to have a new system in place this spring and some are voting for a flat fee to be charged once you enter Iceland.   

Þorrablót 2014 will be hold on the 15th of February as most of you know from our “Save the Date”  email blast.  I want to remind you we have sold out for the past four years at Svithod House.  We will sell 70 tickets.  First two weeks of sales will be for members only and their guests and then we will open up sales to the public.  Our ambassador has yet to confirm attendance but our great musician from last year, Hemmi, ensures we all will have fun and for a bargain price you will enjoy food and drink, raffle prizes, and singing and dancing. I hope you can make it.

Have a prosperous 2014 and I look forward to seeing you at some of our events this year.

Einar Steinsson

Þorrablót 2014
We’ll celebrate Þorri Saturday, February 15, at the Svithiod House, 5518 W. Lawrence Avenue.  The location is close to I-90/94; easy street parking, and accessible by public transportation.  We’ll open the house at 6 P.M., and start with a welcome punch and gravlax, and for the brave of heart, Brennivin and rotten shark.  We’ll serve a buffet style dinner with delicious Þorrafood flown in from Iceland and some traditional and less traditional dishes prepared by members.
We’ll have our famous and ever popular raffle where you can win tickets from Icelandair to the Old Country plus many more prizes from Iceland. We’re thrilled to have the talented musician, Hermann Arason, back.  Hemmi will entertain us throughout the evening and make sure everyone hits the dance floor, or the stage, for a song or two, and the Þorra Choir, i.e., you, will sing like there’s no tomorrow… 
Purchase your tickets, join IAC, or renew your membership now!  We’ll have a pre-sale for members and their guests until 1/28 when we’ll open up the ticket sale, if any left.   

We’ll sell 70 tickets at the same great prices as last year:
Member: $50
Guest: $60
70 and older: $40
12-18 and students: $40
11 and younger: Free

Þorrablót Tickets
Online Membership Form
Pay for Membership Online  Membership is $20 per family or $10 per person/student. 
Donations (specify if it's a general donation or for the scholarship fund)
If you prefer, you can fill out the attached Membership form and send payment by mail to:
Lawrence O. Shaw
25501 Maurepas Lane
LeesburgFL 34748
We’re excited about our Þorrablót and look forward to a memorable Icelandic night with all of you good folks.
The Þorra-committee 

IAC Scholarship Program Update:

At our most recent combined Annual General Meeting and Board Meeting in November, 2013, the following was reported and approved by those in attendance:

The previously authorized stipend [but not hitherto awarded] in the amount of USD $ 375.00 for Icelandic-language instruction was awarded to Sóley Johnson, the daughter of Marc and Sonja Johnson.  During the past summer, Sóley, completed the same three-week resident Icelandic-language day-program in Reykjavík [] in which her brother, Krístján, was also enrolled.  A previously authorized stipend [for which no prior applications had been submitted] in the amount of USD $ 750.00 for partial support of participation in Snorri Foundation [] exchange programs or any bona fide Icelandic-related study in Iceland, Canada, or the United States was renewed and authorized to accept new applications for relevant activity during calendar years, 2014 or 2015.  In addition, up to two [2] new awards, each in the amount of USD $ 375.00 for bona fide Icelandic-language instruction was newly-authorized to accept applications for relevant study or Icelandic-language camp programs through calendar years, 2014 or 2015.  Full details regarding this now-openIAC Scholarship opportunities will be posted on our IAC website:

The Association was reminded that John remains the Icelandic-Community’s representative on the Advisory Board of the North Park University [Chicago] Center for Scandinavian Studies [CSS] and that the CSS is eager to continue its cooperation with our IAC, including possibly hosting the showing of the INL of NA current video, Living With Lava, the Snorri Foundation video, The Wayfarers, and perhaps co-hosting a program of Icleandic music.  North Park University is the only academic institution of any consequence in the Chicago area with a long-standing, continuing student- and faculty- exchange program with two Icelandic universities.  North Park University will be inviting the participation of all Chicago-area Scandinavian communities to participate in the 13-September-2014 grand-opening of the Timothy Johnson Center for the Sciences and Community Life on their campus.  This facility will also house North Park’s very active International Student Program, which regularly welcomes students from Iceland and sends North Park students for shorter and longer programs in Iceland.

The Scholarship Program Committee will be working on the INL of NA’s Biographies Project and will be making recommendations and soliciting nominations for inclusion of prominent past and present Icelandic immigrants in the Chicago and Mid-West area.  The Committee will also notify the IAC Board and Membership of any new INL of NA International Visits Program opportunities.
Scandinavian Day at Vasa Park, South Elgin, this past September was a success and left-over donated IcelandicGlacialWater is nearly all sold, leaving a comfortable reserve balance in our IAC Scholarship Fund to support any new opportunities next Autumn.

The IAC Scholarship Committee has been expanded to include:  Joni Shaw, Sonja Johnson, Tryggvi Emilsson, and Haukur Guðmundsson.

The Scholarship Committee will be making recommendations to our IAC webmaster and the Board to enhance publication of relevant IAC Scholarship information, including:  a brief history, its current objectives, all awardees to date, reports from awardees who have completed supported activities, current IAC Scholarship opportunities, and relevant application forms.
The IAC Scholarship Committee will be making recommendations to the Board and to our Membership regarding a more regular, predictable schedule for announcing, reviewing, and awarding scholarship opportunities.

Respectfully submitted, John H. Hofteig, Chair, IAC Scholarship Program & Academic Liaison []

January, 2014:     A proposal for our IAC to become a full-member of the Icelandic National League of North America [INL of NA:]:

During 2012, our IAC became a “provisional” member of the INL of NA, a not-for-profit, cultural organization [affiliated with the INL of Iceland], whose stated purpose is to preserve, enhance, and share the very best of Icelandic heritage in North America through education, cooperation with Icelandic groups across North America, and communication with the people and Government of Iceland.  For historical and practical geographic reasons, the INL of NA was chartered in Gimli, MB in 1919 but its outreach and purview extend both north and south of the 49th Parallel!  “Provisional” member-status is normally available for only one year, after which a club must either convert to “regular” full membership or drop out.  The INL of NA Board granted a one-time, six-month extension [until 30-June-2013] to encourage our IAC to convert to “regular” member-status.

The undersigned seek your support for our recommendation that our IAC convert to “regular” membership.  As individual members of the INL of NA and/or as attendees at its events and/or as a delegate [John] at its conventions, we are very well informed regarding the INL of NA, as we ask you to support our IAC becoming a full member-club of the INL of NA, “Warts-and-all!”
Joni, as our representative to the INL of NA and as an elected at-Large Board member, and John, as an appointed member of two important INL of NA committees [Scholarships and the Biographies Project], are in positions with ample opportunity to build upon INL of NA’s strengths and redress some of its imperfections, real and imaginary.

This article is an abbreviated version of much longer proposal [emailed as an attachment] asking for you support for our IAC to become a full-fledged member of the INL of NA.  The current IAC 2014 Membership-Renewal Form solicits your vote on this “Referendum” issue.

There are approximately fourteen Canadian-resident member clubs and a growing North American on-line INL of NA Chapter.  In the United States, in addition to one grandfathered “affiliate” member-club [the Icelandic Hekla Club], there are now “regular” INL of NA chapters in Blaine, WASeattle, WAMountain, ND;Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; and Washington, D.C.
The INL of NA does not presume to be the only viable vehicle for maintaining and sharing Icelandic heritage in North America but it does continue to be a dedicated, natural vehicle for same.  Our own IAC has already benefitted from, is currently benefitting from, and could, well into the future, benefit from the various programs of the INL of NA, as indicated below:

Snorri Foundation Exchange Programs for Western Icelanders:
At least five IAC members have participated in either the traditional six-week “total-Icelandic-immersion” Snorri program for young North American adults or the newer, two-week Snorri-Plus program of Icelandic orientation, education, travel, and networking for mature adults and retirees.  Anyone with a bona fide interest in Iceland is eligible to participate in Snorri programs, regardless of any affiliation with the INL of NA.  However, significant financial and in-kind contributions from the INL of NA significantly reduce costs of participation and improve the quality of Snorri programming.

Snorri-West Visits to Icelandic-Heritage Communities:
Snorri-West brings young Icelanders to clusters of Icelandic-heritage communities throughout North America for a variable number of weeks.  Such a clustered-tour in the next few years could include Mountain, ND; Minneota, MN; the Twin Cities; Washington Island, WI; and Chicago, IL.  Please stay tuned for this exciting opportunity for our IACto welcome young people from Iceland during their tour of the American Upper Midwest!

Íslendingadagurinn, the largest North American Icelandic festival, for nearly a century has benefitted from assistance from the INL of NA.

Annual INL of NA Conventions:
Usually held in April or May, these conventions include elections and relevant business, preceded by a germane program of interest to both Western Icelanders and the community-at-large.  An optional tour of nearby Icelandic-heritage community(ies) is always followed by superb Icelandic entertainment and a festive concluding banquet.  Attendees come from all across North America and also include ambassadorial, consular, and ministerial officials and other guests from Iceland.  Our own IAC has been asked to consider hosting [or co-hosting] such an INL of NA convention in the next few years.

International Visits Program [IVP]:
The INL’s of NA and Iceland and several benefactors fund the trans-Atlantic travel for these tours to North America or Iceland.  Venues include any member-chapter willing to host an artist, making him or her available to their own membership and the surrounding community-at-large.  Artists tour for one to three weeks, gratis, accepting only voluntary modest stipends.
During October, 2012, our IAC welcomed Icelandic scholar, Viðar Hreinsson, to discuss his recently translated-into-English book, Wakeful Nights, about the late North American-Icelandic poet, Stephan G. Stephansson, widely-recognized for his insights into the North American immigrant experience.  Viðar is best known, professionally, as the managing editor of the highly-acclaimed 1997 English translation, The Sagas of the Icelanders.

INL of NA Biographies Project:
The Biographies Project is a new ambitious INL of NA initiative to complete a web-accessible biography database of past and present notable Western Icelanders, including Icelanders from the Chicago area and the American Midwest.

INL of NA Website:
The INL of NA has a rich website:, an improved version of which will be revealed in May, 2014.

INL of NA-Sponsored Films:
The highly-acclaimed video, Living with Lava, filmed in Iceland in 2011, recalling the dramatic stories of three volcanic eruptions in the past one hundred years:  Eldfell,Eyjafjallajökull, and Katla from the viewpoint of resident-eye witnesses is the current offering.  The INL of NA offers one such local video-showing at nominal cost and negotiates a modest royalty fee for additional showings.  Please click the above hyper-link to open a downloadable brief snippet.  Hopefully, you’ll agree that this video is “worth-the-price-of-admission.”  Annual INL of NA dues are $ 4.00 per member-unit up to fifty members and $ 2.00 per member-unit, thereafter.

Other Icelandic-Related Scholarship Opportunities:
The ad hoc INL of NA Scholarship Committee will be researching how best the INL of NA can promote, solicit, facilitate, and, perhaps, vet applications for significant scholarships from private and governmental sources in Iceland.

All Icelanders have much to be proud of regarding their heritage.  The INL of NA continues its long-standing commitment to preserve, enhance, and share this unique heritage.  We hope you will share our conviction that our IAC can both benefit from and further contribute to this noble commitment!  The original longer proposal enumerated several examples of Icelandic-immigrant communities in North America which have benefitted from and contributed to preserving and promoting Icelandic heritage, the principal objective of the INL of NA.
Thank you for your consideration of our “Appeal.”  Comments, both “pro” and “con,” and any questions are most-welcome and should be sent to the undersigned and copied to our IAC President, Einar Steinsson.

Joni Shaw, IAC Board member; IAC Scholarship Committee member; IACcorrespondent to the Lögberg-Heimskringla; IAC representative to the INL of NA; individual INL of NA member; and INL of NA at-Large Board-member:  
147 North Buckingham Dr., 
Sugar Grove, IL  60554.

John H. Hofteig, IAC V.P.; Chair, IAC Scholarship Program & Academic Liaison; individual  INL of NA member; and member of INL of NA Scholarship and Biographies Project Committees:                                                                                                              
1942 Lehigh Centre, Ste. C., 
Glenview, IL  60026.

cc:           Einar Steinsson, IAC President:

INL of NA Biographies Project:  First Installment Regarding Chicago-Based Western Icelanders

One of the newest initiatives of the Icelandic National League of North America [INL of NA:] is the Biographies Project, with its ambitious goal of creating an internet-accessible biographic database of North American Western Icelanders who have made significant contributions to their community and profession, in time for INL of NA’s pending centennial celebrations in 2019.  This project should be of interest and benefit to our Icelandic Association of Chicago [IAC], as the INL of NA is quite keen to include notable Western Icelanders from both our own IAC and the greater American-Midwest.  At the pending INL of NA Convention, to be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from the 15th through the 18th of May, 2014, a new INL of NA website will be revealed, including postings of then available completed biographies.

Where to begin, with so many suitable candidates, both past and present, all of whom eventually will be included in this database, was made easy by our Joni Shaw [IACBoard Member and a recently-elected INL of NA at-Large Director], who submitted an excellent article for our own June-2013 IAC Frón Newsletter [archived on our website:] regarding the early history of our IAC and relevant antecedent organizations.  Joni very much welcomes any and all additional available relevant historical information.  Please email her [].

Joni’s above-cited article included the names of the four prominent Chicago-based entrepreneurial Icelandic immigrants with Chicago-links worthy of inclusion in the final INL of NA biography database:  Chester Thordarson, Lawrence JohnsonÁrni Helgason, and William “Bill” Johnson.  In addition, two of the three women responsible for the important early history of Icelanders in Chicago[which Joni quoted],Marjorie Johnson Krengel, and Dolores Thorkelson Johnson [a/k/a:  Undine Johnson] had familial ties to some of the aforementioned Icelandic immigrant entrepreneurs.  Finally the third contributor to this early Chicago Icelandic history,Guðrún Íngibjörg [Dorothy] Clemens Johnson, was related to another prominent early Icelandic immigrant professional, Guðrún’s father [and our Joni Shaw’s grandfather], Paul [Páll] Melstad Clemens, who has been recognized in previously published books as the first Icelandic-Canadian architect.  His family originally immigrated from Reykjavík to Chicago, where he was trained in architecture, and later re-settled with his family in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  He was also amongst the founders of the earliest Icelandic association in Chicago.  [Guðrún was the wife of Vigfus Holm Johnson of Kandahar, Saskatchewan.]  The following brief sketches will highlight the preeminence of these first subjects and represent only the beginning of a much larger list of Icelandic immigrants with links to Chicago.  Fortunately, both Bill and Undine are still very much alive and ready and willing to provide additional relevant biographic detail for these first five subjects and several others, to follow.  Undine and Bill have both lived throughout nearly the entire history of Icelandic-Americans in the Chicago area and are able to share their unique perspective relevant to the biographies of these and several other past and present members of our Icelandic-American community in Chicago.
Benjamin Franklin’s fool-hardy experiments with kite-flying during thunder-storms forever-after earned him the distinction of being the “Discoverer of Electricity” and nearly a century later, the pioneering and inventive work of Thomas Alva Edison [an early-advocate of Direct Current] and his contemporary and competitor, Nikola Telsa [an early advocate of Alternating Current], secured their places of honor in the Annals of Electricity.  But the story of Electricity was by no means fully written!  Subsequently, early in the Twentieth Century, many notable Icelandic immigrants to Chicago were very impressive pioneers in the field of electrical transformers. The above-cited four Chicago-based gentlemen share in common their [pardon the intentional pun] electro-magnetic personalities, as each was or is associated with significant contributions to the electrical transformer industry.  They all shared personal, familial, and professional associations beginning very early in the last century.  Bill, currently eighty-seven-years-young, is the sole survivor from this earlier era of Chicago-based electrical transformer innovation, for which many Icelandic-Americans were widely known. Collectively, they are further representative of the much larger panoply of Icelandic-Americans in the Chicago area and the American Midwest, both men and women, who have been responsible for significant inventions, scientific discoveries, academic achievement, distinguished community service, entrepreneurial innovation, and well-recognized contributions to their respective industries and professions.

Chester was one of the very earliest Icelandic entrepreneurs in Chicago.  Quite early, beginning in the first decade of the 1900’s, he hired many immigrants, including Icelanders.  Earlier-on, both Árni Helgason and Lawrence Johnson [Bill’s father] worked for Chester before later starting their own firms.  Each is recognized for significant inventions and innovations in electrical transformers.  As late as 1928, just before the Great Depression, Chester’s firm, for which Lawrence by then was General Manager, was phenomenally successful and profitable.  Unfortunately, as was his prerogative as principal of his own firm, Chester, in the next few years withdrew exceedingly significant amounts of capital to finance an ambitious private real estate development on Rock Island, just off of Washington Island [near Door Peninsula, WI], a vacation destination which was then attractive to the nouveau-riche.  Absent sufficient capital reserves to weather the economic turmoil which followed, by 1932, he subsequently lost his firm and many of his very loyal Icelandic employees were eventually let go by the new management.  Soon thereafter,  Árni founded the Chicago Transformer Company [no longer in existence] and Lawrence founded the much more successfulJohnson Electric Coil Company [], which ever since has endured, survived, and thrived, in good times and bad.

On New Year’s Day, 1934, Lawrence began his company by rebuilding, repairing, and then re-selling used, damaged, and/or discarded electrical transformers requisite for neon-signs.  Even during the Great Depression, it was quite common for companies to continue to use neon signs for advertising and marketing.  From that niche-market, his firm subsequently expanded to manufacturing a full array of electrical transformers.  On New Year’s Day, 2014, Bill Johnson [Chairman Emeritus], his son-in-law, Bill Bockes [President], and his daughter, Beth Bockes [Board Chair], celebrated eighty years of continuity of family-ownership, manufacturing in America [Antigo, WI] and exporting worldwide almost everything from the tiniest transformer used in precision electronics to massive transformers used by electrical utilities.
Sometimes a family’s meticulous regard for flag-etiquette speaks volumes about character, gratitude, and pride---and in the case of the Johnson Clan---even the reconciling power of love:  Visitors to the Johnson Electric Coil Company’s headquarters, now in Antigo, WI, are greeted by “Old Glory” reigning overhead and their corporate logo, a Viking ship, both in prominent view, and the Icelandic flag proudly displayed in Bill’s office, symbolic, respectively, of the family’s gratitude for the freedom and opportunity afforded Lawrence by his adopted country and the family’s abiding pride in its Icelandic heritage.  Bill, very well-pleased that at least one of his grandchildren had participated in the Snorri Foundation [] total Icelandic-immersion program for young adults from North America, has vowed that the Icelandic flag willalways fly in or on the premises of the company’s headquarters.

Observant guests at Bill’s residence [Antigo, WI], which he shared with his late wife, Janet, to whom he was married for over sixty years, will have noted a third flag proudly flying overhead, that of Denmark.  Bill quite willingly explains the presence of this third flag, both for the benefit of those not very well-informed about recent centuries of European military and diplomatic history with implications for Iceland, as well as for the benefit of the better-informed who might not be fully-informed:  The treaties which settled the Napoleonic Wars were not particularly kind to the losing Bonaparte and his erstwhile allies.  Norway, which had a centuries-old credible claim to sovereignty over Iceland [and also Greenland], was punished for its support of Napoleon.  It was forced to surrender to Denmark all of its prior claims to Iceland and Greenland.  Early-on, in the Nineteenth Century, when Iceland effectively became a colony of Denmark, that new arrangement was both politically odious and economically onerous to most Icelanders.  Iceland’s centuries-old parliament, the Alþingí, was obliged to cede its legislative prerogatives and only retain its judicial functions and most Icelanders were subject to a mercantilist system of barter advantageous only to Denmark and the privileged-few.  Most Icelanders received a relative pittance for their produce [fish, mutton, wool, and woolen-goods] and paid dearly for finished goods from Denmark.  Eventually, Icelanders got out from under their sole-dependence upon barter when later in the Nineteenth Century, Great Britain was able and quite willing to pay Icelandic farmers hard currency [Pounds Sterling] in exchange for the mutton and sheep livestock which it desperately needed to feed its people.  Politically, thanks largely to the persevering and diligent work of Jón Sigurðson and his successors, beginning later in the Nineteenth Century, the Danish Crown and Parliament ratified a series of remarkable concessions which paved the way for restoration of the Alþing’s legislative prerogatives, increasing home-rule privileges for Iceland, and a timetable of plebiscites eventually offering the option of total Icelandic sovereignty independent of Denmark.  Bill quite proudly recalls that Iceland declared its full and complete sovereignty in 1944 while Denmark was still occupied by the Nazi’s.  Alas, in 1947, Bill quite willingly surrendered his own “independence” to his new wife, Janet, who was equally proud of her Danish-American heritage.

The aforementioned Marjorie Johnson and Undine Johnson both had familial ties to Chester Thordarson:  Marjorie was the daughter of Lawrence Johnson and the sister of Bill Johnson and also worked in finance and accounting at Johnson Electric Coil Company.  Undine’s father, Thorarinn John Thorkelson, an Icelandic immigrant also worked for Chester Thordarson, briefly for the successor to Chester’s firm, and later for Crest Transformer [no longer in existence].  Thorarinn served in the Royal Canadian Armed Forced during World War I and later re-settled in Chicago. 

Many more names will be similarly profiled in the INL of NA biographies database, in much greater detail and with proper bibliographic attribution.  Joni Shaw, our IACScholarship Program Committee, and John invite further nominations and relevant biographic information for each.  Please email same to Joni [] or John [].

Check out this Akvavit Production: MISHAP!!

Tickets: $20, Students/Industry $15!!