Tuesday, November 25, 2003

November 2003

From the President’s Desk

The Icelanders in Chicago are doing well: better jobs, more babies, bigger houses… If you attend the meetings and events we’ve planned throughout the year you can catch up on all the news of the families in the association, which I’m happy to report is good on most, if not all, fronts, knock on wood.

The economy in the US is moving up and in Iceland things are really turning to an upswing. Iceland’s economy is growing faster than most other Western economies mainly because of construction in relation to the new power plant in the eastern part of the country. The construction has been a real boost for the economy, although foreign workers do a lot of the work. This is good news as long as inflation lies low. The minor draw back for us is that it’s expensive to visit Iceland. Looking at specific industries there is some exciting news to report but hardly exciting enough to call for investment opportunities, but you never know. Privatization is on a fast track, banks have been sold and bought and one of the most famous firms in Iceland, Eimskip, recently changed hands in an exciting twist that can only mirror something from daytime TV soap. The short version: about 20 years ago there was a transportation company called Hafskip that was linked to a fraud, which led to the indictment of several executives. One left the country for Russia with an old soda factory in his luggage, which he set up as a beer factory and turned into a multimillion-dollar enterprise in Eastern Europe (he has since sold it to Anhauser Busch). He and his son are now two of the wealthiest Icelanders in the world and the new owners of Landsbankinn and Eimskip the biggest transportation firm on the island. Very interesting story.

At the home front we have the Þorrablót coming up on the 28th of February at the Swedish American Museum. We’ll have a new exciting band from Iceland, Slátrið, and the Icelandic Ambassador from Washington, DC, Helgi Ágústsson and his wife, as guests of honor. I hope all of you can make it.

Merry Christmas!

Einar Steinsson, President

Association Affairs

From the Editor

Re-Inventing the Wheel

Socialized medicine. It is interesting to see how these two words make Americans shudder and tighten up like they are some kind of dirty words. Socialized medicine. When other Western nations such as Britain and Iceland formed their National Health Care services in the early 20th century, a proposal for US National Health Care plan failed to pass through congress. The Clinton administration tried again in the nineties but failed. Health care cost in the US is the highest in the world or about 14% of the GNP while in European countries and Canada it is around 8% on the average. Outcome studies have not shown that this difference makes Americans healthier than other Western societies. In fact, Canadians live on average 1 year longer and the average age in the US has slightly decreased. Medicare reform and prescription drug benefits have been high on the agenda in Washington and Illinois has been in the news for trying to save money by re-importing drugs manufactured in the US from Canada. 40 million Americans are without medical insurance and those who have it typically obtain it through their employer and loose it if they loose their job. Often have I taken care of patients without insurance whose health care cost runs in the tens of thousands of dollars without the patient being able to pay a dime. And where does the bill go? In the end it goes to you, the taxpayer since the government supports the hospitals that take care of these patients.

For someone like me who works in the US health care system and is also used to socialized medicine environment, this struggle has been interesting to watch. For those who grew up in Iceland you would know that there you DO NOT WORRY about health insurance. You are not dependent on your job for benefits and if you need a heart transplant on bypass surgery the National Health Care Plan will provide you with this. There is co-pay that is usually peanuts (even though Icelanders complain about it) compared to what you pay in the US. Most prescription drugs for chronic illnesses are free or heavily subsidized. Usually there are no restrictions on what brand you can use even though there are some guidelines based on cost. Like in other countries with National Health Care plan, certain elective procedures such as hip and even bypass surgeries may have waiting lists but if you need something done right away, it is done right away. Also, if you need to seek special medical care that is not available in Iceland, your trip and medical cost is paid for elsewhere. In the 80’s bypass surgeries were done in England but are now done home in Iceland. Transplants are typically done in Scandinavia and many parents have taken their ill children to Boston Children’s Hospital here in the US. Many adult patients have been taken to the Mayo Clinic for special care (there is an Icelandic interpreter on staff there). This system is far from being perfect but it guarantees health care for every individual regardless of income, social status and place of residence. Of course it costs money and taxation is higher in Europe and Iceland that is a small price to pay when you suddenly need to sell your house because you had a car accident and need to be in the intensive care unit or need chemotherapy.

It is because of this that I always feel that Americans are trying to re-invent the wheel when I listen to their discussion on health care. It is obvious to me that the medical system in this country, with all its resources, technology and knowledge, IS BROKEN, mainly because is it NOT AVAILABLE to the ones that need it the most. The cost of modern medicine is simply too high for an individual or most employers or insurance companies to carry. Therefore, it is my believe that Americans missed the boat in the 1930’s but need to get back and establish a National Health Care Plan that works and is available for everyone. Health care should be taken out as a Union bargaining chip and you should not have to depend on your employer for it. Some feel that national health care would be too restricted and you would loose your autonomy. Actually many countries such as Iceland and Australia have a combination of private and government run health care institutions where doctors can have their own offices and facilities and are not employees of the government but are more like contractors. In such cases, you can have general health care but still maintain patient autonomy where they get to decide where to go for their health.

Annual Board Meeting

The Annual Board meeting was held on October 23 at Satay Restaurant a pan-Asian restaurant in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Attendees were Einar Steinsson, Lena Hallgrímsdóttir, Vilborg Einarsdóttir, Binna Porter, Paul Sturm, Siggi Birkis, Jónas Birkis, Anna Kárdal, Ásgeir Ólafs, Óli Axel and Sigga, Leifur Björns and Rita, Larry and Jonie Shaw, John Hofteig, Undine Johnson, Sonja and Marc Johnson. Participation was what we expected 18 adults and 2 children. We missed some of our loyal members this year but were pleasantly pleased to have couple of “old” ones, who we have not seen for some time.

We reviewed last year’s accounts and had a negative income margin of $327.34, which leaves us with $2,515.60 in assets.

Everyone kept their post, except Stella who is taking a break from any duties this year:

President: Einar Steinsson
Treasurer: Anna Kárdal
Secretary: Lena Hallgrímsdóttir
Editor: G. Steinar Guðmundsson
Vice – Presidents: Binna Porter
John Hofteig (Membership and Marketing)
Siggi Birkis (Auditor)
Sonja Johnson

Membership fees will be the same as last year: $30 for a family, $20 for an individual.

Then we discussed Þorrablót 2004, the web site and newsletter and various other subjects regarding the association.

Our Christmas tree at the Museum of Science and Industry

Our traditionally decorated Christmas tree is among fifty other trees now on display at the Museum of Science and Industry. The tree will be up until 1 pm January 11 2003 when we will take everything down and it will be no more. Please contact Lena (773-489-4621) if you want to help.

Remember, Annual Membership Fees are due January 15th.

Annual membership fees are due January 15, 2003. Please, send in the enclosed pre-stamped envelope a check made payable to Icelandic Association of Chicago. Annual membership fees are $30 for families and $20 for individuals/students. Remember to include the membership survey.


This year's Þorrablót will take place on February 28, 2004 at The Swedish Museum. Júlíus Ólafsson and Lárus Grímsson who form the band “Slátrið” will visit us from Iceland to take care of the music, which is an indispensable part of the event.

The ticket price will be: for members $50 in advance and $55 at the door, and $60 for non-members. The higher at-the-door price ($55) will be strictly enforced.

Everyone keep an eye out for raffle prizes, especially, those who are travelling to Iceland. More details will be in the next issue of Farsælda Frón.

Jólabarnaball 2003 (Children’s Yulefest 2003)

This new tradition will be at Sonja Johnson´s house on December 27th at 3 pm sharp. Please RSVP to Sonja (847-675-2091) if you would like to attend with your children. We will dance around the Christmas tree and maybe Santa will honor us with a visit.

Letters to the Association

Árni Helgason 16. March 1891 - 11. December 1968

As the years roll on details become obscure and ultimately failing memories) and perhaps interest) place questions marks after names of those distinguished members of the far flung Icelandic community who, not so long ago, brought a degree of recognition to Iceland far exceeding its then importance on the world scene. In that group rests Árni Helgason about whose life details are worth noting. I write of him because I did not know the others.

Árni was born in Hafnarfjörður and joined the throng of immigrants to North America in 1912 settling first in Canada before moving to North Dakota where he completed his undergraduate studies at Farge State College before enlisting in the U.S. army for a year of service in France. A useful foot note on Árni´s attitue toward government authority can be found in the fact that when he enlisted – his first real contact with any kind of government authority – the recruiting officer placen an “e” at the end of his first name which “Árnie” used for the rest of his life in all communications with the U.S. government on the assumption that the government preferred that spelling and should get what it wanted.

After completing his military service, Árni returned to his studies receiving a Masters Degree from the University of Wisconsins 1925 in electrical science. He then joined Thordarsson electrical Manufacturing Company in Chicago. Árni contributed to the filing of many patents relating to automobile electrical systems and after leaving Thordarsson to form his own company, Chicago Standard Transformer Company, became one of the major suppliers to the U.S. automotive industry. Árni himselft quickly became a nationally known figure as a member of various Physics Clubs. National Electrical manufacturers Association, and many others. He received an honorary Doctor´s Degree from North Dakota State University in 1940. None of this, however, interfered with the service he was able to give to his beloved Iceland.

The activities described in broad terms here were essentially a back drop for the overwhelming interest in his native land that was ever present in his life and activities. He was, by any standard, a sucessful American manufacturer and business man yet found time and energy to support local activities enhancing knowledge of Iceland and was also an original shareholder of Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company which is now an important factor in the international shipping community. In addition he was one of the founders of Rafha which was to become a major factor in the procuction and distribution of electrical energy in Iceland.

Árni´s overwhelming and constructive interest in Iceland coupled with his success as a businessman in American led the Icelandic government, then under Danish control, to award him the Order of the Knights Cross of the Order of the Falcon in 1939, to be augmented in 1944 by designating him a Knight Commander of that Order.

He had the unique ability to concentrate his significant talents on resolving the perceived problem of the moment. He caused Iceland to become an active participating member of the renowned American Scandinavian Society; assisted in creating The Honors Society of Icelandic-Americans; supported formation of the Icelandic Association of Chicago; lectured frequently at The University of Chicago; and was, of course, Iceland’s first Honorary Consul in America. From the degree of industry that he brought to representation of Iceland I would not have been surprised to find that some in Chicago may have thought Iceland and the Soviet Union to be about the same in size.

I remember with particular pleasure a meeting of the Chicago Consular Corps, which I attended as Árni, was out of the city. In the 15 years of Árni´s life that I served as Vice Consul I do not believe he missed a single meeting except when travelling and I can still hear the Consul General of Great Britain commenting to me, “It doesn´t seem like the Consular Corps without Árni.”

Throughout his life he gave support whenever possible to causes in both countries with the emphasis, when appropriate, on Iceland. Icelandic students continue to distignuish themselves at colleges and universtities there while Icelandic busines, particularly that based on high technology, seems to be flourishing. America is now much more to the Icelander that the frozen aspects of North Dakota.

Árni appeared to be in good health to the very end, dying in the last lap of his bi-weekly swim at the Chicago Athletic Association.

I like to think that much of the progress made by Icelanders in America was made possible by men and women who shared Árni´s spirit of dedication and loyality to the homeland as well as to their adopted country.

Árni died leaving his widow, Kristín who had come to America with her parents from Skagafjörður about the time that Árni emigrated. They had no children and Kristín survived Árni by a few years.

P. Sveinbjörn Johnson

November 11, 2003

The Ultimate Icelandic-North American Directory

Christmas Gift Book
Icelandic Organization SPECIAL Compiled and Edited by Mackenzie Kristjon

ISBN 0-9689119-1-9 / 6”x9” / 220 pages / Retail Price: $22.95 CDN/$18.95 US

“A great pioneering work”-Hjalmar Hanneson, former Icelandic Ambassador to Canada

This valuable resource includes listings of Icelandic businesses, organizations, festivals,

museums, libraries, Icelandic educational opportunities, artists, writers & more…

You may view this book and others with Icelandic Content at our website through The Icelandic Embassy at www.Iceland.org/ca , or directly at www.coastline-publishing.com You may also take special note of ‘The Culinary Saga of New Iceland’ by Kristin Olafson-Jenkyns, a double medallist with the Cuisine Canada Awards and endorsed by Astridur Thorarensen of Reykjavik. Also,”Falcons Gold” by Kathleen Arnason a fabulous story about the fabled Icelandic-Canadian Hockey Team from Winnipeg that won the very first OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL!

It is with this intent that we extend this very special offer at this very

special discount: Number of Directories: Price/Book: Cdn US 1 – 10 13.75 11.35, 11 – 100 12.40 10.25, 101 – 250 11.15 9.20, 251 – 500 10.00 8.25, 501+ 9.00 7.45 +GST + applicable tax

Shipping extra Mail, fax or email your order to: COASTLINE PUBLISHING Suite 511,3-304 Stone Road West Guelph ON Canada N1G 4W4 p/f: 905 627 6921 e: postmaster@coastline-publishing.com

The association has received a letter from www.nordicstore.net, which is a new store on the web that specializes in selling Icelandic goods abroad. They offer good selection and good prices.

News You Can Use

The Christmas gift that keeps on giving – Icelandair Christmas Package

Fly coach to the US. Airfare, tax and service fee 29.900 ISK. Children, 2 - 11 years 24.900 ISK. Business Class to Europe / USA. Airfare, tax and service fee 39.900 If you buy the Icelandair Christmas gift package, you can pick your destination in Europe and USA You can make a reservation for a certain destination as you buy the Christmas package. Reservations have to be made before January 23rd. The package can be used (if used as a gift) as payment for trips that start between January 10 and June 30th, 2004. Minimum stay: Saturday night. Maximum stay is 1 year. Included: Airfare, tax and service fee. Make a reservation as soon as possible since there is limited seating for this gift package.

Icelandic Lamb sold in the US

Whole Food Market in Baltimore has begun selling fresh lamb shipped directly from Iceland from “Norðlenska”. The Icelandic lamb has been available in 55 Whole Foods Market stores around the country in Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado, and this fall 35 new Whole Foods stores be added. The lamb will be available only four months from September until Christmas. No word on when it will be available to us Chicagoians.