It’s a bit of a miracle! Mountain, North Dakota, with a population of less than 100, has just held its 111th annual Deuce of August Icelandic Celebration.
It’s the longest running ethnic festival in North Dakota and the largest Icelandic ethnic event in the United States.
The Deuce is important enough to draw people like Iceland Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and Tax Commissioner
The Parade Marshal for the 111th Celebration was Sir Magnus Olafson, recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon.
Magnus has been very involved in the preservation of Icelandic heritage, history and culture his entire life and will turn 90 in October of this year. The Honorary Parade Marshal was G.B. Gunlogson, who donated the land which has been developed into one of the most popular parks in all of North Dakota, Icelandic State Park. The Park contains a world class cultural interpretive center which was built and is maintained by the Northeast North Dakota Heritage Association.
The Icelandic choir, Karlakórinn Lóuþrælar led the singing of the national anthems of Canada, Iceland and the United States and provided entertainment at the conclusion of the program.
The visit by Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was a very special addition to the festivities. Iceland Honorary Consul for North Dakota, Loretta Bernhoft, said, “It was indeed an honor and a privilege to welcome Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir to Mountain for our Celebration! Her visit further strengthens the ties to Iceland and inspires people of Icelandic descent to learn more about their Icelandic heritage. We only hope that she left feeling the ‘spirit of Iceland’ and the warm hospitality of North Dakota.”
At the afternoon Heritage Program, the Prime Minister was officially welcomed to North Dakota by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. In her speech, the Prime Minister said, “I am touched and grateful to witness how dedicated you are to the land of your forefathers and how determined you are not to forget where your ancestors came from. At the same time you are loyal citizens of the land your forefathers chose for your future – binding you in spirit to two countries while living in one.”
She also observed the importance of the Community Center project by saying, “I am happy to learn that your Community Center is in its final building stages and take pleasure in the fact that the Government of Iceland was able to make a contribution towards making it a reality. I hope the Center will serve you well and make it easier for you to continue the good work you are doing.”
After the conclusion of the program, a very touching moment occurred when the Prime Minister went through the crowd to greet Christine Geir Hall. Christine turned 101 years old this year and is still very active and enjoys visiting. Christine is a living link to Icelandic history as she was born and raised on the Geir farm where K.N. Július lived and wrote his poetry, including “Stína Litla”, which was written about Christine. The poem was read during the program by Almar Grímsson.
Visitors to the Genealogy Center this year were treated with historical displays of Icelandic men and women from northeast North Dakota who made significant contributions during their lives in North America. George Freeman and Pam Furstenau helped visitors find their ancestors as well. At the Heritage program Saturday afternoon Pam introduced Jóhann Kristján Ragnarsson from Iceland to his cousins from the Mountain area as part of the “Cousins Across the Ocean” project. His great, great-grandfather, Jón Benjamínsson, has descendants from the Hannessons, Kristjansons, Thomassons, Flanagans, Johannessons, Foseides, Thorfinnssons, and Bernhofts.
The only glitch for the weekend came in the form of a severe storm which arrived in a most untimely manner during the serving of supper guests at the International Fellowship Supper on the Borg Home lawn. Tour leader Jónas Þór offered a good-natured comment when he said of his group, “This is a big adventure for them and this is one thing they will never forget about their visit to Mountain.”
Curtis Olafson, President of the Icelandic Communities Association said, “We have a community that works together very well, and the secret to our success is that we have events that appeal to a broad range of interests and our community is very dedicated to preserving an appreciation for our Icelandic heritage, history and culture. We greatly appreciate the support we receive from so many people who make the Deuce the central part of their annual pilgrimage home every year. This is a wonderful community in which to live and be involved. We look forward to dedicating our new Community Center in 2011 and to continuing our success.”