1870-1990
By Keith Hertsgaard, October 27, 1990

A Brief History from 1870 to 1990

50th | 100th | 125th | Beyond 125th

Normennenes Singing Society was organized October 30, 1870. After the Chicago fire of 1871 it was decided take a vacation. The vacation lasted only one month. Regardless[,] whether the town was burning or not, singing must go on. To make up the loss of one month vacation, two rehearsals per week were scheduled.

As early as 1879 it was reported by Norwegian Choruses of the difficulty in obtaining Tenors. Normennenes appointed a committee to investigate the possibility of rounding up this rare product. They were fortunate in rounding up one, but were required to pay .50¢ per evening.

From the very beginning social and cultural activities abounded at Normennenes. In 1885 thirteen functions were held and in 1892 the total was sixteen. The chorus gave a concert in Minneapolis in 1886 and a concert in Philadelphia in 1887. (There is no record as to the length of time it took to get to and from these cities in the late 1800's.)

The famous composer, Oscar Borg composed "[Leif] Erikson" and dedicated it to Normennenes. It was presented for the first time, by our Chorus, in 1897.

Normennenes celebrated it's 40th Anniversary of continuous song with a banquet at Wicker Park Hall on October 26, 1910.

On January 7, 1912 the Society moved from Schoenhofer Hall to Wicker Park and in initiating the new quarters a very lively Singers Stag was held with singing into the early morning hours. We might assume this was the origin of our Men's Frokost of today.

In 1914 twenty-two members of the Chorus participated in the Sangerforbundet's concert tour of Norway. On the eighth of June the Singers were on their way to Norway.

The first mention of the Children's Christmas Tree Festival was December 30, 1914. These events could have been held earlier, but not always recorded.

The 45th Jubilee Concert was presented at Wicker Park Hall on October 27, 1915 with excellent reviews. The banquet was held at Dania Hall on October 31st with approximately 400 in attendance.

In May of 1918 a three day festival was held for the benefit of our Building Fund. A net profit of $1000.00 was realized. The Ladies Auxiliary was given due credit for their untiring effort and work.

On August 24, 1919 the society held a welcome home party for the service men who served in the Armed Forces during W.W. I. Our Society had twenty-three members who saw service. Twenty-two returned home. One, Cpl. Norman Oftedahl, was killed August 11, 1918 in the Battle of Chipilly Ridge, Flanders.

Normennenes Singing Society started their activities in 1870 with 28 singers. In their 50th year of continuous song there were 95 Singers, 247 Non-singing members and 61 Honorary members for a total membership of 403.

There had always been talk of a new building. In 1916 a committee was formed for this purpose. Purchase was made of three lots on Fullerton Ave. near California Ave. The high price increases that followed the War made it impossible to build, hence the lots were sold in June of 1920 at a substantial profit, which brought the Building Fund to approximately $6000.00.

 

1920 — Normennenes Singing Society 50 years old

The Fiftieth Anniversary Concert and Banquet was held at the La Salle Hotel on the 30th of October, the date of the organization. To celebrate fifty years of song, invitations were sent to all men who had sung twenty-five years before, to form a Senior Chorus. Thirty-five singers reported for rehearsal, many had since retired but some were still active singers.

1924 saw Normennenes's [sic] first concert tour of Norway. Thirty-four Singers left Chicago on the 17th of May. They arrived in Washington, D.C. on May 18th and were guests of the Norwegian Minister. The Chorus then left for Brooklyn, NY. As guests of Normendenes Sangferening and Norske Selskab, who provided a lavish banquet. The voyage across the Atlantic was made on the S.S. Stavangerfjord. Rehearsals were held daily on the trip across the Ocean.

The reception accorded the Singers everywhere in Norway far exceeded their most optimistic expectations. Thousands of people greeted them at every railroad station and steamship landing. Of their arrival in Bergen, Bergen's Tidende wrote, “It was a festive moment when the American ship slowly drew near, decorated with flags and packed with passengers at the rails. From the ship came “Ja Vi Elsker” sung by Chicagoans and the Bergen Singers replied with Sangerhilsen...”.

Thirty-four concerts were held. Two concerts had to be  cancelled due to a collision of steamships “Kong Harold” and “Haakon Jarl”[.] The Chorus was aboard the “Kong Harold”. The “Haakon Jarl” sustained heavy damage and sank in a few minutes, with heavy loss of life.
“SS Haakon Jarl 1914-1924. Collided with SS Kong Harald on the Vestfjord in dense fog and sank. 17 lost their lives. The survivors were picked up and taken back to Bodø by SS Kong Harald. During the trip back to Bodø two of the survivors from SS Håkon Jarl died onboard of shock.” Ref. Hurtigrute -Web, ¶20.
 

In the fall of 1924 a celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the Ladies Auxiliary was held. There was also a banquet held for the Homecoming Norway Chorus.

In 1925 the Society learned of a building for sale at 2414 Kedzie Blvd. The Building Committee recommended the purchase of the property for $30,000.00. The down payment was financed by a member of the Society. Occupancy was taken in the fall of 1925. A second mortgage of $12,000.00 was obtained for the purpose of remodeling.

The Society was active entertaining guests during the 1933 Worlds Fair. The Junior Club was organized in 1934.

A second Norway Chorus Tour was arranged in 1938 with a farewell concert at the Humboldt Park Commandery Hall on the 4th of May. Thirty-six singers sailed from Brooklyn On May 25th aboard the S.S. Stavangerfjord, arriving in Oslo on June 2nd. The last concert was held on July 4th with a presentation at the Abraham Lincoln Monument in Frogner Park, Oslo. The tour covered thirty-three cities in thirty-four days. After the tour eight singers remained in Norway. Later two of them returned to the U.S.A.

In 1939, then, Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha were guests of Normennenes during their tour of the U.S.A.

The 70th Anniversary Concert and Banquet were held at the Commandery Hall on October 30, 1940. The years 1940 through 1945 saw the Society very active in raising funds for various Norwegian relief and welfare organizations.

The 75th Jubilee Concert was held at Orchestra Hall on Tuesday, October 30, 1945. Sixty-five singers participated in the concert. (Many had not yet returned from the Armed Services. There is no record of the number of men from Normennenes who served during W.W. II).

The years 1945 through 1955 were most exciting for Normennenes with a steady increase in membership. It was soon apparent that the Clubhouse was no longer large enough to accommodate the increased membership. Groundbreaking took place in July, 1948 to remodel and expand the Clubhouse. The cost of the project was reported at $135,000. Of that figure $75.000 still had to be raised; there was not enough time to run raffles, bazaars, etc. A bond issue was posted to the members at 5% interest. In two months the months the amount was covered, and in two years all the bonds were redeemed. The Grand Opening [took] place on September 29, 1949 to a capacity crowd.

In May of 1952 Normennenes was ready for their third concert tour of Norway. This was probably the best arranged, publicized and chorally prepared of any of the Norway tours. Fifty-six singers took part in the tour. Normennenes, it seems, cannot plan a concert tour without an incident to mar the event. After the singers had boarded the airplane in N.Y. they were asked to come out onto the portable stairway for pictures. At the most inopportune time the stairway collapsed. Harold Olsen suffered a broken ankle and could not make the trip. Nils Nilsen and Gerry Henriksen joined the group three days later.

1955 was the 85th Anniversary of our Society; the concert, which was one of the finest performances, was held at Orchestra Hall on October 28th. The banquet was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Morrison Hotel, [was] well attended by members and friends of our Society who [gaily] celebrated the completion of 85 years as a singing, cultural and social society. As was written in the 85th Anniversary program:
“The club history tells us it was indeed a very humble beginning, in a rented hall, with a banged-up piano and a clanking streetcar outside – the bottom of the treasury was reached many times over – but our society forged ahead – we own a comfortable clubhouse – beautifully furnished and endowed with many art treasures - and as of today we have a grand piano in every room except the kitchen.”
 

Throughout the 1950's and 1960's the chorus grew to over 100 singers with concerts and social events ranking heavily on the calendar. Annual concerts at Norwood Park and Bethesda. A television appearance. Joint concerts and banquets at the Lake Shore Club with their Chorus and Svithoid.

With hard work on the part of the Chorus and support from members and friends, the Chorus raised enough money for their fourth Norway Concert tour in 1964. This was a successful and memorable concert tour, especially as far as the younger generation members were concerned who were enjoying their first tour to Norway. Forty-eight members of the chorus took part. Again the tour was not without incident as our Director, Knute Hansen, took ill the day before we were to leave. The directorship was left in the able hands of our pianist, Wayne Spies. We had already contacted Dennis Moffat to meet us in Norway, from his studies in Paris. Not only did he perform his usually excellent piano solos but also filled as a much needed accompanist. Mette Spies and Dennis alternated evenings with their fine solo work, each receiving grand reviews in the press.

King Olav V of Norway was on a State visit to the U.S.A. in the spring of 1968, spending three days in Chicago, with luncheons, receptions and a gala black tie dinner at the Continental Hotel on Michigan Ave. Normennenes was invited to sing at the dinner by the then Norwegian Consul General, Finn Koren. We, as usual, did ourselves proud with 84 Singers performing. A Chair for Norwegian Studies was endowed at the University of Chicago in honor of the King's visit; the endowment was funded by an anonymous member of Normennenes Singing Society.

 

1970 — Normennenes Singing Society 100 years old

In 1969 a committee was formed to plan the gala Hundredth Anniversary celebration, and what an undertaking it was. As always the members met the challenge. The celebration covered two days with a concert at Maine East High School, Park Ridge on Friday evening October 30, 1970. The Auditorium was filled to capacity. Our good friends, The Bjornsen Male Chorus, greeted us with “Sangerhilson” from the back of the Auditorium. The concert was a tremendous success with sixty-four Singers on stage. Many of the Singers spent the night at the Marriott O'Hare Hotel in anticipation of the gala banquet in the Grand Ballroom the following evening.

The banquet on Saturday October 31st was the grandest affair witnessed in the Norwegian Community. Equaling, perhaps the banquet for King Olav V in 1968. Singers from Choruses in other States came to help us celebrate. It was a night to be remembered for years to come.

The 1970's saw a decline in attendance and functions due to the changing of the neighborhoods and changing times. A committee was formed to look into the possibility of selling the Clubhouse and relocating in the suburbs. Contact was made with other Scandinavian Societies to see if there was any interest in merging our resources.

In February of 1979 Normennenes sold its Clubhouse on Kedzie Blvd. A farewell party was held in April of that year.

 

1980 — Normennenes Singing Society 125 years old

During the ensuing months various locations were used for rehearsals and social functions. The committee for relocating was still working to find a new location and working with other Scandinavian organizations. Through continued efforts by this committee, Normennenes, Dania Society, Danish American Athletic Club and Skjold Lodge #100, a corporation was formed for the purpose of a merger. The new corporation was chartered as the Scandinavian American Cultural Society (S.A.C.S).

Word was out that the Arlington Heights Elk's Club was for sale. S.A.C.S. purchased the building with about five acres of land in the Spring if 1980. Throughout the Summer and Fall months considerable time and effort were donated to remodel the Clubhouse for our particular needs. A dinner-dance was held on Saturday, November 29, 1980 with the press and dignitaries invited to celebrate the opening of our new clubhouse. The official ribbon cutting and flag raising ceremonies were held on Sunday, November 30, 1980.

Throughout the following years the four organizations consisting of S.A.C.S. worked hard together to keep the facilities open for our various functions as well as renting the banquet hall for private parties.

The Chorus remained active with concerts, Sangerfests, etc. In March of 1981 Normennenes invited other Choruses to participate in a Festival of Song at S.A.C.S. The first such gathering was for men only. This practice was continued the following year. After several years of a men only function it was decided to include the ladies. This proved to be a musical and financial success for Normennenes and for S.A.C.S. Each succeeding year showed growth of Participation from nearby choruses. We continue to receive the Norwegian Chorus from Dane County, Wisc., the Norwegian and Swedish Choruses from Rockford, Ill., as well as Danes, Estonians, Finnlanders, Germans, Norwegians and Swedes from the Chicago area and a non-ethnic male chorus from Naperville, Ill., and the Medinah Shrine Chanters from Chicago. This Festival of Song has grown so that we now have up to 250 singers and a total of about 600 people in attendance.

Normennenes's traditional men's Frokost was continued in our new quarters, but, now including D.A.A.C. and Dania. With the inclusion of these two societies the Frokost has grown in number so that it must be held in two successful Sundays in December.

In 1988 the Board of Directors voted to accept ladies as voting members of Normennenes. Upon application the first ladies officially became members in January of 1989.

This concludes a brief history of Normennenes Singing Society 125 years of continuous song, music, cultural and social activities — a goal not achieved by many. We are thankful and proud to be members of Normennenes. We thank the many members and friends for their indefatigable work in the past 125 years.

 

      Beyond 125 Years

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