Normennenes Singing Society (NSS) was organized on October 30, 1870 with 28 singers. From the very beginning, social and cultural activities abounded. In 1885 13 functions were held[,] and in 1892 the total was 16, performing concerts in Minneapolis and Philadelphia.
In 1912 NSS moved from Schoenhofer Hall to Wicker Park. There had always been talk of a new building [,] and in 1916 a committee was formed for this purpose. In 1916 purchase was made of three lots on Fullerton Avenue near California Ave. Due to the high price increases following the war, the lots were sold in June of 1920 at a substantial profit, which brought the Building Fund to approximately $6000.00.
In its 50th year there were 95 singers. There were also 247 non-singing members and 61 honorary members for a total membership of 403. The Fiftieth Anniversary Concert and Banquet was held at the LaSalle Hotel in 1920.
1924 saw the first concert of Norway for NSS. A second Norway Chorus Tour was arranged in 1938. Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha were guests of Normennenes during their tour of the USA.
In 1925 the Building Committee recommended the purchase of the property at 2414 N Kedzie Boulevard for $30,000. Occupancy was obtained in the fall of 1925. A second mortgage of $12,000 was obtained for the purpose of remodeling.
The years 1940 through 1945 saw the NSS very active in raising funds for various Norwegian relief and welfare organizations. The 75th Jubilee Concert was held at Orchestra Hall in 1945 with sixty-five singers participating.
The years 1945 through 1955 saw an increase membership for Normennenes and the Clubhouse was no longer large enough to accommodate the increased membership. Groundbreaking started in July 1948 to remodel and expand the Clubhouse at a cost of #135,000.00. The Grand Opening took place on September 29, 1949 to a capacity crowd. 1955, the 85th Anniversary was held at Orchestra Hall with a banquet in the Grand Ballroom of the Morrison Hotel.
Two more concert tours to Norway were made in 1952 and 1964. Throughout the 1950's and 1960's the chorus grew to over 100 singers with concerts and social events ranking heavily on the calendar with annual concerts, a television appearance and joint concerts and banquets at the Lake Shore Club.
In 1970 Normennenes Singing Society celebrated 100 years of continuous singing. The celebration covered two days with a concert at Maine East High School on Friday October 30th. 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 64 singers on stage, The banquet on Saturday October 31st in the Grand Ballroom at the Marriott O'Hare Hotel was the grandest affair witnessed in the Norwegian community the time. Singers from choruses in other states came to help us celebrate. However, the late 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.
In February 1979 Normennenes sold its Clubhouse on Kedzie Boulevard. A farewell party was held in April of that year to a capacity crowd. (Excerpts from 125th program book.)
One hundred and forty years of continuous operation would signify and identify the dedication and devotion of its membership towards promoting Norwegian music and Norwegian culture. Our numbers have diminished due to attrition and lack of Norwegian immigration. But our enthusiasm has not diminished.
The move from Logan Square was brought about by the migration of its members to the suburbs of Chicago and the change of the neighborhood. Case in point, The 17thof May parade. Traditionally this was held in Humboldt Park. Other ethnic celebrations were also held there and were harassed by the people the people who lived in the area. The City Fathers decided all parade permits would be issued for the downtown area of Chicago, to eliminate problems!
Normennenes clubhouse in Logan Square was sold in February 1979[,] and our farewell party was held in April. The contents of the building were sold at auction. Items saved were the mural, works of art, and furniture. These items were placed in storage with the hope that one day we would have a place to display them.
Normennenes' Location Committee was searching for a facility which would serve our needs. The Arlington Heights Elk Club was for sale, and our committee was interested in acquiring the facility. The Dania Society, The Danish American Athletic Association and the Sons of Norway Skjold Lodge were also searching for new facilities. The four organizations combined their interest and became corporate members with the purchase of the Elks Club. The corporation became the Scandinavian American Culture Society, otherwise known as S.A.C.S.
The building consisted of a large bar, dining room, kitchen, board room, and a large all-purpose room. There was a 2nd floor meeting room as well as storage areas. The grounds were spacious and parking was unlimited.
The combined membership offered volunteers for remodeling and maintaining the facility. A Board of Directors was elected to manage the facility and finances. Raising money to support S.A.C.S. was everyone's responsibility. That was accomplished by having Bingo Nights, Las Vegas Nights, Christmas Bazaars, golf outings, concerts, wedding parties, rentals and dues. All the work was not done by the members. The operation had to hire a manager with bar and kitchen staff. S.A.C.S. was to be a location for many Norwegian activities for the next twenty years.
The 17th of May parade was relocated from downtown Chicago to Park Ridge, Illinois. The 17thof May banquets were held at the S.A.C.S. club, and the new location rejuvenated the enthusiasm in the 17th of May celebration. The new facility had a perfect wall in the all-purpose room to mount the original mural from the Logan Square Normennenes clubhouse.
The new facility offered the four corporate organizations a place to work collectively and individually. Normennenes had a rehearsal hall and a concert hall. In 1981, to establish S.A.C.S. and Normennenes, invitations were given to Norwegian Male Choruses from Madison Wisconsin, Rockford and Chicago, Swedish Choruses, and non-ethnic choruses for a Sangerfest. Each group was to sing a couple of songs. Bob Ekstrom (at the time a director without a chorus) managed to gather the singers and climaxed the evening with a Grand Chorus. The evening was [a] tremendous success and became the beginning of the "Parade of Choruses" which traditionally continues today.
At the time when Normennenes was looking for a chorus director, we found Bob Ekstrom. Bob was our director until his health failed him in 1987. Lillian Schulties had been Normennenes' accompanist since 1951. When Bob needed to leave, Lillian filled in as director for the remainder of 1987.
Warren Polston, new to Normennenes, was asked to become Normennenes' director and willingly accepted the position later that year. Warren also directed the Estonian Male Chorus. Normennenes also invited the Estonians to participate in the Parade of Choruses program as well. The day after the 2005 Parade of Choruses program, Warren passed away. Warren lived for music. A memorial service was held at the Estonian Club House the following June.
Normennenes and its corporate partners in S.A.C.S were courageous in acquiring the S.A.C.S. facility. They did what was needed at the time. As our members grew older and numbers began to diminish, the cost of the operation increased. The building needed professional repair. The initiation and membership dues prohibited the membership growth. Finally, the only solution was to sell the property.
The twenty years of operation was rewarding for all concerned. Together, each organization had ideal quarters to continue their activities. S.A.C.S. was a place where each organization would meld with each other, offering camaraderie. They handled accomplishment together.
After the sale of S.A.C.S., Normennenes was once again search for places to continue their activities. The Des Plaines Elks Club is now the location of our meetings and Christmas Party. The Double Tree Hotel (now known as the Indigo) in Palatine was our rehearsal hall and the location of our anniversary concerts. The sale and remodeling of the Double Tree Hotel caused Normennenes to relocate one more time to the Estonian House in Lincolnshire, Illinois.
Normennenes with its changes has continued to perform and to uphold its charter. We sing at our Spring Concerts, the Parade of Choruses program, Anniversary Dinner Concerts, Sangerfests, Norwegian Lutheran Church “Minnekirken”, as well as other Church Programs. We average a performance approximately once a month. Recruiting for the chorus was and still is our main priority. Today we can place 13 or 14 singers on the line. The present director of Normennenes Singing Society is Charles Kessell. Charles joined Normennenes in 2005 after Warren Polston passed away.
The Synopsis of Normennenes has been some of the happenings of our last 30 years. A more complete report of our history would require a large volume. We are continuing a proud tradition.
Part of the future is the 59th Biennial Sangerfest of the Normennenes Singers Association of America (NSAA), to be held at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois in 2012. The Host Chorus will be our good friends Bjornsen Male Chorus.
The Sangerfest of NSAA is held every other year. The 12 member male choruses are from North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois who gather at the city of the host chorus. Individual choruses sing on Thursday evening. Friday is the banquet night. On Saturday the Grand Chorus, 230 men strong, with a symphony orchestra, is a night to remember. The Sangerfest of 2010 was held in Madison, Wisconsin. The host chorus was the Edvard Grieg Male Chorus, and was enjoyed by all who attended.
Thor Fjell as Vice President of NSAA, has arranged successful Norway Trips in 1995, 1997 and 2005. The chorus members are individual members of the twelve N.S.A.A. choruses. This allows singers the opportunity to participate in a Norway chorus even when their own chorus doesn't have a trip planned. Normennenes members have participated in these Norway chorus trips.
A large and beautiful mural was painted at the Normennenes clubhouse in Logan Square. When the club was sold, the mural was removed and with the purchase of the Elks Club property, we found a prominent wall to place it on. With the sale of S.A.C.S. club, the mural was removed and placed in storage at the Norwood Crossing home in Norwood Park Chicago. Norwood Crossing Home added rooms to their facility. The mural and the Normennenes paintings are now mounted in one of these rooms, Per Ohrstrom Heritage Room. The room is dedicated to the Norwegian Consul in Chicago. Per Ohrstrom, formally the Norwegian Consul in Chicago[,] spearheaded the Heritage Room project. The mural itself was copied with computer technology and placed on the Heritage Room wall. The original mural had been badly damaged.
In closing we want to give thanks to the many members and their friends who have supported Normennenes thru the years past as well as the present.
Please support all things Norwegian. Lend us a hand and a voice.
[Written by Frank Potempa and Karl Tangeros — 2010]