Members of Sognalag are mainly descendants from the kommunes of Aurland, Balestrand, Gulen, Hyllestad, Høyanger, Leikanger, Luster, Lærdal, Sogndal, Solund, Vik, and Åardal in the Sogn og Fjordane Fylke of Norway.
On November 28, 1908, a group of Sognings met in Albert Lea, Minnesota’s city hall to discuss plans for the organization of a Sognalag in America. One hundred twenty-five people had already expressed an interest in such an organization. They decided upon these reasons:
“The aim of the Sognalag is to foster and preserve our Norwegian cultural heritage, especially from the district of Sogn. To promote and cultivate interest in our traditional background in language, dialect, song, and music. To transplant and maintain the rich folk art and folklore to our new country, America and to share (that heritage) with our fellow Americans with common interest and in fellowship and spirit.”
This group, led by chairman John Brekke of Lake Mills, IA and with secretary Erick Hopperstad of Albert Lea, MN drew up a constitution and bylaws. They called for a general meeting to be held December 30, 1908. The meeting was properly advertised in the Norwegian newspapers as well as the area newspapers. This meeting drew 130 interested Sognings, who did adopt a constitution and by-laws. The major articles approved were:
- The name shall be Sognalaget.
- Purpose is to work for the Sognings in America, to preserve the interest of the Sogn people in the United States and in Norway and their culture and traditions.
- Membership will include all immigrants, their childre and persons outside Sogn who married Sognings were eligible for membership.
The first officers of Sognalaget were:
President: John J. Brekke – Lakes Mills, Iowa
Vice President: Ellend Erickson – Albert Lea, Minnesota
Secretary: Erick Hopperstad – Albert Lea, Minnesota
Treasurer: Jens J. Hove – Hayward, Minnesota
Directors: Ingebright Hove – Albert Lea, Minnesota
John B. Thompson – Northwood, Iowa
Iver Anderson – Owatonna, Minnesota
These first officers were from the area of Sogn. Four were from Vik, two from Fresvik and one from Lærdal. Their ages were from 50 – 65.
The membership at the first meeting was 150. As translated by Nettie Brown the minutes said, “Conversation filled the whole room – all in the Sogning dialect, so much that the walls resounded with echo. Some of those attending had not seen each other perhaps since leaving Sogn, Norway. Their mouths moved as rapidly and noisily as drumsticks beating on drums. But also they were hungry and conversation quieted when they were served lutefisk, lefse, kringla, fattigman, and other goodies.”
These first officers and directors prepared for the next meeting in June of 1909. By the time of the June 9th meeting held in Albert Lea, the membership had risen to 846 members. Already on Monday, June 7th, Sognings arrived from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois as well as all over Minnesota. They came early to stay with friends or family. As they arrived in town on the train, they would go to the Courthouse and get their badges. By 3:00 that afternoon, there were over 1,000 Sognings in town. Some had had seen each other for years and there were many a tear shed and hugs exchanged.
Tuesday, June 8 was a day of visiting as everyone anxiously searched for friends and relatives, inquiring not only about their life here, but asking for news from the villages in Sogn which they left behind. An evening banquet was held in Gulbrandson Hall lit by electricity and decorated with flags, flowers, and good Sogning food. The banquet was so well attended that two place settings were needed – serving 500 at a time. An orchestra played during the dinner and program followed. At this point in its early history, the Sognalag boasted 846 members but only 515 paid up membership.
Written by Lucy Ghastin