Syttende Mai is Norwegian for “seventeenth May.” It is the date, like our Fourth of July, when Norwegians won independence from the Dano-Norwegian Realm in 1814. Like the American experience, this occasion was little commemorated during the early decades, but youthful citizens’ urge to party caused bigger and bigger celebrations to crop up in towns big and small across Norway.
The early commemorations featuring political oratory gave way to fireworks and car races here and ice cream and children’s parades in Norway.
As I prepare to mount up and ride off into the Texas sunrise, among the many things I will so miss about Boulder City is the May 17th event at Bicentennial Park. In its fourth iteration, just passed, it has grown substantially and promises to be a fixture of the city’s event-filled May calendar for a long time to come.
It is also one of the more prideful accomplishments in my life as I was very much involved in its initiation. Five years ago, both area Sons of Norway lodges held their own potluck picnics in local parks, enjoying conversations and hot dogs with 50 or so fellow lodge members.
Then, Boulder City’s Lettie Zimmerman joined our lodge board. At her first meeting she asked us why we chose to harbor several thousand dollars in our bank account. That set me to thinking, and I rechecked the national mission statement which is to “promote and preserve the heritage and culture of Norway.”
Large, citywide festivals abound in the U.S. for May 17th. Seattle and Brooklyn, with sizable populations of Norwegian immigrants, have notable ones. The upper Midwest, where most immigrants came in the 19th century, have many, with the one in Decorah, Iowa, deemed the most authentic and the one in little Stoughton, Wisconsin, holding a three-day celebration that is considered to be the biggest in the world, including Norway.
Southern California, where those Midwestern Norwegian-American settlers moved once they figured out there were places where it didn’t snow eight months a year, has all sorts of Syttende Mai activities.
It seemed that emulating these festivities, with their emphasis on Norwegian music, baked goods, grilled sausages, parades and drink, was a far better way to “promote and preserve Norwegian culture,” even if it cost us some money.
Zimmerman provided invaluable assistance in working with Roger Hall with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to arrange the park, grill, tables and chairs and the police department for parade escort. She obtained their commitment for their colorful mounted police unit, Scott Pastore and Odie, who showed up with a mounted police posse. Six handsome horses and riders appeared out of nowhere to dominate the grill area and stun the crowd. They spent an hour or more around Bicentennial Park and won hearts for donning Viking helmets as they stood, mounted, alongside the Viking ship.
Other Boulder City locals who play a major role in organizing the event are Krishun Stanton, who oversees the food operations, and her husband, Olaf, of Characters Unlimited. Bob Nelson was everywhere in his handsome orange pickup, hauling tables and chairs, bringing ice and hauling away trash.
About 400 attendees enjoyed a record number of classic cars for the parade. Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske made her perennial appearance with twin granddaughters in tow. She made a few public comments about her half-Norwegian heritage (she even makes lefse herself). They rode in the Stantons’ classic Beetle convertible.
The raffle offered a goodly number of high-end prizes in the “tricky-tray” individual bags format.
The larger Las Vegas area Sons of Norway lodge had joined us last year, which made a huge difference in terms of volunteer hands, ideas and their wonderful replica Viking era boat. Their ship, “Ormen Korte,” really classes up the midway as well as the parade.
Jim Gillette was able to get his Boulder City Eagles marching band out for us this year, despite their busy schedule in the last week of school. No parade is quite complete without a good marching band.
Mark 5 p.m. Sunday, May 17, on your 2020 calendar. We always celebrate on the actual day. You don’t have to have a drop of Scandinavian blood to enjoy this fun family event at Bicentennial Park.
Dave Nelson retired to Boulder City in 2003 after a career with the FICO score company. He is vice president for the local Sons of Norway.