PUBLISHED: 11:45 AM on Wednesday, February 2, 2005
Juneau Sons of Norway lodge celebrates 70th anniversary
When a group of immigrants from Trondheim in northern Norway decided to get together and provide a sort of mutual disaster fund for fellow Norwegian widows and orphans, they probably didn't realize the impact their idea would have.

Today, Sons of Norway, the fraternal organization started in Minneapolis in 1895, has grown into not only a life insurance company, but an organization aimed at preserving Norwegian heritage and culture conting over 60,000 members in 420 lodges all over the world.

And one of them, the Svalbard Lodge in Juneau, celebrated their 70th anniversary over the weekend by co-sponsoring the Juneau Symphony's Edvard Grieg concert, and by co-sponsoring a speech by Kim Nesselquist, executive director of the Norwegian American Foundation together with the Juneau World Affairs Council.

Svalbard Lodge President David Moe said the Sons of Norway Insurance Company today provides life insurance, annunities, retirement planning and other similar services. In the last five years, the company has started appointed independent agents -Eand recently, Southeast Alaska got two of them, Karl Stedman of Sitka and Susan Erickson at the Petersburg Insurance Agency in Petersburg.

The Svalbard Lodge is one of seven in Alaska; the others are located in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kodiak. At the time the Juneau lodge was founded, it was the northernmost in the organization, which explains why it got its name from the northernmost islands belonging to the Norwegian state.

The Ketchikan lodge was started in 1927, Moe said, "and Petersburg is the oldest; they organized before that."

"The other interesting thing," Moe said, "is that back in mining days there was the Northern Lights Lodge in Douglas, and the one in Juneau was called the Goldbelt Lodge, and formed in 1911."

Both lodges dissolved in the 1920s when the mines started closing.

Today, the Sons of Norway welcomes new members regardless of heritage, Moe said.

"We've broadened the language to not only include Scandinavians but anyone who's interested in Scandinavian culture."

And you don't have to be male, either. The organization started out as male-only, but started admitting women in the early 1920s, and today counts more women then men among their membership.

In addition to the insurance company and the heritage preservation, the Sons of Norway also has a foundation set up to give scholarships and grants and help with disaster relief.

"We have a very mixed group of people," said Moe. "People who are into geneaology, some people are into rosemaling; different people have different interests.