The Skien Connection
History of Minot and Skien - A Sister City Relationship
In 1981, a Sister City relationship began between Minot and Skien, Norway. Since then, great things have happened. Hundreds of Skien residents, including an official annual delegation, have attended Norsk Høstfest and the Minot area. In return, Høstfest has sent delegations to Skien for its 100-year anniversary and Handelsstevne. Among North Dakotans who traveled to Skien were former Govs. Guy, Schafer and Sinner as well as many Høstfest board and staff members.
Known as The Hands Across The Sea program, this Sister City relationship has proven to be a very rewarding and warm experience for both Minot and Skien. It all began when Norsk Høstfest Association president Chester Reiten, then Mayor of Minot, learned about other Sister City relationships and thought it important to tie Norsk Høstfest into a relationship with a city in Norway. Høstfest Assocation board member Allen O. Larson, owner of Minot's Creative Printing, developed the "Hands Across the Sea" slogan, which has continued to be used for the past 24 years.
Reiten consulted Carrol Juven, of Juven Travel in Fargo, about an appropriate Norwegian city to approach. Juven, who speaks fluent Norwegian, has sent many tours from the North Dakota-Minnesota area to Norway and recommended the city of Skien in Telemark, Norway. Skien was one of the oldest cities in Norway with a population similar to that of Minot. In addition, Telemark has been the home to the largest number of Norwegians who immigrated to North Dakota.
Norwegian Consul General Olaf Sollie and Juven paved the way for Reiten's visit to Skien. Reiten admits to having second thoughts once he was in Norway.
"Upon arriving in Oslo, I took a train down to Bø, Norway, a city about 40 miles from Oslo," Reiten said. "On the way to Bø, I thought I must be crazy. I had not heard from anyone in Skien, I knew no one there and my ability to speak Norwegian left much to be desired."
But when he arrived, Anund Roheim, Norway's top hardanger fiddle player, and Ragnhild Hagen, a resident of Ytterbø Gard and owner of a large farm, greeted him. They were waving an American flag.
In Skien, Reiten was introduced to Mayor Halvor Aas, his city manager Enride Hungnes, and Kjell Strand, a local bank owner and operator of a large retail store. They took him to City Hall, Brekke Park Museum and various other city attractions. The following day the Norwegians took Reiten to Morgedal to see Eivind Strondi, a grand nephew of Sondre Norheim. Strondi showed Reiten the small cabin where Norheim, the father of modern skiing, had lived. It was in this cabin that the flame for the Norway Olympics originated.
A movie Reiten was shown about Sondre Norheim concluded by saying Norheim had immigrated to America and was now buried in an unknown grave on the North Dakota prrairies. However, shortly before Reiten's trip to Norway, Leonard Lund of the Minot Daily News had written an article about the discovery of Sondre's grave at Norway Church near Denbrigh, N.D., about 40 miles east of Minot. Reiten promised to assume responsibility for erecting a statue honoring Sondre Norheim in Minot. A pair of Sondre Norheim's skis from the Morgedal Museaum was given to Reiten, and they still hang in the Norsk Høstfest Association office in Minot.
"Later, I was told that I just came in and announced that Skien was now a Sister City of Minot," Reiten recalled. "They concluded that is how the Americans did business; however, they did agree to become the Sister City of Minot. I invited them all to come to Norsk Høstfest in the fall and they did. They had a great time."
In 1983, Skien officials invited Reiten to the Telemark Handelsstevne in Skien. Before leaving, Reiten wrote Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid, the sister of His Royal Majesty King Olav V, inviting her to Høstfest. He hadn't heard from her by the time he arrived in Norway, so he requested a meeting with her. He was told no one ever asked the Royal family what their plans were, but he was later granted a meeting and by the time he left, she had agreed to come to Høstfest.
With financial assistance from Ragnhild Hagen, Norway and Høstfest, two Sondre Norheim statues had been jointly commissioned, one for Minot and one for Morgedal, Norway. Norwegian artist Knut Skinnarland completed the sculptures and in 1987, the Minot sculpture was unveiled in the Scandinavian Heritage Park during Høstfest week. In January 1988, Morgedal officials invited Reiten to attend the unveiling at Morgedal. The trip opened doors for Reiten to meet the King of Norway, His Royal Majesty King Olav V.
In the years since the Sister City relationship was established, many personal friendships have been established among residents of both cities. Each year, Skien sends an official delegation to attend Høstfest and the annual Høstfest Norway Tour always includes a stop at Skien. An university exchange program has also been established in the past years, with a Minot State University student studying in Telemark, and a Telemark student coming to MSU.
The Sister City relationship has proven to be beneficial for both communities, truly demonstrating the benefits of extending "Hands Across the Sea."