The Norwegian Township Board, along with the township’s 4-H Club chapter, will be hosting a 150th township anniversary picnic Aug. 20.
Township officials pictured, from left, Jane Knorr, Mary Bongers, Eric Nelson, Larry Hovland, and Jeff Holt.

By Louis Hoglund 

Current and past residents of the most Norwegian “metropolitan” area, outside Oslo, are invited to a 150th birthday party. 

And, unlike the old days, you won’t need to understand the Norwegian language to have a good time. 

August 20 is the date for a picnic in the heart of Norwegian Grove Township. Hosted by the town board and the Norwegian Grove 4-H Club, the event is from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

Norwegian Grove could just as well be named “Lutefisk Township.” Places just don’t get more Norwegian. Even its prominent water body, Lake Olaf, is named after Norwegian royalty. 

Standing ready to serve will be the township officers, along with the 4-H’ers—who are members of one of the more active 4-H units in the area. 

Town board members are Jeff Holt, Eric Nelson, and Larry B. Hovland. Treasurer is Mary Bongers, and the clerk is Jane Knorr. 

Population today is listed at 300.

Norwegian Grove Township was organized January 7, 1873. 

The township was settled entirely by people from Norway, according to the “History of Otter Tail County Minnesota Its People, Industries and Institutions,” by John W. Mason, Editor, 1916.

“The heavy immigration of Norwegians into congressional township 136, range 44, in the early seventies, was responsible for a petition from these worthy citizens…This petition was presented to the county commissioners … and at the request of the petitioners the township was called Norwegian Grove.”

The township was originally a part of Wilkin County, but by the legislative act of 1872… it was attached to Otter Tail County… Two townships were organized out of range 44: Norwegian Grove and Western; two others, Oscar and Trondhjem, were organized at the July session the same year. All of these townships except Western were settled nearly entirely by natives of Norway.

Generally speaking, nearly all of the township is excellent farming territory, and it was this fact which brought in so many settlers early in the history of the county, wrote Mason in 1916.

The first post office was called Norwegian Grove. As early as 1880, there was a store, blacksmith shop, and church. The post office being discontinued in 1905. For some years, there was a post office by the name Center Grove in section 28, but it was discontinued in 1903, when rural free delivery was established out of Pelican Rapids. 

Looking at a historic 1884 platbook, there was hardly a single name in Norwegian Grove without a Scandinavian ring to it. And, interestingly, some of those names are familiar still today–with parcels of land evidently remaining in the family, several generations later. 

Here are just a few of the names: Evenson, Erickson, Lynnes, Aas, Kopperud, Sillerud, Kjosfolson, Arneson, Gullickson, Thorstenson, Gunderson—and a whole bunch of Larsons, Johnsons, Hansons, Thompsons, Olsons and Nelsons. There’s a Hans Huseby-owned parcel.

Several large tracts within the township in 1884 were owned by the SPM and M rail company. Oddly enough, there is one strip of land on the northwest corner of Norwegian Grove owned, evidently, by a competing rail outfit: the St. Paul and Chicago Railroad Company. 

‘Mr. Norwegian Grove,’ the late Ernie Hovland served township for nearly a third of its 150 year history

Ernie Hovland

Call him “Mr. Norwegian Grove.”

The late Ernie Hovland served on the Norwegian Grove for nearly a third of its entire 150-year history.

Hovland died in 2019, at age 97. Over the course of his lifelong residency in Norwegian Grove, he served nearly a half-century on the board—to age 92. 

The Hovlands are deeply embedded in the history of the township. In fact, a Hovland is serving on the board today, Larry B. Hovland. 

Hovland was a rural farm guy–and citizen–in his lifelong involvement in the cooperative movement and ag education, such as 4-H. 

Ernie served on the Park Region Cooperative board for nearly 40 years. He was also active in his church, North Immanuel Lutheran, where he also served in various church governing positions. 

Born east of Rothsay, Hovland was married to Darlene (Stephenson) for nearly 70 years. Hovland remained active on the farm until about age 80.

Being active in civics and government has been a constant for Hovland, dating even to his youth–when he won purple ribbons at the county and state level for his project on “how government should be run.”

Hovland told the Press a few years before he died that he was concerned about the decline of young people showing an interest in serving. A true believer in grassroots government, Hovland said townships keep government closer to the people. 

“I’d like to get more young people involved in township government,” said Hovland, who recalls when township officers earned about five bucks per meeting. 

“I’ve always enjoyed it…We always had good people to work with. Not only on the board, but the residents of the township. Very few complaints over the years,” said Hovland. “Actually, it went by real fast.” 

He never graduated from high school, but he was still offered an essentially free college education at the University of Minnesota Crookston. His father, Joseph Hovland, at age 50, suffered a stroke in the early 1940s. With his dad debilitated and his mother Alma running the farm, Ernie made a lifelong career on the family farm.

 Ernie once said that he is perhaps proudest of the fact that the Norwegian Grove 4-H club has continued to be a positive activity for youth; just as it was for Ernie Hovland, during the years of the Great Depression. 

Norwegian Grove’s early citizens in 1873 reads like an Oslo phone book—or Viking runestone

The petition asking for the organization of Norwegian Grove township 150 years ago included a long list of Norse names—names that could have just as well been pulled from a Viking Runestone. 

 The first election was held at the house of Ole Johanneson Tolrud. The commissioner’s record states that August Lorentzen, J. Torkelson, and Arne Engebritson were to post the notices and have general charge of the election.

Following are the petitioners listed: Ole Johanneson Tolrud, Martin Johnson, Ole K. Gullekson, Arne Olson, Ole A. Lund, Ole Olson Holt, Hans Thompson, Johanny G. Tollerud, D. Christenson, E. C. Thomkins, Arne Engebritson, Torsten Olsen, Brede Olson, Edward Elasen, E. M. Vungrud, Hans Anderson, Andreas Erikson, Paul Visenstad, Carl Hansen, Andreas Johanson, Jacob Torkelson, Hans Hanson Husby,        Ole Neilsen Viste, and Ole T. Nyhaugen.

Norwegian Grove 4-H to co-host township’s 150th picnic

The Norwegian Grove 4-H Club will co-host the township’s 150th-anniversary picnic on August 20, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Many of the young members are pictured above during the litter pick-up of Highway 108 West. 

Front row left to right:

Tyson Nordick, Mia Jenkins, Victor Jenkins, Emma King

Standing Left to right:

David Jenkins, MaryBeth Breen, Rachal Breen, Kasjen Meyer, Noah Ostermann, Jorden Nordick, Vincent Jenkins, Olivia Holt, Brylee Meyer, Jace Meyer, Kloie Nordick, Lucas Holt, Max Ostermann, Ryan King, Mason Ostermann 

Also pictured, right, the Norwegian Grove 4H group during Pelican Rapids Veterans Park clean-up last spring. 

The club worked on cleaning up garbage around the park and river. The club also cleaned out the flower gardens of old plant matter and trimmed perennials.