Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

July 13 show

Swedish and Norwegian immigration

This old Swedish “skola” (school) in Porter, Ind., was built in 1881.Much turf remains to be explored in our rotating shows about ethnic immigration to the Hoosier state, even though we already have explored German, Irish, Scottish, Cuban, Italian, Greek, Colombian, Brazilian and even Sikh heritage in Indiana.

Now the turf will involve scenic homelands with fjords, the midnight sun, seafood and ship-builders.

That's because Nelson and his guests will explore Swedish and Norwegian immigration to Indiana, a topic that involves a legendary football coach at the University of Notre Dame, an organ factory in Chesterton, heritage groups scattered across the state and the Studebaker Brothers in South Bend, even though the wagon- and car-making brothers were of German ancestry themselves.

Show guest Jim Nelson in Oslo, Norway, in 2011, in front of the Norwegian parliament building.Our show will be timely because the Indianapolis-area lodge of Vasa Order of America, which was founded to assist Swedish immigrants, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Named in honor of the first king of modern Sweden, King Gustav Vasa, Vasa has broadened its mission to welcome anyone interested in Nordic culture, including Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic and Finnish heritage.

Full disclosure: Our host Nelson is particularly passionate about this topic because his ancestry is Norwegian. His maternal great-grandparents emigrated in steerage on ocean liners, separately, from Trondheim (Norway's third-largest city) and Bergen, a coastal town. Nelson's parents are members of the Circle City Lodge of Sons of Norway, a heritage group that also has lodges in Fort Wayne, South Bend and Chesterton.

Trade card for Hillstrom Organ Manufacturing of Chesterton, Ind., c. 1900. Owner Charles O. Hillstrom was Swedish, as were most workers.Nelson will be joined in studio by three guests, one of whom also is a Sons of Norway member. Jim Nelson, a music teacher in Greenwood, is the descendant of Norwegian immigrants, grew up in Chesterton, lived in Norway for more than 18 years and has taught Scandinavian studies at colleges in Minnesota, Canada and Norway. He has given presentations about Norwegian immigration, as well as about Norwegians in the Civil War.

To share insights about our state's Swedish heritage, Nelson will welcome an old friend and colleague, Vasa member Jim Lindgren, a Fishers resident whose ancestry is 100 percent Swedish. Now an editor for Strategic Marketing and Research Inc. in Carmel, Jim Lindgren is a former colleague of Nelson from their years at the Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Star, where Jim was known for propping up a Swedish flag on his desk.

Nelson and the two Jims also will be joined by John Bevelhimer of Indianapolis, a retired IT specialist and past chairman of the local Vasa (Lodge Svea No. 253) who extensively researched its history for the recent centennial.

According to Peopling Indiana (Indiana Historical Society Press, 1996), Swedes and Norwegians who eventually came to Indiana tended to settle first in Chicago, then filter into the Hoosier state as a result of a second move.

The grandparents of both Nelson and Jim Lindgren lived in the Chicago area. In fact, Jim's great-grandfather, Nels Lindgren, owned a Swedish tavern in Chicago. The Andersonville neighborhood of the Windy City is historically Swedish.

John Bevelhimer, 2013.Scandinavian immigrants typically arrived in Indiana decades later than their German and Irish counterparts, often lured by whatever farmland remained unclaimed during the late 1800s and early 1900s. For early groups of Swedes, that often meant farmland in Porter County.

In the 1880s, an organ factory in Chesterton became the town's main industry and employed many Swedes and Norwegians, according to Peopling Indiana.

"Swedes were so dominant in Chesterton that in the 1880s the Chesterton Tribune occasionally ran front-page articles in the Swedish language," the book notes.

Jim Lindgren, 2013.Primarily, early Swedish settlements were in a part of northeast Porter County known as Bailleytown and surrounding areas near the Lake Michigan shore. According to our guest Jim Nelson, Swedish settlements large enough to establish and sustain Lutheran congregations - in addition to Chesterton - were in Plymouth, LaPorte, Donaldson, Michigan City, Porter, Chesterton, Gary, East Gary (later renamed Lake Station), Hobart and Whiting.

A section of Michigan City became known as "Swedeville," drawing Scandinavians seeking jobs in shipping and lumber. Peopling Indiana notes that by 1890, three counties in northwest Indiana - Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties - included more than half of the state's Swedish-born residents.

Studebaker Brothers in South Bend actively recruited Swedish workers during the factory's heyday. Several of the mystery novels of contemporary author Jeanne Dams of South Bend focus on a resourceful Swedish immigrant working as a maid in one of the historic Studebaker mansions during the late 1800s.

This 1975 Norway stamp commemorates 150 years of Norwegian emigration to America.South Bend also became the adopted hometown of an icon in college football history. Knute Rockne, the famous Notre Dame coach who used the "win one for the Gipper" story as a motivational technique, was born in the Norwegian village of Voss. The South Bend Chocolate Company continues to market Knute Rockne lines of chocolates in tribute to "The Rock," who is credited with revolutionizing college football before his tragic death in a plane crash in 1931.

Some other fun facts:

  • The movie Song of Norway (1970), a musical about the life of classical composer Edvard Grieg, starred a famous Hoosier. Florence Henderson, a native of Dale, Ind., completed her role in the movie, which was filmed on location in Norway, just before she began the long-running TV series The Brady Bunch.
  • The former longtime mayor of West Lafayette is of Norwegian heritage. Sonya Margerum, who served as mayor for 24 years beginning in 1980, also was a longtime board member of her alma mater, St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
  • Col. Eli Lilly, the Civil War hero who founded the pharmaceutical business that became an international company, was of Swedish heritage.
  • Although the 30-year-old conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is Polish, Krzysztof Urbanski has a strong connection to Norway. Urbanski, the youngest person ever to lead a major North American orchestra, is simultaneously serving as chief conductor of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway.
  • On his right hand, our host Nelson always wears a family heirloom wedding ring from his Norwegian ancestors. His great-grandmother, Clara Jensen, gave it to his great-grandfather, Olaf Nelson, during their marriage ceremony.

"Learn more" websites include:

Roadtrip: Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and art playground in Columbus, Ind.

Children climb high in the air, with protective netting, at The Commons playground in Columbus, Ind.

Guest Roadtripper this week is one of Central Indiana's favorite foodies, Daina Chamness. She'll be reporting on a recent trip she took to Columbus, Ind., to check out the fabulous 1900 ice cream parlor Zaharakos in the 300 block of Washington Street there.

Right across the street is "The Commons," which boasts an elaborate children's playground.

Remember that the Columbus Visitors Center is in walking distance of these downtown attractions.

History Mystery

A well-known former political figure from Indiana is Norwegian-American on his mother's side. Her grandfather - the politician's great-grandfather - emigrated from Norway in the late 1800s.

The Hoosier politician, who won a series of statewide elections over a 20-year period beginning in the 1980s, took a trip with his mother to their ancestral homeland of Norway, as well as to other Scandinavian countries. The mother-son journey unfolded in the summer of 1978, following the son's graduation from Indiana University.

Indianapolis International Film Festival logo.Less than a year later - in April 1979 - the future politician's mother died of cancer. In her final years, she had crusaded to raise awareness of breast cancer.

Question: Name the former Indiana politician who is of Norwegian heritage in his maternal line.

Hint: His father, who is still living, also had a long political career and won statewide elections over a period of 20 years.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

The prize is a pair of tickets to the Indianapolis International Film Festival and a gift certificate to Dick's Bodacious Bar-B-Q. These prizes are courtesy of Visit Indy.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


Core Redevelopment logo.Lucas Oil

Indiana Landmarks logo.Story Inn

Indiana Historical Society logo.

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: Core Redevelopment | Indiana Historical Society | Indiana Landmarks | Lucas Oil | Story Inn.

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

July 20 show

Roots-tracing tips and advice

Maybe it happens more than once in a generation, but ask yourself: How often do you get free tips and advice about tracking down your family history?

A page from an 1858 Evansville, Ind., city directory lists residents in alphabetical order. Image courtesy Evansville City Directories Digital Archive.Knowing that genealogy can be intimidating and overwhelming, Hoosier History Live! will bring in some experts. They will include an acclaimed Hoosier who not only is considered one of the top genealogists in the state, but among the best in the country as well.

Curt Witcher is manager of the renowned genealogy center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne; it's generally regarded as the nation's best resource for roots-tracing except, perhaps, for the Mormon-affiliated resources in Salt Lake City. Curt also is former president of the National Genealogical Society.

In addition to Curt, Nelson will be joined in studio by two Indiana Historical Society staff members who will be leading an upcoming workshop about beginning genealogy.

"Start with What You Know" is the title of the workshop with Kendra Clausen, IHS oral history project archivist, and genealogist Allison DePrey, IHS assistant coordinator for education and community engagement, who will be guests on our show. (For more information about - or to register for - the July 27 workshop, which will be 10 a.m. to noon at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, contact the historical society.)

Vintage photograph of a boy and a girl in formal clothing. Old family photographs can be a great source for genealogists. Remember to always write as much information as possible on the back of the photos.Nelson and his guests will explore roots-tracing aspects galore. They will include tips on:

  • Using ancestry.com and launching your research.
  • Assessing the accuracy of diaries, letters, notations in family Bibles and other family documents.
  • Dealing with special challenges that involve ethnic immigration, as well as the ancestry of African-Americans and other minority populations.
  • Delving into the resources at the Allen County Public Library. A sample: It has the largest collection of city directories in the country. The library also has one of the largest collections of Canadian genealogy material.
  • Interviewing relatives.

This is an ideal show for listeners to call in and ask for advice in exploring family trees at (317) 788-3314.

Learn more:

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