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Local legislator enjoys vacation in Norway, Finland

October 22, 2007

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

State Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) had the pleasure in September of standing on the very spot where his great, great, great grandfather had a farm in Naesstuga, Norway.

Standing in that place where Halvor Munson Ness farmed in 1846 was the highlight of Urdahl’s vacation, Sept. 6-20, to Finland and Norway, he said.

“We were tracing roots,” Urdahl said, adding that he did get in some legislative business, however, by visiting the world-renowned school system in Finland.

Urdahl’s wife, Karen, and his father-in-law and wife, Bill and Evie Frantti of St. Cloud, also went along to visit relatives in Finland.

The Ness farm in Norway, which is northwest of Oslo in the western fiord region, was mountainous, rocky and didn’t have much tillable land. Also, farms generally went to the eldest sons during Ness’s lifetime, Urdahl said.

As a result, Ole Ness, one of the younger brothers, needed land. He went to Wisconsin first, and then settled in Litchfield Township in Minnesota in 1856. The Lutheran congregation, that later built the Ness Church southwest of Litchfield, gathered to worship in his granary in 1858, Urdahl said.

Urdahl visited a Ness Church in Norway as well. The original church’s foundation, built in the 14th century, is still there. A second church in Nesbeyen was built in 1860. It has a stone monument to the Napoleonic War, that lists Halvor Ness’s name. Urdahl made a rubbing of it, he said.

While in Odda, at the end of the southern fiord region, Urdahl visited 13 relatives, and not all were distant relatives either.

Urdahl stood in the house of his great, great, great, great, great grandfather. “The room was exactly as he left it in 1840. They hadn’t changed it,” Urdahl said.

Urdahl also marveled at the many old churches he saw in both Norway and Finland, some dating back to the 12th century. They treasure old buildings, he said.

“Everywhere you turn it’s like a postcard,” Urdahl said.

Big waterfalls tumbled into spectacular mountainous scenery, he added.

Restaurants are extremely expensive in Norway, though, he said. Eating at McDonalds cost the equivalent of $25 for the two of them. At a full-service restaurant it was $100, he said.

Norway has a 25 percent tax on services, Urdahl explained.

That’s why the Urdahls ate in relatives’ homes as much as possible. The food was wonderful.

“It was the best lake trout I’ve ever had,” he said.

Urdahl also couldn’t help overindulging, he said. He recalls eating three helpings of Rommegrot, a type of porridge with cinnamon and sugar on top.

Norwegians usually served dessert twice, immediately after the meal, and again with coffee, he said.

They often have creamy desserts, such as custard or bundt cakes with creamy fillings. Their hosts also served heaping bowls of whipped cream to put on top.

“I thought I went to whipping cream heaven,” Urdahl said.

The first week of the vacation, the Urdahls and Franttis went to Jaali, Finland, where not only did they visit relatives, but also Urdahl got in some work checking out the school system. He went to a high school in Kalajokim, north of Helsinki, and on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia.

He visited an English class and met with the principal of the school. The principal attributed the success of the Finnish system to the quality of its teachers. They all are required to have Masters degrees, Urdahl said.

Coincidentally, when they later went to Norway and met Einar Dorum, a member of the Norwegian parliament, Dorum also was studying the Finnish school model, and why it was so successful.

In addition, Urdahl visited a dairy farm, and was amazed at how mechanized it was. The farmer had 60 cows and he never touched them. A laser focused on the cow’s udder so a computer could calculate where to attach the milkers. The cows were milked two and half times a day. Dairy farmers in Finland get $26 for every hundred-weight for milk, Urdahl added.

Most of Finland looks just like northern Minnesota, all pine trees and lakes, he said.

Although the temperature was in the 50s, Urdahl was interested in seeing the seashore near Kalajoki, which is called the Finnish Riveria when it’s warm in the summer. It was characterized by big sand dunes, he said.

In addition, throughout Finland and Norway, the Urdahls always found people who were able to speak English. Urdahl tried to learn a phrase in Norwegian to at least greet people, but he didn’t speak it very well, he said.

After much coaching in how to pronounce the words correctly, Urdahl greeted a woman with the phrase. She quickly responded she didn’t speak English, even though what he said to her was in Norwegian.

District 18B includes the cities of Annandale, Cokato, Howard Lake, and South Haven, and the townships of Cokato, Corinna, French Lake, Middleville, Stockholm, and Southside in Wright County, and extends west into Meeker County.