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Excerpts taken from the departmental history, written on the occasion of the University of North Dakota centennial celebration in 1983, will briefly sketch the Norwegian-related events at UND since the appointment of the first language faculty member, Webster Merrifield, in July 1884. The following segments have been taken from the publication History of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, University of North Dakota 1883-1983 by Wynona H. Wilkins, Rosine Tenenbaum, William I. Morgan, Paul J. Schwartz, and Bruno Hildebrandt.
"In 1891 the state legislature passed a law requiring the teaching of Scandinavian languages at the University. The Regents opposed the law, which had been pushed by the Norwegian minority in the state as early as 1884 when a group from Fargo has petitioned for the appointment of one of their "race" to the faculty of the state university. When the act was passed, only 10 of 129 students at the University were of Norwegian origin and Lutheran by affiliation. The first professor of Norwegian was a clergyman, the Reverend George T. Rygh, appointed assistant professor Scandinavian and instructor in English. Because there was so little demand for Norwegian instruction, he spent most of his time teaching Greek and English and well as courses in American history. In 1893 he taught only one Norwegian course per semester—the largest class with 8 students, the smallest with only one. He resigned in 1895, and no successor was appointed until 1898. In the interim, C. J. Rollefeson, professor of physics, taught a few Norwegian classes. Only after 1900 was a chair of Scandinavian languages established, more for political expediency than as a result of student demand. […]
John Tingelstad arrived in 1901 as the first full-time professor of Scandinavian languages, and he taught German courses as well. He had come to the United States from Norway in 1879 at the age of seventeen and graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. For fifteen years he was a Lutheran minister and principal of a private academy. His appointment to the University was deferred for a year so that he could spend time in Norway and Iceland. Within a few months of his arrival in Grand Forks, the University's Iceland alumni had formed an Icelandic Association and planned to buy the 'finest Icelandic library in the world.'"
The next year, Asle J. Gronna, member of the Board of Trustees and later U. S. Senator, launched a campaign among Norwegians to obtain 5000 volumes for the library. In 1905 Tingelstad went to Europe to get the first installment of the collection. It was official inaugurated on May 17, 1906 with an all-day celebration. The new prestige of the department brought an increase in the number of Scandinavian students. In 1904-5, 78 of the 337 students enrolled at the University were Norwegian either by birth or ancestry. […]
Tingelstad retired in 1929 as head of the Scandinavian department, and Richard Beck (Ph.D., Cornell) took the position in the fall of that year. Beck, of Icelandic origin, wrote many volumes of verse as well as numerous articles on Icelandic and other Scandinavian subjects. He published two major works: History of Scandinavian Literature (Dial Press, 1939) and History of Icelandic Poets, 1800-1940 (Cornell University Press, 1940). […]
In 1953 the various languages taught at the University were united in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. Adolph M. Rovelstad, Classics, and Henry Haxo, French, had retired after long careers, leaving Richard Beck, who had been teaching Scandinavian languages since 1929, as the senior faculty member. He became head of the newly united department and served in this capacity until 1963. […]
Scandinavian remained a one-man department until 1962, when Arne Brekke (Ph.D., Chicago) joined Richard Beck. Beck was one of the two most active scholars in the department during the period until his retirement in 1969, writing many articles and speaking widely. He was the first speaker in the Faculty Lecture Series. He was promoted to University Professor in 1964 and was awarded an honorary degree by UND after his retirement. Brekke, who also taught German during his first years on campus, has also been very much involved in Scandinavian/American activities locally and throughout the state. He served as chairman of the department from 1969 to 1971. Brekke was assisted in Norwegian until 1972, first by Odd Løvoll and then by Jan Daniloff. […]
In the late 1950's, the John G. Arneberg scholarships were established for students with particular interest and excellence in French, German, and Norwegian. At first awards were rather small and given to only a few students, but the Arneberg scholarships became increasingly important as the years passed in giving language students an opportunity to study and travel abroad. […]
The department received additional scholarship endowments to supplement the Arneberg and Thormsgard awards [in the 1970's]. Donations by Paul Larsen, Marguerite Rodgers, Andrew Honve, and Arthur Saastad created scholarship funds for language study on campus and abroad."
Faythe Dyrud Thureen, originally hired as a lecturer in French, began to teach Norwegian in the fall of 1988 as Arne Brekke had retired the previous spring. Faythe taught for close to two decades before she retired in the spring of 2006 to focus on her writing. While teaching at UND, she was more than just an instructor as she was very active and well-known in the Grand Forks community, helping out with everything Norwegian.
In October 2004, the University of North Dakota hosted the Norway Seminar (Norgesseminaret) thanks to Mrs. Thureen's hard work. (The Norway Seminar is an annual event sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs). She is the author of two children's books: Jenna's Big Jump (1993) and Troll Meets Trickster (2005).
Mr. Kim Kristvåg Pedersen was hired as Faythe Thureen's assistant in 1996 and started teaching part-time in 1998 and full-time in January 2000. He has taught the two introductory courses of Norwegian at UND every semester since the Spring of 2000. When Faythe Thureen retired in 2006, Mr. Steven Finney was hired to run the Norwegian program until a tenure-track position could be filled. Mr. Finney started teaching Norwegian in the Spring of 2005 when the demand for Norwegian was so high that the scheduled sections had to be split up. Steve has twice taught at the American College of Norway in Moss.
Melissa Gjellstad (Ph.D., University of Washington) was hired in August 2008 as a tenure-track faculty member in Norwegian. With a research specialty in contemporary Norwegian literature (1990s-today) and gender studies, Dr. Gjellstad writes and publishes on recent fiction - often with a keen eye to how feminism and masculinity studies inform the texts.