Heritage event, sister city effort illuminate Norwegian ties
0Lise Kristiansen’s family hails from Bodø. She has visited the northern Norway town many times, but it wasn’t she who suggested it as a Gig Harbor sister city.
“My mother’s from Bodø, but I did not pick the town,” she said. “It was picked before I arrived (in March), so it was serendipitous that Gig Harbor picked that town as the one they wanted to be a sister city with.”
The recommendation came from Natalie Wimberley, whose family was stationed there while her Air Force pilot husband participated in a military exchange with the Royal Norwegian Air Force. They settled in Gig Harbor after he retired in 2017.
“They fell in love with the city of Bodø (pronounced Boo-dah), Kristiansen said. “She said Gig Harbor should pick this wonderful city that her husband worked at.”
It’s a happy coincidence, too, that both women wound up here and became members of the Gig Harbor Sister Cities board, which is close to formalizing the relationship. The Bodø mayor is taking the request to her municipal council and expects it to be approved by early January. The agreement must also be signed by the Gig Harbor mayor and confirmed by the City Council.
Many Norwegian farmers and fishermen settled in the Gig Harbor area, drawn by the resemblance to their homeland. They rivaled Croatians as the largest ethnic group in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“I can see why,” said Kristiansen, who holds dual citizenship, worked for an Oslo oil company and is the Norwegian honorary consul for Alaska. “There are so many similarities. The water. Nature. It’s fascinating to me how many Norwegians were drawn to this area, but I get it.”
The area’s Norwegian culture will be celebrated Friday during an event at Harbor History Museum. Heritage in the Harbor will provide an opportunity to hear about the sister city proposal while enjoying Norwegian food (not lutefisk), drinks and music.
The Norwegian ambassador to the United States will offer a taped greeting. Wimberley will emcee the free 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. event. Speakers will include Kristiansen; her 20-year-old son Espen Falskow, who attended school in Norway and sailed around the world on a Norwegian tall ship; Gig Harbor Mayor Kit Kuhn; museum director Stephanie Lile; and the development director from the National Nordic Museum in Ballard. Funding is provided by the Norwegian Consolate General in San Francisco and Heritage Distilling Co.
The village of Bodø is the administrative center within the municipality by the same name. They have populations of 42,000 and 52,000, respectively, and lie just north of the Arctic Circle. Between fjords and mountains, the area features spectacular nature and a rich cultural life. Bodø, which experiences midnight sun in the summer and northern lights in the winter, has been named a European Capital of Culture for 2024.
The sister city effort began nearly 20 years ago, but dissolved in 2003 after the main proponent moved. Bob Anderson, then president of the North Gig Harbor Rotary, reinitiated it in 2020. He created a board of directors from members of the area’s three Rotaries, with him as chairman. More members have been added since.
“We took the position that if the Rotary backed it, it would give a sister city organization more stability than just having one person taking the initiative,” said Anderson, who helped to establish two sister cities when he lived in Iowa.
They presented the proposal to the mayor and City Council and received approval to proceed.
Sister Cities International was created by President Eisenhower in 1956. He envisioned an organization that could be the hub of peace and prosperity by creating bonds between people from different cities around the world. He believed that people of different cultures could celebrate and appreciate their differences and build partnerships that would lessen the chance of conflicts. Sister cities partake in exchanges in arts and culture, business and trade, youth and education, and community development.
The Heritage in the Harbor date was chosen to coincide with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo and the dedication of peace poles at Swift Water and Evergreen elementary schools. They will be the fifth and sixth poles Rotary has helped to erect at local schools, said Anderson, who established the Iowa Peace Institute and Iowa Resource for International Service.
Peace poles are the symbol of the group May Peace Prevail On Earth International that was founded in Japan more than 50 years ago to spread the universal message of peace. There are now more than 200,000 poles worldwide.
Gig Harbor Sister Cities is also working on forming sister cities on the Croatian island of Brač, and to create an all-encompassing Heritage Day “to convince all members to learn more about their heritage and celebrate together, said Anderson, who is Norwegian, Swedish, German, Irish and English. “The goal would be to make our differences bring us together.”