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Duluth women recall 1968 royal visit

The visit of King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway, planned for October, won't be the first by a sitting monarch in the Twin Ports. His father, Olav, who came to Duluth to dedicate Enger Tower in 1939 as crown prince, made a brief return visit in...

Royal visit
King Olav of Norway is greeted by Arna Rennan and Annette Pettersen, who are dressed in bunads, traditional Norwegian dresses. They met the king at the Duluth International Airport in 1968. (1968 News Tribune file)

The visit of King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway, planned for October, won't be the first by a sitting monarch in the Twin Ports.

His father, Olav, who came to Duluth to dedicate Enger Tower in 1939 as crown prince, made a brief return visit in 1968 as king.

In a frenetic two hours, Olav arrived at Duluth International Airport, took a motorcade to deliver an address at what was then Superior State University (now the University of Wisconsin-Superior) to inaugurate a new Scandinavian studies program, boarded a Norwegian vessel at the Duluth port terminal, took a private yacht back across the harbor to what was then known as the Arena-Auditorium, and delivered a second address there, according to the May 6, 1968, edition of the News Tribune. No specific reason was given for Olav's visit, nor was his itinerary elsewhere in the United States listed.

Amid a who's-who of Twin Ports celebrities, the first people to greet the king at the airport were two 13-year-old girls: Arna Rennan and Annette Pettersen, both the daughters of Norwegian parents who had immigrated to Duluth.

Both live in the region today and are looking forward to King Harald's visit.

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"It's reaffirming our natural connection with Norway," said Rennan, now of Normanna Township. "It strengthens the ties."

Pettersen, now Annette Larson of Gnesen Township, said, "I think it's kind of amazing that he's coming to Duluth. ... And there are Norwegians all over the country. So I think we're kind of privileged that he's coming."

The women, both 56, were born two weeks apart, and their mothers were close friends. The women have

*emained friends all their lives and say they're like sisters. Rennan lived in Norway for 13 years after graduating from high school. Larson has paid relatively short visits, but both women continue to embrace their Norwegian heritage. They cherish the bunads -- traditional Norwegian costumes -- their mothers wore on the day the king came.

The News Tribune story from 1968 mentioned the bouquet of red roses offered to the king by "two young Duluth girls dressed in Norwegian native costume."

Both remember being nervous on the day of Olav's visit.

"There were military troops on both sides, so it was extremely formal," Rennan said. "Of course the king himself is just nothing but smiles, and in good Norwegian fashion, there's a firm handshake and a nod of the head."

Larson added: "It was exciting. It was a big thing to meet the king of Norway. And Arna and I did it together. That was fun, too, because we had been friends for many years."

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Each girl had memorized a short welcoming speech in Norwegian.

Pettersen spoke first, saying: "Me and my parents wish your majesty a heartfelt welcome to Duluth."

Rennan, who handed the king the roses, said: "This is a greeting from all the Norwegian organizations in Duluth."

Later, when Olav spoke to an Arena crowd the newspaper estimated at 1,500, he noted that many Norwegian immigrants to the United States had settled in prairies and plains "so different from the home country."

"But quite a few settled on the rugged shores of Lake Superior," he went on. "By the great lake they felt at home. Here you have the sea, the mountains, the forests, the timber, the ore, as we have, and the great out-of-doors."

The similarity of the North Shore to the Norwegian coastline often is mentioned, but Rennan thinks it's a bit of a reach.

"People say there's great similarities between Duluth and Norway," she said. "And I'd say relatively speaking -- relative to Fargo. ... To me it's a vague similarity, really."

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Dresses
Annette (Pettersen) Larson and Arna Rennan display the dresses their mothers wore when King Olav visited Duluth in 1968. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

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