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Doeden reflects on Norwegian heritage

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Phyllis Doeden sits with some cooking utensils including a sausage maker and lefse board at her rural Worthington home.

WORTHINGTON -- Her father's parents were from Norway, her mother's parents were from Sweden, and her great-uncle's beard is in the Smithsonian.

"Hans Langseth is really my only claim to fame," said Phyllis Doeden of Worthington, who was chosen to represent Norway in the Daily Globe's "Our Diverse Community" series.

Hans was listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records" for having the longest beard -- a stunning 17 1/2 feet long. After he died, his sons cut the beard off their father's face and it is now in the Smithsonian.

Doeden, who has visited the family farms in Norway and Sweden, said her family was very focused on traditional Scandinavian foods.

Her mother came from a family of 10 kids, which is a lot of mouths to feed.

"They had a lot of gardens and she canned everything in sight," Doeden said. "My dad butchered beef, we rendered our own lard and had all kinds of poultry."

Food was very important, she said, and there was no such thing as stopping in to visit someone without going in for coffee. "Having coffee" always meant cake, cookies and sandwiches.

"For holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, the whole families would get together," she added. "That meant Swedish meatballs, lefse and lutefisk. I can eat whole bowls of lutefisk."

Sugar cookies with brown sugar were a must, as were bread pudding, soft cheese and rice pudding. Christmas always meant the making of fruit soup.

"My mom would dry apples," Doeden said. "She'd cut them in long rings and string them across the stove to dry."

The Scandinavians use lots of root crops, and all of the households included a root cellar for carrots, rutabagas and potatoes.

"We had a cool room in our house," Doeden said.

Her mother always had doughnuts in the house, and the families all kept two or three cows so there would be milk, cream and butter for cooking.

During her two visits to the family farms in the "old country," distant relatives knew they were coming.

"It was a big thing to have the American cousins there," Doeden said. "Tables were set fancy, there were white linens, and the meals were served in courses. They served us elk from the farm for the main course."

Family has always been important, she said, and going back to visit the graves of her great-grandparents was an honor.

Her mother's mother came across the ocean on a boat from Sweden, but there are no records about her husband.

Ole Nelson, her father's father, travelled by boat to America with his wife and children. His wife died in childbirth during the voyage, but a woman on the ship helped him care for the little ones. The two were married within in the year, and arrived in Worthington on May 15, 1873.

"The Langseths made hay and shipped in to Chicago, owned a bank for awhile, and were more adventurous," Doeden said. "The Nystroms had big orchards full of apples and plums. I live on a farm my grandparents homesteaded. The first house was ordered from Sears & Roebuck and was assembled by number."

Scandinavian immigrants felt at home in southwest Minnesota, Doeden said, because it reminded them of their home countries.

"There was rich country here, but they had to plant a lot of trees," she added.

Doeden sleeps in a bed made in the 1880s, has a spinning wheel that crossed the ocean with the Nystrom clan, and owns lamps that were made in the 1800s.

"Ethics and faith were very important to both sides of my family, and you were in church every Sunday unless there was a blizzard and no one could get out," she said. "Our ancestors in Europe farmed, so my family came into it naturally when they moved here."

After her kids were born, Doeden worked as a public health nurse, while helping get fields ready to plow and hauling grain in from the field. Her three children became a nurse, a special education teacher and a science teacher.

"My son Tim lives on the farm where his great-grandparents homesteaded," she added. "I have seven grandkids, and I love to go to their school games."

Doeden spends the rest of her time being active in the community, doing volunteer work and helping out at her church's food pantry.