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Hostfest trip reunited four childhood friends

The four women taking in the annual Hostfest in Minot, N.D., together had much in common. All were first generation Americans of couples who immigrated to the United States from Norway. All used to live in Brooklyn. And 44 years earlier, three of...

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The four women taking in the annual Hostfest in Minot, N.D., together had much in common.

All were first generation Americans of couples who immigrated to the United States from Norway.

All used to live in Brooklyn.

And 44 years earlier, three of them were attendants in the fourth woman's wedding.

Brooklyn bride

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The bride was Signe Meier, who was born in Brooklyn but wound up spending much of her childhood under Nazi occupation in Norway.

Signe's parents planned to move to Norway in 1938. But her father was injured in a work-related accident and couldn't leave the United States until he was healed, due to insurance regulations.

So a plan was worked out. Mom, Signe and her 4-month-old brother moved to Norway in June that year and Dad would follow as soon as he was OK.

But then the Germans placed mines in the North Sea and both the United States and Norway stopped all passenger ships from sailing in that area.

Then came 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, which left Dad stranded in the United States while his family was in Norway under the Nazis.

It was especially traumatic for Signe because her mother was placed in a concentration camp in Oslo for six months because she had become an American citizen. Besides that, Signe's brother died when he was 9 months old.

Meanwhile, her father came down with Parkinson's disease. So when the war ended, he was physically unable to return to Norway and take over his parents' farm as he had planned. In October 1945, Signe, 9, and her mother were on the first passenger ship to leave Norway since before the war, and at last were reunited with Signe's father.

The family settled in Bay Ridge, the Norwegian neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was there Signe met Ruth Hansen, Eleanor Bensen and Barbara Govertsen. The four girls became lifelong friends.

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In 1959, Signe married Dwight Meier in Bethelship Norwegian Methodist Church, Brooklyn. Ruth was her maid of honor and Eleanor and Barbara were her bridesmaids.

Dwight and Signe moved around and eventually wound up in Fargo, where Dwight was the pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church and eventually became superintendent for the Northeast District of the United Methodist Church. He now is retired.

Last fall, Signe had a marvelous experience.

"It was hard to believe when the plane landed at Hector International Airport," she says, "that my three Norwegian friends from my days growing up in Brooklyn were now in Fargo."

Hostfest happiness

The four women earlier had come up with a terrific idea: They'd get together and attend Hostfest, the Scandinavian folk festival which has been held annually in Minot since 1978.

So Ruth and Eleanor, who now live in New Jersey, and Barbara, who still lives in Brooklyn, flew into Fargo last fall to be met by Signe.

"Coming to North Dakota in October," Signe says, "they feared the weather would be cold. To their surprise when they landed with warm jackets in hand, they found the temperature in the high 80s - warmer than the East Coast.

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"Off to Minot we went, reliving our Brooklyn past, but enjoying the trek to Hostfest.

"They could not believe the magnitude of this festival" which jammed 65,000 people into Minot.

"We took it all in," Signe says, "from concerts to shopping. We met people from all over and ate all kinds of Norwegian food, from lefse to fish soup.

"While we enjoyed the Hostfest immensely, the most fun was being together again.

"Friends are friends forever, and thanks to the Hostfest, we had the time of our lives."

The Hostfest is coming up again Oct. 5-9. Thousands of people, largely of Scandinavian extract, will be piling into Minot to celebrate the heritage and traditions of Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

You can be sure that at least one woman in Fargo and three women in the New York area, while they won't be there, will be thinking fondly of it.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail rlind@forumcomm.com

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