MOUNTAIN, N.D.-From the back seat of a red convertible, Her Excellency Katrin Jakobsdottir, prime minister of Iceland, waved to hundreds of excited onlookers who lined the parade route Saturday at the August the Deuce celebration in Mountain, N.D.
The prime minister was the honored guest at the four-day event and keynote speaker at the August the Deuce Heritage Program, led by Curtis Olafson, of Mountain, president of the Icelandic Communities Association.
Since 2005, Jakobsdottir is the sixth prime minister of Iceland to visit Mountain-with a population of about 84-as a guest at the annual celebration which this year marks its 119th anniversary. Attending the festivities with her husband, Gunnar Sigvaldason, she said she was surprised by the size of the crowd that flocked to the town in northeast corner of North Dakota.
"I had no idea, really," how strongly people here feel about their Icelandic heritage, she said.
"The relationship between Iceland and the 'western Icelanders'-as we call them-has always been important to us," she said. "It's a revelation to see the great cultural heritage in the Dakotas and Canada. We want to nourish those relationships."
Nearly 100 visitors from Iceland also attended the event and are planning to go on to Gimli and Winnipeg, Manitoba, for other events celebrating Icelandic heritage.
"All Icelanders have a secret wish to come here to North Dakota and Canada," Jakobsdottir said.
She was also impressed "to see all the Icelandic names here and in Canada," she said. "It shows us how deeply rooted these relationships are."
Jakobsdottir, 42, is the second female prime minister-among more than 30-to lead the island nation of about 334,000, she said. She won election in December and will serve through 2021.
In remarks to those gathered for the heritage program, she described the government she's leading as "coalition, a party of the center," she said. "Working together is a really important thing-especially in a time of polarization in many things."
The bond between Iceland and those of Icelandic descent in North America "is strong," she said. "No matter where you're from, it's always important to remember your roots."
To those in Mountain who organized the August the Deuce event, she said, "I admire your dedication and working to preserve this unique history and heritage."
Many who attended the event grew up here or have family ties to the region; they come here on vacation from out of state, said Mary Beth Dinusson Noble, of Fargo.
"I try to come every year," she said.
Brent Evans, of Costa Mesa, Calif., was visiting with his son Andrew Evans, of Denver, Colo., and niece Erica Evans Battaglia, San Francisco.
"It's exactly what I thought it would be and more," Battaglia said. "I know the pride that North Americans have for Iceland. That pride is something I've never seen before."
"You can see-with the size of this town-the pride they have for putting this on."
Margie and Jim DeLaHunt were visiting from Woodbury, Minn.
"August the Deuce is a big deal," she said. "People come from all over for the Deuce."
The couple was married here in 1975 in the Vikur Lutheran Church, which-according to a plaque near the entrance-is the first Icelandic Lutheran Church in America.
"I'm not Icelandic," she said, "but on the Deuce, I pretend."