31 January 2013

Poulsbo AYPE Viking #4: Nels Sonju

Nels Sonju,  Norwegian immigrant, was part of the "Viking" contingent to represent the community of Poulsbo, Washington in the Norway Day parade at the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (AYPE) in Seattle.  See the explanatory blog entry for this series:  Poulsbo Vikings at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, 1909.

Nels Sonju, dressed as a 5th Century
 Viking in 1909 (Rangvald Kvelstad,
 Poulsbo:  Its First Hundred Years).
I first became interested in Nels Sonju (1864-1923), a Norwegian-American businessman, entrepreneur, and adventurer, while searching for information about one of his daughters. I learned that the Sonju family from Poulsbo, Washington came from a Norwegian background, and discovered Sonju's activities relating to the AYPE.

Nels Sonju immigrated from Norway in 1879, first residing in Bayfield, Wisconsin, and then Troy, Wisconsin.  He married Petra A. Soli in Pierce County, Wisconsin, on March 20, 1884.  The couple had four children:  Annie M., born in about 1897, in Wisconsin; Sarah, born on April 6, 1891, at Washburn, Bayfield, Wisconsin; Howard Melvin, born on January 1, 1898, also at Washburn; and Norman Rudolph, born on June 6, 1902, at Hudson, St. Croix, Wisconsin.

Several years before the 1909 AYPE, Nels and Petra Sonju moved their family to the Seattle area in Washington State, accompanied by other family members from the Bayfield, Wisconsin area.

Nels Sonju built the Grand View Hotel along the Poulsbo waterfront, which served as the main source of income for his family.  He maintained a horse drawn taxi service as a sideline, and starting in 1918, operated an auto taxi service, the Vinland-Poulsbo mail and stage line.  He brought the mail from the steamer in Poulsbo to the post office in Vinland, and then transported passengers, mail, and freight back to Poulsbo.

The Grand View Hotel was torn down in about 1970 in order to provide a site for the new Sons of Norway Grieg Hall.  As an individual who was interested in the development of his community, Sonju served as a director for the area's first telephone company, the Poulsbo Rural Telephone Company, incorporated in 1907.  Along with the other original stockholders, Sonju was responsible for the maintenance and line work.  He was also a charter member of the Poulsbo Lodge #44, Sons of Norway, organized in 1916.  The stated objective of the order was to foster and promote "all that is good in the Norwegian heritage."

Old postcard of the Grand View Hotel in Poulsbo, ca. 1910.

Advertisement from the front page of the Kitsap County Herald, April 12, 1918.

Nels Sonju had other adventures.  He figured prominently in George C. Teien's recounting of his Klondike adventures in the Teien Tales:  I Enter the Alaska Fur Trade.

The Sonjus' second daughter, Sarah, worked as a color artist for various Seattle photographers, including well-known Asahel Curtis. Curtis was known for documenting Washington's natural resources and related industries, as well as early historic events. While working at the Curtis studio, Sarah met Lawrence Denny Lindsley, nature photographer and grandson of Seattle founding pioneers David and Louisa Denny.  At age 53, Sarah married Lindsley in 1944.

Norman Sonju, youngest son of Nels and Petra, made a name for himself on the rowing team at the University of Washington, where he attended in the late 1920s. Norman studied business administration, and was also a member of Sigma Phy Epsilon fraternity, the Oval Club, Varsity Boat Club, and Captain Crew. As a graduating senior, he was a student assistant to Coach Rusty Callow. After graduation, he then served on the faculty for a couple of years, and coached the crew at Cornell University from 1936-1946. He found national recognition as a rowing coach for the University of Wisconsin, and for his career success at home and at an Olympic meet in London. After his retirement in 1946, Norman Sonju returned to the Poulsbo, Washington, where he had spent his childhood years.

Nels Sonju (1864-1923), grave marker at the First Lutheran
 Church Cemetery in Poulsbo, Kitsap County, Washington
(Find a Grave)

After Nels Sonju died in 1923, his widow, Petra, moved to Seattle and lived at 1625 E. Madison while their youngest son, Norman, attended the University of Washington.  By 1932, she was living with her daughter, Sarah, a photography color artist, at 6553 Palatine Avenue.  Petra Sonju passed away on August 6, 1943, at the age of eighty.


--"Can you heareth me now? Poulsbo at the --Turn of the Century Pushed Hard for Telephone Service." Kitsap Sun, Nov. 2, 2009:  http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2009/nov/02/can-you-heareth-me-now/?print=1
--Driscoll, Judy and Sherry White.  Poulsbo, Images of America Series (Arcadia Publishing:  Charleston, South Carolina, 2013).
--Evergreen/Washelli Cemetery Records; Seattle, Washington.
--Kitsap County Herald, April 12, 1918; p.1 (Grand View Hotel advertisement)
--Kitsap County Historical Society Book Committee.  Kitsap County History.  Kitsap County Historical Society:  Seattle, Washington, 1977).
--Rangvald Kvelstad.  Poulsbo:  Its First Hundred Years (Poulsbo Centennial Book Committee:  Silverton, Washington, 1986).
--U. S. City Directories, 1821-1989;  Seattle and Bremerton, Washington
 --U. S. Federal Census, 1900,  for Troy, Saint Croix County, Wisconsin
--U. S. Federal Census, 1910-1920,  for Poulsbo, Kitsap County, Washington

--U. S. General Land Office Records, 1796-1907
--Washington Death Index, 1940-1996
--Wisconsin Marriages, pre-1907
--Wisconsin State Census, 1895

articled revised 6/3/2016
Chery Kinnick

29 January 2013

The Sámi-Americans of Poulsbo

Many of us who live in the Pacific Northwest are familiar with Kitsap County’s historic town of Poulsbo, Washington. Perched on the shore of Liberty Bay (once know as Dogfish Bay) with a population of just under 10,000, Poulsbo is known as "Little Norway on the Fjord."
Norwegians came to this area in the 1880s, drawn by water and mountain vistas that reminded them of their homeland, and abundant timber and fishing resources to support familiar industries they knew well.  Their first name for the community was “Paulsbo”, meaning Paul’s place, after a village in Norway.

Looking back at Poulsbo, Washington from Fjord Drive (Photo by Luci Baker Johnson)

In the mid to late 1890s, hundreds of Sámi immigrated to Alaska from northern Norway and Sweden. They were recruited by the US Department of Education and commissioned to teach the Inuit people of Alaska to herd reindeer. Many Sámi families lived and worked in Alaska until Congress passed the Reindeer Industry Act of 1937, which restricted ownership of reindeer in Alaska to the Inuit, and placed the management of reindeer herding under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  After this, many Sámi left Alaska and settled in Poulsbo.

In her book “We Stopped Forgetting”: Stories from Sámi Americans, Ellen Marie Jensen shares firsthand accounts from the descendants of the Sámi who came to North America. She writes, “The title is intended to be a window into the ways that life stories reverse the process of assimilation through memory because assimilation depends greatly on forgetting. To stop forgetting is to remember the importance of all our cultural ancestors in our lived lives, which leads us to a better understanding of contemporary selves.” (p. 9).
What a novel concept!  

Ellen Marie Jensen (Photo by Luci Baker Johnson)

I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Jensen at an event sponsored by the Poulsbo Historical Society on Tuesday, January 8, 2013. (She was there to promote another book published by ČálliidLágádus, but that’s a story for a separate posting.)  I purchased a copy of her book, and have been reading it with fascination. Teacher, freelance writer and translator, Ms. Jensen was born and raised in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, but now lives and works in Deatnu/Tana, Norway. The book is an offshoot from her master’s thesis in Indigenous Studies at the University of Tromsø (2005). The Sámi-American experience is not widely known, and Ms. Jensen’s book provides valuable insight into it.

I encourage all to read her book, and learn more about this Pacific Northwest immigrant community. You can purchase a copy at the Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo or directly from the author on her web site: We Stopped Forgetting.

+ There is a big event at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) this coming week: Sami People's Day, which is celebrated throughout Sápmi, the land of Indigenous Sámi in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The celebration commemorates the first international, pan-Sámi organizational meeting held in Trondheim in 1917, making the beginning of the Sámi rights movement. There are several events that will take place at PLU on Wednesday, February 6, 2013.

+ If you find yourself near Decorah, Iowa between now and November 10, 2012, you must check out the exhibition:  The Sámi Reindeer People of Alaska.  The exhibition is sponsored by Owen and Naomi Bekkum, was coordinated by the Sami Cultural Center of North America and Báiki: the International Sami Journal. The exhibition includes enlarged historic photographs, poems and family stories, and duodji.

Luci Baker Johnson