In past Eden Prairie Local News articles, Eden Prairie Muslim Pakistanis have praised American openness and at the same time clung to a number of traditional Pakistani values and Eden Prairie Russian-Americans have loved America and yet treasured their Russian heritage.
Numerically, the Pakistanis and Russians are small parts of the Eden Prairie population. Continuing a push to know Eden Prairie, what is the pattern for the much larger ethnic group of Swedish Lutherans?
Ole Olsson might not be the manager of your friendly Eden Prairie grocery store, and your shopping cart might not just miss colliding with a cart pushed by Lena Eriksson, but the Statistical Atlas tells us that about 5,000 Eden Prairie residents are Swedish.
In a recent interview, Pastor Rod Anderson confirmed that most likely those thousands of Swedish-Americans are also Lutheran.
Pastor Anderson served Eden Prairie’s Saint Andrew Lutheran Church for 34 years, helping the church to grow to a congregation of over 10,000. He notes that he is “100% Swedish.” He acknowledges serving on Eden Prairie’s PROP food pantry and the city’s Foundation, in addition on the boards of Gustavus Adolphus College and the Minneapolis-based American Swedish Institute.
Pastor Anderson sees three levels of involvement in the Swedish population.
First (and somewhat subtle) is the level of institutions. Swedish immigrants created institutions for educating pastors and for caring for their communities. They built churches, hospitals, and colleges. Now these institutions are a backdrop in Minnesota.
Pastor Anderson goes on to note the level of community. He tells us Swedish Lutherans were actually late to arrive in Eden Prairie. Early residents of Eden Prairie were Irish, Scottish, Presbyterian and Methodist. It is places like Spring Garden Church in Cannon Falls, Minn., and Vasa Church in Welch, Minn., that hold Swedish midsummer festivals.
Pastor Anderson acknowledges that his Swedish parents’ generation typically stayed among themselves and married among themselves. “My generation going forward, not so much.”
For the pastor, the third level is family. While he sees little overt Swedishness in Eden Prairie, he does see families that display dala wooden horses and families that join together to make lutefisk or lefse. The Christmas holiday brings out many of these family traditions.
A younger generation
Sheryl Keeley, a younger Eden Prairie Swedish Lutheran, sees community Swedishness as “so diluted now.”
“Not at my age level,” she said when asked if Eden Prairie Swedes have a group identity.
She laughingly recalls that her grandfather changed his name from Magnusson with two s’s to Magnuson with one ‘s’ so that he would seem less Swedish.
She notes that the Christmas holiday and area sports seem to bring out whatever Swedishness there is in Eden Prairie.
Many otherwise assimilated Eden Prairie residents are aware that there are a couple of Swedes on the Wild hockey team.
Keeley herself is, however, a contradiction.
She has now studied the Swedish language at the American Swedish Institute for five years. Her oldest son studied in Denmark leading up to an internship at Volvo in Sweden.
She has traveled to Sweden three times. Her youngest son is also aiming at an internship at Volvo.
“I love my Swedish heritage,” she said. “I am able to connect with my family in Sweden. I make it a point to carry on Swedish food traditions.”
Ever the purist, she notes that lutefisk and lefse are “actually more Norwegian.”
In high school, she got to be good friends with an exchange student from Sweden. For a long time, she “felt compelled” to write letters to relatives in Sweden.
Her grandfather’s first cousin was the only relative to reply. From that point there was an extended correspondence.
After many years, she hosted an exchange student from Sweden — the daughter of the Swedish exchange student she had befriended in high school.
Keeley says her intense Swedishness is very fulfilling.
It seems that while small ethnic groups like Pakistanis and Russians proudly cling to their traditions, a larger ethnic group like the Eden Prairie Swedes eases into being thoroughly American-ized.
Keeley’s lifestyle and choices suggest, however, that well below the surface, the pull of ancestry can be very strong, almost addictive. Yes, there is a feeling of fulfillment, of completeness.
And she does seem to be having a lot of fun.