Ruth and Erik Ullberg are credited with being the founders of the Scandinavian Society of Cincinnati. Their early efforts in 1942 led to the organization of the Society some 21 years later.
In 1941, Erik’s job required them to transfer to Cincinnati from St. Louis, locating in the suburb of Mariemont. In St. Louis, they had been part of a Swedish Cultural Society. They knew something was missing in their new home in Cincinnati. It was the lack of Scandinavian fellowship that they had enjoyed in St. Louis.
Soon after in 1942, Ruth was walking down the street when a friend told her about a March of Time Short on Sweden at the Albee Theater. She went to the theater and asked the manager if the film could be brought to Mariemont. The manager asked: “Who would see it there?” Ruth promised a good attendance and the manager said he would show the film in Mariemont. Ruth started through the telephone book calling Scandinavian names and asking if they were Swedish or of Swedish descent. She then followed up with postcards to those who had expressed interest. They were invited to the film and following that, to her home for “kaffee och dopp”. Ruth was amazed to find that more than 50 people attended the film and then came to her home.
By the fall of 1950, Ruth’s Scandinavian friends had expanded from Swedish to Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, and even Icelandic. They celebrated their first Lucia Fest at their home in December 1950. There were other parties too, such as engagements, farewells, etc. The last Lucia Fest in their home took place in December 1957. From that time on until 1963, Lucia parties were held in other homes or in public facilities.
THE SCANDINAVIAN SOCIETY
On June 7, 1963, the Scandinavian Society was officially organized with Ruth Ullberg as its first president. The first party was a Midsummer Fest on 6/23/63 at the Schlanser home. Some other early parties included a formal dinner dance at the Cincinnati Club on 10/19/63, a Lucia Fest at the Cincinnati Club in December 1963, and a Norwegian Fest in May 1965.
The year 1969 marked the start of the International Folk Festival in Cincinnati. Frank Rhoad, then Executive Director of Travelers Aid International got the idea of having a Cincinnati International Folk Festival in order to show that Cincinnati was more than a “German Town”. Through contacts with ethnic societies, he established an advisory committee that included Jorgen Jorgensen, the Scandinavian Society’s president at that time. Jorgen remained on the Festival Board for 15 years. The Scandinavian Society participated in a wide range of activities over the years, including exhibits, food booths, merchandise booths, and folk dance competitions. The Festival was important to the growth of the society because of the many hours of shared work that built bonds among our members. The Festival was discontinued in 1991 due to declining attendance and subsequent financial problems. On October 8, 1981, Ruth Ullberg was presented the Order of the North Star from the King of Sweden for her contributions on behalf of Swedish culture. The presentation was made by the Swedish Consul- General from Chicago at the St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in Cincinnati.
1998 marked the first quarter century for the Society. This milestone event was celebrated at a special gathering in May 1989 by honoring its presidents, officers, and directors along with a special recognition of Ruth Ullberg, the Society’s first president.
On October 4, 1992, the co-founder of our Society, Ruth Ullberg, passed away at the age of 89 after a short illness. She had spent the past 50 years getting Scandinavians together to celebrate their heritage.
Prior to Ruth Ullberg’s death, she had narrated two cassettes, which are in the Society’s possession. The first one deals with her personal life. The second talks about the founding of the Scandinavian Society.
In the fall of 1992, the Society put on its first smorgasbord. Since this event was so successful, additional smorgasbords are being planned.
The Society had a dance group that met twice a month to learn and practice ethnic dances. It is presently inactive. In addition, there are other scheduled events during the year. These include an Annual Meeting/Swedish party, a Danish Fest, a Norwegian Fest, a Midsummer Fest, a Finnish Fest, a Smorgasbord (every other year), and a Lucia Fest.
On July 16, 1996, the Scandinavian Society of Cincinnati Foundation (affiliated with the Society) was incorporated as a non-profit Ohio corporation. The purposes of the corporation are to receive and hold cash, property, and other assets acquired by gift, bequest, or other sources. These are to be used exclusively for educational, public, or charitable purposes directed primarily toward training, research, the granting of scholarships, and other projects. The intention is to develop and improve the exchange of ideas, knowledge, culture, and understanding between the peoples of the United States of America and the Scandinavian nations. The Foundation subsequently received 501C(3) approval, which allows the Foundation to receive tax-deductible contributions.
In 2013, the Scandinavian Society marked its 60th anniversary with a gala dinner and celebration.
The Society periodically designates certain individuals as honorary members. Such individuals, not deceased, are those who have served with distinction on the Board or as Officers and who are no longer active in the Society. The Society currently has Robert and Donna Olsen and Maude Rydin March as honorary members in this category.
Non-members who have made significant contributions to society may also be considered. On September 26, 1999, Victor Borge received this type of honorary membership from our Society at the end of a Riverbend Concert in Cincinnati where he was performing.
In addition to this Short History of the Scandinavian Society, a complete listing of Officers, Board Members, Editors, and Lucias is kept up-to-date in our official records.