"Our Immigrant Ancestors,

Or, How We Got the Way We Are,"

by Rennard Svanoe

Note: This account by Cousin Rennard Svanoe is invaluable, even priceless; besides what it says and arrives at through an inquiry based on genuine research and reflection on the things learned in that inquiry, it shows that someone in this relationship was not content to passively receive and then more or less experience and eventually pass a few driblets of it on, more or less, to his descendants—-probably less than he received! Bravo to the "torch bearer" who passes an unlit torch!

Thank God THIS Stadem descendant, Rennard Svanoe, was different; he determined to add to his legacy, receive it, but also enhance it if he could with a degree of understanding he gained of it through scholarly research, deep reflection, and writing it down for others to read and reflect on. We thank him for this effort; and am encouraged that he did not remain passive like most do, but actively strive to engage his legacy in a meaningful way for us all. If more would follow this example, our golden legacy in the Stadem line would not continue to decline from from gold, to silver, and then to copper, and finally the world’s tin--its superficial values, selfishness, and fakery made to look like gold.

Haven't you heard so many things compared to an onion that everything must be layered in some respect or other, or it is just a lot of hogwash? Well, this account is definitely layered--like an onion! Layer by layer, Rennard Svanoe cuts to the quick. The last layer is probably the essential Stadem layer, without with the other layers wouldn't come to anything at all. Read layer by layer, understanding it that way, and then you will grasp the quintessential and salient facts of Stadem existence and Stadem legacy; it could change everything for you if you get to the essence and recognize it as truly that.

The truth is, which you may see clearly enough, is that the foundation was good, it was not perfect, it had its flaws, but it was good enough to build what you see going on today. Everything you see today did not start with Alfred and Bergit Stadem. Far from it! They themselves would have been the first to tell everyone so. No, they knew that they were building their lives and family on the heritage and godly training that had been given them by their parents and ancestors. How about ourselves? Do we take ourselves as self-creations, we have achieved it all due to our own efforts? Or do we humbly acknowledge that whatever good we have achieved is only based on what was given us? Without that, we would be just as spiritually impoverished, blind, and spiritually fruitless as the general culture?

You may not like or even sanction everthing you read here about our ancestry, but, again, try to put yourselves in their shoes back then. You may understand a bit more than you do now, how people became what they were, in those circumstances that can best be compared to being "between a rock and a hard place." If you've really never been in comparable hardship and the almost desperate need to do something about it, or you and your loved ones depending upon you will surely sink, you simply cannot understand them--much less appreciate and reverence them.

But I hope for the better result: that you will come to a deeper understanding and appreciation, even a reverence. -—Ed.

My interest in finding out more about my Stadem ancestry comes from observing things that make my mother’s side of the family stand out from the pack of Norwegian background families, including my father’s side. I have often wondered why the Stadems were so emotional compared to the stereotypical reserve of the Norwegians. I have enjoyed the richness of this characteristic in the welcomes I get when I come to the reunion.



Joe Rangen [husband of Estelle Stadem] talks about being smothered with kisses from the Stadem girls when he first joined the family. Joe is loveable, but the Stadems are also an expressive bunch.

Grandpa Alfred used to say a few words after a meal to the gathered family. Usually before he was though he would choke up. This made an indelible impression on my young heart, and I loved him for it. But I didn’t see any sign of this emotional warmth in his cousins Ben [Bernhard] and Norman [sons of Berent Martin and Belle Stadem], Norwegian bachelor farmers on the next ;place south fown the road. Was there something communicated from their fathers or mothers that account for the difference? In this interpretation, the Alfred Stadem emotion comes from his father, Peder, but not from Syvert, grandfather of both Alfred and Ben and Norman.

Or perhaps it is due to their being so many girls in the family. LeRoy and Arthur were and are both more reserved in their expression than the girls. But that still doesn’t account for Grandpa’s personality. Maybe what we saw in Grandpa was due not to this father or mother, but to the way God made him and no more. God made us all individuals. Some people are born with an emotional nature, others are not. Period.

Besides, we will probably all agree that personality is not destiny. It’s what we do with what we have got that determines our course in life. From the moment we wake up in the morning we are making choices, choices based on values instilled in our upbringing, or on values learned elsewhere leading to conflict or joy and giving rise to emotion. In Christian families the conflict may be with the world around us, leading also to emotions.

Grandma Stadem in her story talks about the bliss of the childhood years, to be home with a mother and father and be enveloped in love, as compared to having to get out and live “among so-called higher ups controlled by selfishness” as she said. She describes Marie, an aunt by marriage who, after Bergit’s mother died, planned to get Bergit in her control. She describes her aunt as “rich, screamingly covetous and stingy, who had closed her heart to all in need.” For Bergit there are strong emotions already at age 13, and they are due to a conflict set up by an aunt with the way she was brought up.

But for a Christian, one only has to look inside to find reason for strong emotions. Bergit tells of walking home with her mother from a Christian Fellowship meeting at age 7 or 8 when suddenly her mother sat down on a rock by the wayside and wept bitterly. As the daughter placed her arm on her neck and asked her why she was crying, she replied, “I’m such a big sinner.” Alfred assuaged her grief over the loss of her son Arthur in the plane crash by reminding himself that wishing Arthur back would be wishing for him some more years of hardships, struggles, sin and temptations. The editor of Alfred’s life story in his own words available on the internet notes how our family patriarch uses the third person always in referring to himself, for Alfred Stadem hated what he called “the big I.” As he approached home after a 17,000 mile trip to the West [7,000 miles?—Ed.], Grandpa writes, “How wonderful of the Creator to provide so much for folks so sinful.”

Does this mean that Christians, consciously involved as they are in the struggle against sin and temptation are all to be emotional? If we say “yes, at some level” do we still not leave room for differences in the expression of this emotion? Some handle the struggle quietly and privately. Some are trained to confess openly your faults one to another, as the Scriptures say, leading to outward display of what’s inside. This is reinforced in our Stadem family by the Hauge tradition that encourages laymen to give witness, another opportunity for expression of inner emotion.



I believe this was in turn reinforced by a social phenomenon of frontier days, the development of speaking in poublic life, as well as among the young in school. Already in the third years of the settlement of the Willow Lake, South Dakota community there was debating and a literary society . The Stadems came the previous year.

Every 4th of July, as well as on other American holidays, from the very first year as the frontier opened in new areas, there was a community celebration. And invariably someone was selected, often a minister, to give an oration. In 1883, the year Alfred’s grandfather Syvert and father Peder left Iowa for South Dakota, a community wide event was sponsored by the Old Settlers’ organization in Northwood, Iowa. If Syvert and Peder attended [there can be no reason, other than illness, why they would not attend, with all their families—Ed.], they would have heard an oration in Norwegian, in addition to the one always given in English.

Traveling speakers were a big attraction [the famous Chautacqua circuit organization from New York sent out singers, actors, orators, all sorts of cultural and even religious programs to hundreds of cities, towns, and communities all over America, and Bryant was visited by them too, as Adolph and Malvin Stadem went to one back in the early 1900s) and Grandpa Alfred also traveled all the way to the Twin Cities in 1925 for a celebration of 100 years of Norwegian immigration where together wit 250,000 others he heard President Calvin Coolidge address the crowd through a new invention, the microphone [this event would also feature the King of Norway, who had come to commemorate Norwegian contributions to America and her progress and development as a great nation.—Ed.]

Issues that raged in the frontier days brought out debaters and debates that were engaged in by clergymen in the Norwegian language. A Norwegian Synod pastor, Brent I. Muus, is described by Theodore Blegan as an uncompromising debater opposed to the public schools. He set up; an academy in connection with his church in Holden, Minnesota [and now that we see the Christian-founded public schools turned secularist, aggressively promoting the exact opposites of Christian values while excluding anything Christian, Muus and his standpoint has more than been vindicated! Muus founded a Christian alternative in his academy at Holden, Minnesota. There is now the world’s “Holden” too, who seems to have won the contest of Christian vs. Secularist/Atheist public education—the wayward, neo-pagan protagonist of the new “liberated youth” of the Sixties, the profanity-spewing, rebel-without-a-cause teen-ager, Holden Caulfield, in J.D. Salinger’s best-selling Book--Ed.].

The public school was defended by Pastor Clausen who had founded the church Syvert attended in Northwood, [Iowa] and led the fight to keep Norwegians from isolating themselves by keeping their children out of them. Although Clausen was gone from Northwood by 1865, one year before Syvert arrived, he was back in 1869 working out a split of the Silver Lake parish that had resulted from issues having to do with the common school, but now also with the issue of whether slavery was sin.

The pastor [of the Silver Lake church] supported by the Norwegian Synod had been discharged by the majority of the local church council for holding that slavery was not a sin, because the Bible did not condemn it [in that pastor’s view].

Patriotic feeling during and after the Civil War reinforced the laymen’s view that slavery was a sin, regardless of the church’s position. Syvert came after the [Civil] war to Northwood but his brother, Knud [Knud Olsen Staim, calling himself that instead of Knud Stadheim], was there from 1861 [many Norwegian, settlers and immigrants too, enlisted in the war against the South-—Ed.], and while he didn’t serve in the army, as far as we know, he was having to decide his position on these issues. He would have heard the position of Pastor Clausen, who founded his congregation about in 1858 and was there for 4 years after Knud arrived. He would have heard the position of Pastor Torgerson on these issues for 4 years as well up to his discharge in 1869.

What position did Syvert hold? Did he go with his first pastor in Northwood (Clausen) against the conservative position of the synod, along with the majority of church council members 4 years after he was replaced? Did he go with his second pastor (Torgerson) whom the synod sent to correct the situation only to have the majority of his neighbors vote him out 4 years later? When the discharged Pastor Torgerson returned 5 years later and led a minority group out of the congregation did Syvert go with im? What would his position have been on the issue of keeping the children from the watering-down effect of public school? We don’t know.

[Comment: Syvert’s ancestors in Norway had known slavery in times past. The sharecroppers of Syvert’s generation were little better than slaves and indentured servants in early colonial America. He certainly wouldn’t have liked slavery or servitude for that reason-—for that would be a nasty, self-demeaning, brutish, impoverished, underprivileged status, leading to little or no individual or family advancement in life—-and as a young immigrant Syvert was all about raising himself above such a hopeless level in society ab advancing himself and his family in the new circumstances that were more favorable to that goal that he found so ample in America but relatively absent in the Old Country with its disastrous crop failures and economic depression.

Besides his innate antipathy to slavery and a cotter's chained existence without any prospects of improvement, he was a committed Christian of the Lutheran church, which holds to the Church Invisible, with no color bar existing in God’s universal church and kingdom. That would surely guide his feelings and beliefs about slavery, whether it was a viable institution in society or not. Not born into a smug and comfortable, slave-holding, privileged class himself, he would therefore find no cause or justification of slavery, and would naturally abhor it, as an offense to society and the humanity of man, as well as an offense to a Christian’s conscience and a greater effront to Almighty God who created man in the first place as a free individual in the Garden of Eden, with no overlord above him but God Almighty his Creator.—Ed.]

But the point is that our ancestors were exposed to issues and that debate and public discourse was an important part of the frontier life, especially in the Northwood, Iowa area where our immigrant ancestors lived. They heard speeches and orations, at public gatherings, but even more they heard sermons that might have addressed these issues at church.

There were frontier newspapers that they received in the mail that took editorial positions on these issued, some of which were started just to promote some cause. Every township [a county in America is broken down administratively into townships, which are smaller sub-divisions that can have one or more towns, but usually a number of farms instead; thus Worth County, Iowa, was broken into a number of townships, and each township had its administrators, usually the more notable, civic-minded local farmers who applied for the position and were voted in-—Ed.] had elections for town offices that had candidates that everyone in the township knew. As there were no towns in the Heartland township [located in Worth County], but only farms, Norwegian farmers had a chance to be elected, as they outnumbered so-called “Americans” 18-2. In biographical sketches of residents in the township, [as recorded] in a history of their county (Worth) written in 1883, the year they [Syvert and Oline Stadem and family) left for South Dakota, 4 of the 18 [Norwegians] were elected. The new democracy took root with speeches and town meetings.

Our ancestors [not being English-adept] may not have been politically active but they at least were exposed to public discourse. In the [Worth County] church they were located close to, a center of controversies focused on Pastor Clausen headquartered in nearby St. Ansgar, Iowa. The issue split churches locally, stimulated the founding of a seminary, and spawned the founding of newspapers, including [some] in Norwegian.

[It is an interesting coincidence (if it can be called coincidence) that that Stadem descendant and Plain View Farm webmaster Jerry L. Ginther, establishing the Plain View Farm websites back in 1997, used the website’s host browser, Geocities’ neighborhood format and chose from the titles suggested the Farm’s on-line location of "Heartland," without knowing the Stadem family’s American origins and first home were indeed in Heartland Township of Worth County, Iowa.

He would have found that fact most encouraging, showing him he was on the right track.]

Syvert could only speak a little English which meant that he could only operate in the context of home and church, and became a naturalized citizen only at the end of his 17 years in Iowa. But the children went to school; Peter was in school at age 9 in 1870, along with two siblings. He may have had more schooling than his son Alfred later in South Dakota and even though born in Norway, came over at age 5 and probably learned to speak English without an accent.

His son Sever later would be editor of a local newspaper in Henry, South Dakota [his worthy wife Sarah would also become the first centenarian in the Stadem Relationship]. Might Sever have developed his editorial point of view listening to his father discuss the issues, besides his high school and college education later?

Due to circumstances [helping in the establishing Peter’s farm and family in the more primitive and challenging Frontiers-land of South Dakota] Alfred was not able to go to high school. As the oldest boy he had to help his father with farm work and maybe only attained a fourth grade level at school. But this didn’t stop him from developing his mind and he subscribed to the "Grit," a nationwide newspaper that appeared in his mail when I was a boy of 10 working on the farm. As a result, Alfred became an experienced speaker. He practiced at home, standing at the foot of the table as though before an audience, sharing his experience and views with our gathered family [he later went on to become an auctioneer locally, After practicing behind the barn!-—Ed.]

He committed the story of his 7,000 mile trip to the West Coast to 15 legal size typewritten pages in 1951. It is a treasure and pleasure to read for its captivating writing style. All this had a start somewhere, probably with his father Peder [Peter] in the frontier seedbed of ideas, issues, positions, speeches and orations of Peder’s youth in northern Iowa. The ferment of ideas and conflicting points of view during the childhood and youth of Peder Stadem on the Iowa frontier may form a background for his son Alfred Stadem’s active mind and deeply felt convictions.

[Becoming conscious of Grandpa’s individualism and ability to communicate so well publicly what his convictions and beliefs were to various groups, this grandson, the editor of this page, who also became a debater and declamation speaker in high school and later in college, had to wonder how Grandpa “got that way,” without formal schooling, And despite his handicaps could write and speak so well. This impressed him early on in life, and still does, many years after Grandpa’s passing. Like his brother Sever, he was a communicator, and was fearless and also considerably charming and affable in presenting his Christian views to church, schools, and society, wherever he was free to do so, or was expressly invited. For that reason this grandson had to compare him with David Thoreau, the arch-individualist and naturalist who stood up against the easy, slick, mind-debilitating conventions of the middle class of his time, and abandoned civilized society and carved out an existence in primitive circumstances in the woodsy countryside of Concord, Massachusetts, that ever intrigues the modern and sophisticated minds and souls of today’s 21st century society, since he achieved a great richness of life and thought and feeling without resorting to the tawdry conventions and spineless compromises he found had weakened and decayed human beings to a deplorable extent already in the 19th century; this “experiment” of the free individual to demonstrate it was possible for a thinking, free man to return to Noble Nature was enshrined in Thoreau’s life testament, the classic WALDEN POND, which every college man and woman read or received some quotations from. For this grandson at least, the following section will show the close parallels with Thoreau in Alfred Stadem, who did not read Thoreau probably, yet nevertheless lived that noble Thoreau ideal of a free-thinking, free-living, wholeness-creating man.

Yet even more than the public speechifying and writing, even more than the wonderful communicating, this Thoreau-like aspect of Alfred Stadem impressed this grandson of his most, since it seemed to speak to the very core of his Christian stance taken against the world due to its depravity and the gradual but relentless immoral staining of the character of a man. "Here we have no continuing city," the brave and independent Christian pilgrim declares. "Amen to that!" Alfred Stadem would have responded.

Testifying to his achievement of balance, Alfred Stadem valued Luther's dictim of Moderation and so did not carry this stance and philosophy to the extreme, he eschewed becoming a recluse or an anchorite who secludes himself in a cave from the world, for he was much engaged with church society and even civil duties of all kinds, but, nevertheless, he maintained a strict moral division in himself and his conscience and lifestyle, opposed to anything that would draw him into what he knew was unchristian, ungodly, and opposed to true doctrine of the Church. How he could resolve that conflict and achieve the happy balance he evidenced in his life, that isn’t known, as it could not be resolved philosophically or intellectually—-the conflict, which really is rooted in the fatally divided and depraved human heart, will continue until Christ’s return. In fact, in letters we have on-line, Alfred Stadem always expressed his discontent with what he saw as opposite to Christ’s kingdom ideals, Gospel and teachings, and so in such comments (which showed a considerable degree of spiritual suffering) he witnessed that he was a pilgrim traveling in the shadow of the mighty Cross, engaged as a good soldier of the Lord on a lifelong, spiritual pilgrimage, and therefore this country, America, was not his home forever, but he sought a Better Country eveb as Father Abraham had done long before him, indeed, a heavenly one. For his many descendants who have not received or have not practiced this pilgrim view and life, but have unwittingly joined with the Christless and ungodly world society and its unrighteous ways (secularist brainwashing and taught-as-science Evolution in public schools, colleges, seminaries will cause their Christian world-view to be overturned), he would have only pity and fervent, urgent prayers for their repentance and return back to the right path.-—Ed.]



But the majority of Norwegian farmers grew up focused on their work that kept them busy from early morning until late at night. They couldn’t justify going to town except to the store, the market and to church. Alfred had 9 children to support, and yet he had time to give himself to the work of the church. His daughters tell of going early to church to prepare for Sunday School where he was Superintendent (that meant getting the wood stoves going to heat the church edifice!).

There are plenty of examples of Norwegian farmers who took advantage of the offer of land after the government passed a law granting 160 acres to any farmer who would live on the land, make improvements and work the soil. Some sold off parts of their land to pay bills and others prospered enough to buy up these parcels. Of 20 farmers, 18 of them Norwegian in the township where the Stadems located in Iowa, the acreage ranged from 80-500 acres. It appears that Syvert may have shared or bought part of the 160 acres of his older brother Knud’s land. The value of his land 4 years after arriving was $1,600. The price of land varied during this period from $8 to $50 per acre. At the median price of $29 per acre, Syvert may have had 55 acres of land, more or less, well below the average for farmers in the township. This in spite of the fact that he had been in the township as long as the average person.

The Stadems came from a place in Norway called Stadheim [as was the prevailing practice, these Olsens took the farm place-name when they emigrated, calling themselves Stadheim or the more abbreviated form, Stadem, which is sometimes liable to appear on documents as “Stadum”, something later more sensitive Stadem descendants have expressed real distaste for, grumbling about the mistake, as it seems to say of Stadems, that they “Stay Dumb”! This grandson takes the mistake humorously, but he might feel differently about it if his name were Stadem too.—Ed.]. The picture our relative Barbara [Vorseth-Stadem] Benson took of Stadheim farm near Vik, Norway, shows a long row of small farms huddled together in front of a mountain. These farms may have had a few acres of land in front and behind each farm house with a few out-buildings each, but the [tillable] land was obviously in short supply. This was the situation all over Norway and yet in the New World every Norwegian farmer had land enough and to spare. Some expanded their holdings and that led to expanding their work day. Syvert, and after him, Peder and later Alfred chose another way. They kept their holdings small, and left room in their life for other pursuits. This we all have inherited as our values, for which we can be rightfully grateful [another Thoreau-like choice and behavior!--Ed.].




A strong value for Stadems has been doing things together as a family. Syvert Stadem came over to the New World in 1866. A historian of Norwegian immigration says that Norwegians mainly came to the New World as families before 1860, but generally came as individuals, mainly young adult men, after that. Syvert was preceded by his single brother Knud [married, but ”single” in the sense no brother accompanied him-—Ed.] in 1854 and his widowed mother Britta two years later. Syvert and his family of a wife and four children came 12 years after that and settled with his brother and mother in Heartland Township in Worth County, Iowa, probably on or near their land. He came as part of a family in two senses, his paternal family and his own nuclear family.

What shows the Stadem commitment to family even more is Syvert’s second move.

[Hold that last thought, but append to it: if they had been “dumb” in the past in any sense, they showed early on in America they didn’t “stay dumb,” as they early on settled on Family Orientation garnished with vibrant Norwegian culture and solidarity here in their new home as their chief strength, all the while undergirded and enriched with their historic faith in God—-a faith they clearly didn’t find or discover here for the first time, but brought with them as prime props of pilgrimage. They were like Scrooby and Plymouth pilgrims fleeing oppressive Old England and the persecuting Established Church of England, even as they, the Stadheims, were indeed fleeing Old Norway’s declining state church, society, and economy.—Ed.]

His sons were becoming adults and he knew they would soon be striking out on their own. There was the the new lands of Dakota with the promise of free homesteads beakoning to Peder and his brothers and he [Syvert] chose to give up the 18 years of hard work in Iowa, cashing in part of his investment there to help his boys start a new life on the new land.

In doing this he was following the example of his grandmother Britta. Her husband [Ole] had died, although we don’t have the date of his death. In her late 50’s she chose to leave all that she knew and held dear to follow two of her sons to the New World. She came by herself after receiving word of their arrival and new opportunities in the new land.

What measures one’s commitment to family more than what we give up to give our family the best chance we can? And even more, to give them the chance to follow what they think is their best chance [This grandson recalls how in the 1950’s his mother, working at a hard, minimum wage cooking job for years to support her large family, sacrificially but cheerfully took out a six hundred dollar increase in the mortgage of the house, to aid him in his urgent desire and decision to leave the traumas of hazing and the other negative influences he experienced in public school, and send him off to his first year at Augustana Academy, the Christian parochial high school in Canton, SD, she had attended, and which her Father had sent all nine of his sons and daughters, so that they might receive a Christian education, not a secular one in the public schools. For him it was a life-changing school And environment, and his mother’s sacrifice was all the more appreciated as the years went by and he realized what a positive impact the school had made on him, versus the negative impact of the secular public school and its mercilessly bullying peer culture had inflicted on him beforehand.-—Ed.]

Both generations of parents, the one in Norway and the one in Iowa, had considerable investment that they were willing to give up for their children. When her husband Ole died, Britta was now in charge of the family at Stadheim. She had given up her parental home as most all girls who marry have to do. Perhaps that adjustment prepared her for those that would follow. Her 4 children were her main concern. The oldest was soon to be an adult. He became her partner in planning the future, for according to Norwegian law, he had a right to the family’s farm. His mother could remarry, but if not, she would stay on the farm. She must have told him of her thinking about the future [and if she didn’t, in that close-knit extended family family and extremely nosy, village setting, others, in-laws and friends and church folk she knew, and even passing acquaintances, would have made her acutely conscious of her problematic Situation, as well as tendered their best advice as to how to handle it!—Ed.]

She wouldn’t return to her people in Djuvvik, or seek to remarry, but would see her 4 children through to adulthood.

For his part Knud, perhaps the oldest son, told his mother (the family clan’s matriarch now, not merely his mother) of the difficulty he foresaw in buying out the shares of inheritance because of the heavy taxes and the economic depression [sounds like a repeat of the present socio-economic doldrums here in 21st century America!—Ed.]. He would be unable to pay the old age pension to her required by law in her retirement. He wanted to fulfill these obligations to his family members, and thought that the best way of doing so would be to make a new life in America. If he could succeed in the new land, he would send back money to help his family keep the farm, now deprived of its owner by death, from falling into the hands of the sheriff or money-lenders until they could grow up and be on their own. Britta saw reason in her son’s plan and decided to discuss it with the other children.

Knud’s brother Peder (not our family’s Peter) thought the plan made sense and announced that he was in love with a Fosse girl whose family had room for them on their farm. (Peder later took his share of the inheritance and bought tickets for himself and the new wife and emigrated to Wisconsin. In recognition of his good in-laws, he took the name of the Fosse farm as surname in America.)

Knud came to America in 1854, first locating in Boone County, Illinois, just beyond Fox River settlement, the first Norwegian settlement in America, and just short of what is new [now?] Rockford. His letters home were probably written out by some Norwegian pastor, as many rural people could neither read nor write, even in their native tongue [the Country People of Norway had a very big problem with literacy, understandably, as every village and farm community in its isolated, mountain or fjord-dominated setting had its own distinctive spoken dialect, and it wasn’t likely that anything was ever published in it; rather, there was Danish or Swedish as the official court and government language at the time that was spoken and taught and published in the capital, whether Denmark’s Copenhagen, or Sweden’s Stockholm, or Norway’s Christiana (during the various Dual Monarchies of Denmark-Norway or Sweden-Norway)-—which was a foreign language to the dialect-speaking rural peoples of the small villages and hamlets such as the Stadem’s Vik I Sogn. What schooling they had, it might have taught them some of the official language, but which would have remained a foreign language, perhaps never used and certainly Hardly ever spoken except in Rare contexts. Could they read their own state church hymnals and Catechisms? Such things can teach literacy. Maybe by long practice since earliest childhood, they could “get by” With sounding out the printed texts, but they probably couldn’t fathom anything Else they met with. Yet there must have been some Norwegian variant of the language, Perhaps the one called the Landsmal today, that most common people back then could understand if read to them, or even they might manage to to read themselves—as Norway’s preeminent evangelist and layminister, Hans Nielsen Hauge, himself an “uneducated” farmer, wrote and Self-published numerous devotional and teaching books that were read all over Norway, and which Syvert and Knud must have seen or heard about at least, if not read.—Ed.]

The news may have been mixed as Knud may have had to work for a low wage as a hired hand, though 5-10 times better than in Norway, raising money first to live, then to send home, then to save up for the next move west to Iowa.

At the good news about America, his mother Britta did some hard thinking. Either she already knew when her son left in 1854 that she would be following him, or she planned to leave if the news was good. She figured what she could afford to sell of her possessions to be able to afford the trip, but even more she counted up the emotional price of leaving. She would never again visit her husband’s grave. She would be leaving half or more of her four children. She would leave everything near and dear to her, including her side of the family. She would have to say goodbye to her sturdy house and farm. She would leave the farm in the hands of her son, Syvert, relieving him of the obligation of providing her with a pension, and hope that she would see him again in the New World. Pulling up roots was hard for anyone; for this widowed mother past middle age, it would have to have been very painful. But she put faith in her older son, bought into his dream, took a deep breath and made the break.

Syvert may have been a second or maybe third oldest. He remained on the farm after his mother’s departure, but if the farm had had to be sold to pay debts or for paying off share to its legal heirs, he was there no longer as a son of the owner but as a cotter, a share cropper. If by agreements with the family, or as a mortgager, he exercised ownership rights, he struggled on as a single man from age 27 and as a married man from age 28 to make a go of it.

His marriage may have been in the works when his mother left, since already that year his future wife became pregnant with her first child. In honor of his departed father, Syvert named the boy Ole, but he died, probably even before his parents married on Dec. 29, 1857.

[Now is this a Stadem scandal, or was it a scandal? Perhaps not. They were not married when they conceived Ole, but they were betrothed, no question about it, and that was considered marriage, legally, in societies far more ancient than Norway’s. You couldn’t conceive a child back then in that close, busy-body-type society, without everyone Knowing the father sooner than later. They couldn’t have hidden the Thing, even if they had tried to. Rather it behooves us that we be a little understanding of Those times and their ways, giving the young couple the benefit of a doubt that they fully intended to marry, but had to wait For the legal tie to be made, while they regarded themselves married in their own eyes and God’s too, as they loved each other and were committed to each other. If we choose not to buy that treatment of it, and turn to the Bible to deny legitimacy to this first Stadem child, we still can cite no formal marriage arrangement in the Garden of Eden, or the Marriage ceremony and signed legal documents that we have come to regard today as the only Legal and valid way to marry. But really is it?—Ed.]

It was not unusual for girls to get pregnant without the benefit of marriage, for a number of reasons. Inheritance laws at the time made it necessary to have a child to inherit property, so if a man intended to marry, he must first make certain that the woman he took as his wife was capable of producing an heir. It was of greatest importance to have an heir, not only to herit the farm and keep it in the family, but to provide security for the farmer and his wife when they got old. According to one contemporary writer, it was regarded with complete indifference when an unmarried woman had a child in Sogn, the region of the Stadheim farm.

[It is unlikely that everyone will subscribe to a tolerant view of The Stadems’ birth of Ole before marriage-—perhaps many of us have become just too enculturated and steeped with easy living and social networking and all the other props of our longtime, prosperous lifestyles in America not to pass rigorous judgment on those who didn’t possess such advantages, unfortunates who find they must do whatever they can in their vastly straightened circumstances. Oh, I know some of us think we are poor, but still we certainly don’t struggle with Old Norway’s crushing taxes and strict inheritance laws over here, nor are we illiterate farmers and shepherds such as the Stadems were, and quite possibly they were even cotters and sharecroppers earning a pittance from their heavy labors. We sit in residences that would be considered palaces by the rural folk of 19th century Norway, with central heating, indoor plumbing, piped hot and cold water at hand, electric stoves, private sleeping rooms, more food in our cupboards and refridgerators than we can possibly eat, all the conveniences and comforts in fact we could desire, including our own motorized transportation, and we think we can put those 19th century Stadems under strict moral scrutiny and tell exactly where they fell short of God's moral standards!

But, friends, there is this to consider: Despite our high moral standing, we are ALL sinners, to be saved by God’s free gift of grace. We ALL fall short of the glory of God, so that is the fact that ought to give sober pause on our passing moral judgment so quickly and easily on these ancestors of ours. If they are anything, they are as stalwart and courageous as they could possibly be in their hard circumstances. We don’t hear of drinking and cursing, or carousing and Wife beating and infidelity, or any such thing at all-—these Stadems were all about family and nurturing the family as best they could manage working conscientiously, faithfully and sacrificially in their clearly hard circumstances.

All that speaks of their essential integrity, not their waywardness, doesn't it? Surely, it does.

Who has not sinned? Who? The question or issue is not who has sinned and must be blamed, the whole thing revolves on grace, acknowledging our sinfulness, and then accepting Christ's forgiveness and, of course, striving to walk rightly and not return to our sin. Sjur and Oline, having a child out of wedlock, were not held sinful in the church and culture of the time they lived in, as the author points out from history, but even if they were not, they knew they were sinful creatures and repented of sins known and unknown, confessed to God in the prayers they recited in church every Sunday and also in their private family devotional times.--Ed.]

Syvert’s decision to emigrate to America was more prolonged and more difficult than that of his brother and mother. If he was no longer the legal owner of the farm, he was still there as a worker. In that case, he earned a pittance, and especially with a wife and growing family, he would not have been able to save for a ticket to America. And even in America, a farm hand hardly made enough to do more than survive. Knud escaped the farm hand status in 1862, getting free land in Iowa, but the investment in machinery used up any profit for some years. Syvert and his wife Oline had a son Berent Martin two years after little Ole died, and our relative Peder Johan two years after that.

By then, however, Norway had devastating crop failures and the family in desperation decided to leave the farm and seek work in Bergen. In the church register where little Peder was baptized, the father’s occupation was listed as Dagl, or Shepherd. For the next wo children baptized in the same church two and four years later, his occupation was listed as keeper or guard (Vogter and Vaegter). It could be that as a hired man back on the Stadheim farm, Syvert’s job was too hard the animals, and only after living and working for a while in Bergen did he think of himself as a guard or policeman [this job might not have required educational attainments either, and he may have been a roving night watchman, hired by the city, or the businesses, to watch warehouses, wharves, and shipping-—for Bergen’s chief enterprise as the principal port of West Norway was the shipping of goods in and out of the country; in any case, it was a survival-only job, but one that paid substantially better than shepherd in his native Vik!—Ed.].

The move to Bergen and the adjustment required, may have played a part in Syvert’s decision to emigrate [we don’t know anything for sure, but Syjert may have disliked the sophisticated big city, despite its greater chance of improving his livelihood there-—he was essentially rural in his heart and culture; he hadn’t run off to Bergen in his youth, and now as a happily married man with responsibilities, he wanted other things than thrills and self-indulgement-—the follies of sin-—rather, he wanted to find a better life for his wife and family.

Bergen wasn’t the place for him and his makeup, he had to see sooner or later-—it was just somewhat better off than the condition of the rural populace. People were poor and kept down there too by the prosperous elite of Norway. And Bergen was a city, it was not a farm of his own, which Syvert dreamed of having one day not too distant in the future—the setting where he could instill the prime values he held dear in his heart in his beloved children and where his wife would be content and Happy as a helpmate and a mother.

A family falls short of ideal without God, he had to recognize. A family was not its own end. It had to cohere around something Greater. The “Greater” was God, of course, known and met primarily in God’s Word. But the church was also part of the Greater. There had to be a Bible-expounding church too where they could worship and take part in activities—this was the prime focus of the family, as it was evidenced to be once they reached South Dakota, if not before in Worth County.].

Migration often takes place in stages. Of the 18 Norwegian Heartland Township farmers featured in a 30-Year Anniversary Book of the first settlers of Worth County, Iowa, none came direct from Norway, but from places in Illinois and Wisconsin. Although Syvert came straight from Norway, he had 5 years in the big city in Norway to experience the role of migrant from the countryside. When he finally made his decision he has got to have been thinking of his children and their future. They now numbered 4. He and Oline woulde have 3 more in America. His mother Britta would get to know 5 of the 7 grandchildren before she died in Iowa in 1868 [she must have felt singularly blessed by God, To have lived long enough and achieved this at the end of her life’s road! She must also have thought her Sacrifices worth it all too, as she passed from her life in Worth County in America to The Heavenly Country of the Worthy One, her Lord Jesus Christ—Ed.]

Her family would all be in America except her daughter also named Brita, whose family back in Norway would not have to depend on the meager resources of the Stadheim family.

Although poor, even by Norwegian standards, the Stadheims had a family cohesion that stood them well in getting to, and making it in America. But a key to this success story is the matriarch, Britta, who forgot her own sorrow, remarriage aspirations, and ownership rights in favor of a decent future for her children and grandchildren.

The spirit of self-sacrifice that drove her difficult decisions has come down to us through her son Syvert, who gave up his investment of 18 years in Iowa to accompany his sons to South Dakota. It characterizes the Stadems today, who celebrate their family heritage with their sons and daughters at the Stadem reunion each summer, with reminders all around them on Plain View Farm. But nothing honors these ancestors more than a father and mother not getting stuck in the old ways in nostalgia, but sensing the mood of the younger generation and moving with the flow into the future with them.


This account, excellent in all points as it is, still would not be complete without mention of the most notable instance of Stadem self-sacrifice of late that beautifully fits the family tradition set by the Ancestral Matriarch, Britta: the family heads Leroy and Elizabeth Stadem, in the very throes of a time of economic woes and uncertainty for America, liquidated a substantial part of their retirement funds to finance the building and outfitting of the Heritage Center Barn called in Norwegian “Barna Velkommen,” “Children Are Welcome.” Made possible through sacrifice, here is the door to a shining future and a hope for the younger generation! We are all honored by their noble gift, which it is hoped will stimulate further gifts by others who also want to see the inspiring legacy of the Stadems increase and continue to bless many, and not diminish and fade away.

Other sacrificial donors:

Darrell Ginther. Just days before his passing to heaven, Darrell expressed his desire for his family to gather together for a picnic at a local riverside park. He contributed a contribution to the Heritage Center as well, before this.

Jerry L. Ginther. He sought to gather finances to establish a group home for the family. He couldn’t earn the amount with his minimum wage job and tips, so he entered Sweepstakes contests, hoping for a win that would finance the beautiful home. That dream crashed, but he didn’t let that deter him, he then turned to invest in the Heritage Center project of PVF, and gave large amounts of his income in memory and in honor of family members and relatives and friends he greatly admired. He supported the Project by telling strangers at work, who were so taken by his account that they contributed as much as $100 in a single sum.

Pearl Ginther. She gave Sacrificially to the project as well, from her “widow’s mite.”

Roberta Ginther. She gave a large amount to the Heritage Center, along with a beautiful poem that expressed what it is all about in the spirit.

Sylvia and Tom Yuge and the descendants of Kristine Stadem the first Stadem born in this country of our line. They gave not only money, but themselves, coming to the reunion, and then continued with other helps, including a genealogy for the Ginther family.

Eloise Spilde Hefty with the Samtaleren, the single most unifying factor for the Stadems other than the reunions.

Barb Vorseth-Benson who gave us, without charge except for the cost of printing, the Stadem Genealogy.

Bernice Schaefer, who truly insituted the grand tradition of the reunions every year, as she made the yearly pilgrimage to be with her beloved Mama and do her every loving thing she possibly could think of (not to forget her husband Russell too, who let his wife go, despite all the expense and loss of his good wife's company for those weeks).

Last but not least, the families: Bernie and Naomi Iserman, who gave to the physical building all their time and effort and construction genius and expertise extending over many months—and they are not finished giving in that Respect!

Steve Stadem, and his brothers, and their sons and daughters. They have been giving sacrificially of their efforts and strength and time and money.

The Browns who gave so many pricey, useful items and fixtures such as numerous windows taken from their remodeled home to the structure.

Kathleen Lawrence-Smith, British Christian magazine editor, who knew and esteemed Pearl Ginther through acquaintance with Darrell and Ron, and who donated a large sum in honor of her late husband.

Morrells' corporate CEO, Joseph Sebring. Although it couldn't be considered sacrificial, it was indeed gracious on his part. He donated a large sum when he called Pearl Ginther from his home in Cincinatti and heard of the Heritage Center project on Plain View Farm and what it signified for the preservation of heritage and family values for the younger generation.

But truly there are others, who gave to their families and to the Stadem relationship sacrificially in the footsteps and spirit of Britta—-we cannot name them All here, but God knows who they are. Their rich reward will be enjoyed forever in heaven, and we sincerely, gratefully, thank God for them.-—Ed.].

”May His Light Shine Through Our Heritage

—To God Be The Glory!”— Plain View Farm Heritage Motto,

by Stephen Stadem,

Son of Leroy and Elizabeth Stadem,

Grandson of Alfred and Bergit Stadem,

Great-Grandson of Peder and Marie Stadem,

Great-Great Grandson of Syvert and Oline Stadheim

All Editorial Comment of This Account is My Own Responsibility; Any Mistakes or Misjudgments of Any Sort Are Entirely Mine, not the Author’s, And I Give My Profuse Apologies To Anyone Offended. I Only Tried to Humbly Suggest: Walk In Their Shoes, Ones Perspective Might Change! In Any Case, God is a Forgiving God. “The Proud God Knows Afar Off.” Loved Ones, Let’s Not Be Proud. I Rest My Case With: “Poor Heart, You May Have Failed. You Think It is the End, But It’s Not. Call on God, He Has a Miracle For You.”—Editor, Ronald Ginther, May 23, 2013

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