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home : news : news July 24, 2017

6/22/2017 2:27:00 PM
Early Ambassador of all things Swedish makes return visit

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but Helen Fosdick and her daughter Tori, who have lived in California for 18 years, recently did just that. They returned to Lindstrom recently to stay at Fridhem, the yellow house on South Lindstrom Lake they once called home. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Fridhem was built in 1895 by B. B. Fullerton of Minneapolis and also served as a summer house for Frank Larsen, publisher of Chicago’s Svenska Amerikanen Tribunen.  Ironically, after decades as a private family residence, Fridhem is once again a vacation home, available for weekly or daily rental via the wonders of the internet.

Fosdick lived at Fridhem while she taught Spanish, Swedish and American history at Chisago Lakes High School from 1970 to 1988. While in Lindstrom, Fosdick became a driving force for the celebration and preservation of the community’s Swedish heritage.

News of Fosdick’s recent visit drew a parade of friends, colleagues, and former students to Fridhem. They came to chat and reminisce with the lively 93-year-old who lives independently, follows friends on Facebook, drives a car, and goes to Curves for a workout each week.

For those too young or new to the community, Fosdick is remembered as the resident expert on Swedish language and customs, teaching the Swedish language to adults and high school students, establishing the high school’s International Club, bringing foreign exchange students to the community and hosting them in her home, personally escorting annual student excursions to Mexico and Sweden, and guiding hundreds of Swedish travelers on tours of the community, including the King and Queen of Sweden, who came to Chisago Lakes in 1996.

Helen Fosdick has always had more than one home. In fact, she has made her home on two continents. Her parents emigrated from Sweden to Hitchcock, S.D., where Helen was born in 1923, the second youngest of a family of eight children.

“My dad died on my fourth birthday,” says Fosdick. Two years later the Great Depression turned South Dakota into a place of little opportunity, and the family was split up. Helen and three of her brothers were sent to Sweden to live with their aunt, who worked as a school teacher. “Education was very important to her,” says Fosdick, and it became important to Fosdick as well.  

Helen remained in Sweden until after World War II. ‘My brothers wanted to go back to America. I agreed to try it for one year.”  

After a brief visit to her older sister in Minnesota, Fosdick and her brothers settled in California where Helen met and married her husband, and daughter Tori was born, but the marriage was short-lived. When the couple separated, Fosdick decided to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.

Then, serendipity took its course. On a visit to Lindstrom in 1952, Fosdick happened to meet three siblings who owned Fridhem.  Algot and Merinda Martinson and Axel Gustafson were the children of Nelly Gustafson, the community’s turn of the century midwife. (A sculpture honoring Nelly stands at the Chisago Lakes Library.)

On learning that Fosdick had been raised by her aunt, who was a teacher in Sweden, Axel Gustafson produced an old school photo. “It turns out that my dad’s sister had been Axel’s school teacher, before he emigrated with his mother to America,” explains Fosdick.

Fosdick, Gustafson, and the Martinson sisters became fast friends and remained in close touch. Fosdick sometimes came to Minnesota to visit, bringing daughter Tori with her. On one of those visits Fosdick inquired about a possible teaching position in Lindstrom.

The Lindstrom and Chisago City schools had recently consolidated when the new Superintendent Don Bungum offered Fosdick a position teaching Spanish.

“Come live here,” Gustafson told Fosdick, when he heard about the teaching offer. Neither Gustafson nor his siblings ever married, and by 1970 Axel was in his declining years and living at Fridhem alone.
The thought of moving to Minnesota gave Fosdick chills, literally. “I stood in front of the freezer and tried to imagine what winter in Minnesota was like,” she recalls. But she pulled up stakes and brought Tori, then in eighth grade, with her as they took up residence at Fridhem.

At first, Fosdick taught Spanish and American history. Eventually she convinced Superintendent Bungum to add Swedish to the high school curriculum.

Fosdick’s enthusiasm quickly spread beyond the classroom as she began teaching Swedish to adults at night, became an active member of the local Swedish Club and recruited and coached a group of young Swedish dancers who performed throughout the community. The wealth of Fosdick’s Swedish experience brought a ring of authenticity to the heritage of the community that Superintendent Bungum had dubbed “America’s Little Sweden.”

Following Axel Gustafson’s death in 1971, Fosdick purchased Fridhem which means House of Peace and continued to live there until 1999 when she moved to California to be near her daughter.

Fosdick returned to see one of her former Swedish folk dancers get married. Several other young women who had danced in the group also attended. “They are all so beautiful,” she says.

It will probably be her last trip back, says Fosdick, as travel is becoming too difficult. “I have missed seeing the lake, miss my old friends and miss the change of the seasons,” she says, but California is now her home.  Friends will be quick to tell you that Chisago Lakes, and Fridhem, are richer for the legacy she leaves here.

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