Although his nickname is Woody, Michael Woodward is a welder; his Unlimited Welding shop in Stromsburg handles farm repairs and has an artistic side, too.
Alan J. Bartels
Bob Berggren sees Stromsburg through rose-colored glasses. He returned to his hometown of 1,100 residents after a 40-year career as an architect in Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver. Berggren and his wife, Dana, planned to run their Scandinavian Inn Bed and Breakfast as a retirement business and spend time with their grandchildren.
Their plans changed after downtown’s iconic Victor Anderson Building was declared a nuisance, with rumors of its bulldozer-destined demise beginning to spread around town. “I hoped someone would buy it,” Berggren said. “I didn’t expect it to be me.” The building is now home to the couple’s Rose Colored Glass, a tasting room that shines a spotlight on Nebraska wine and beer.
The Victor Anderson Building’s original owner illuminated Stromsburg in another way. Victor Anderson’s 19,000 square-foot mortuary and furniture store was the talk of Polk County when it opened on June 7, 1913. Electricity was still new in the lives of residents, and the brilliant light fixtures along the upper perimeter of the building on Stromsburg’s town square were a sight to behold. But the lights, like Anderson’s business, eventually fizzled out.
Berggren’s renovation included replacing Anderson’s faded lights with bright LEDs after 80 years of darkness. More than 600 people turned out to see him flip the switch 100 years to the day from when Anderson first lit up Stromsburg.
“Actually, I had a friend inside on his cell phone, and I was in the street with everyone waiting to see them come on,” Berggren said. The crowd held its breath as the countdown began. Berggren gave the word, but the building remained dark. “There was this one- or two-second delay. It seemed like forever. When they finally lit up, it was beautiful,” Berggren said.
Perhaps inspired by Berggren’s example, more shops have opened up around the town square in recent years. Residents hope that trend continues to the point of a nice, evening restaurant opening in town. A lack of both rental units and homes for sale also is a popular topic of conversation. Stromsburg’s new Elementary Park subdivision is easing the housing crunch while residents looking toward a bright future maintain strong connections to their heritage – and that heritage is Swedish.
Stromsburg’s Swedish settlers found fertile Polk County beautifully similar to their homeland near Ockelbo, Sweden; they borrowed the name Stromsburg from a section of their Swedish hometown. The town retains a distinct Swedish feel 145 years after its founding. Banners reading “Valkommen” hang from street lights to welcome visitors. Wooden Dala horses decorate storefronts. There is the local Scandinavian Mutual Insurance Co., and the Stromsburg Chamber of Commerce’s logo incorporates a blue Viking ship.
Nowhere in Nebraska is the flavor of Sweden stronger than at the Economy Hometown Market. Pickled herring, lutefisk, Swedish meatballs, ham loaf mix, lingonberries and ingredients for ostkaka – a sour custard – are all big sellers for owner Mike Branting. Most popular among Swedish purists is his potatiskorv, or potato bologna. Potatoes were a staple of Stromsburg’s Swedish settlers, and they grew them by the wagon load. The Swedes’ tradition for enjoying this delicacy during the holiday season led to it being known as Christmas sausage.
Branting prepares for the holidays by stockpiling batches beginning in July. “I’ll be dealing with some restless Swedes if I don’t churn out 1,000 pounds by the first of December,” said Branting, who makes 2,500 pounds of the meat and vegetable product each year. He always has some in stock.
Branting talked an old Swede out of the bologna recipe after a local butcher shop known for the sausage closed its doors. He tested it on coffee shop patrons until getting it right. “Traditional foods and flavors give us a direct connection to our ancestors,” he said.
Half-Swedish Kelsey Patton is entwined with the old ways. She told her mother at age 13 that she wanted to knit a sweater. Rather than buying wool, the family bought Icelandic sheep. Mother and daughter split the cost of their first spinning wheel and learned together. Her sheep herd now numbers about 40 woolly animals.
She sells most of the fiber from her Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle store across the street from City Square Park. The rhythmic humming of her spinning wheel fills the tiny store whenever she’s not dying wool.
“Stromsburg is a pretty, little blossoming town, pleasantly quiet but with plenty of things going on,” Patton said.
For the rest of the story see the May/June 2017 issue of Nebraska Life.