This summer, I decided to dedicate a portion of my vacation in Chicago to learning more about the great Swedish history interwoven into the metropolis’s multicultural tapestry. One thing that struck me as a very unique element of Swedish immigration was the strategically long-term approach taken in settlement. Beyond restaurants and retail, Swedish immigrants focused on true institution-building. They founded hospitals, schools and cultural community centers— ecosystems that bettered the larger community and would long outlive its architects.
In my first stops outlined in the previous blog, I explored Andersonville (the North Side Chicago enclave where most Swedes settled) and paid a visit to the Swedish-American Museum.
The second stop on my journey was North Park University, founded in 1891 by Swedes from the Evangelical Covenant Church. Located a few blocks down from the Swedish Covenant Hospital on Foster Avenue, North Park is an academic oasis in leafy urban setting.
Walking up to the grand Old Main building, one is immediately struck by Sweden. The inscription next to the entrance reads: “Herrens fruktan är vishetens begynnelse”, or “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. What began as a seminary college is today a multicultural university focused on diversity with a robust international exchange program. My host, Bengt Sjogren, and I are met here by Dean Charles Peterson, a dynamic university leader bursting with positive energy. Right away, my brother whispers to me: “He seems so cool!” From a 16-year-old, this is a high compliment!
Dean Peterson gives us a tour of the vast courtyard and describes the notable health and sciences program of the university, pointing to a massive construction site that will boast a 42-million-dollar new science building. On our tour, we run into the President and the Provost as well who remark how instrumental today’s Swedish-American community has been in giving back to the school. This generosity can be seen in the university’s state-of-the-art recreational center (home of the North Park University Vikings!) and library.
Becoming ever more global and encouraging exchanges is of critical importance here. Dean Peterson is often in Sweden, and mentions a memorable trip to Karlstad for a youth event where his students were able to interact and connect with Mark who was speaking there! Next year, the school’s choir is traveling to Stockholm as well and many of the exchange students studying at North Park are from the Nordic region.
Our fantastic tour ends with a lunch at Tre Kroner where the piece de resistance hangs boldly on the wall: a signed jersey of famed Swedish Chicago Black Hawk Niklas Hjalmarsson. We sit at a large table and are served by a young waitress who is moving imminently to Washington, D.C. with her husband who’s starting a high-tech firm. Yet another example of connectivity and global reach! I’m quickly transported to Stockholm as our table fills with herring, gravlax and skagen. I miss Sweden just a little less than I have been while feasting on kanelbulle and coffee, and engaging in a dynamic conversation on cultural differences, similarities and shared values between Sweden and the United States. What a wonderful day my brother and I had learning about Sverige in Chicago. Thank you Dean Charles Peterson, Bengt Sjogren, Karin Abercrombie and Tre Kroner!