The Astoria Nordic Heritage Park is closer to the finish line after a Sweet Home couple with local ties bought the naming rights for the entrance.
Tony Larson and Shelly Tack donated $250,000 for the right to a personalized inscription on the park’s grand entrance ramp and stairs.
“This is a one-in-a-lifetime shot to not only say ‘thank you’ to my great-grandparents, but also ‘thank you’ to the Astoria community,” Larson said.
Larson’s great-grandparents emigrated from Denmark to the Dakotas and moved to Astoria in the early 1900s. Larson said some of his favorite childhood memories were of coming to the Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival from Portland. He has been on the festival’s board for several years.
“My dad and great-grandaunt would bring me out,” he said. “I’ve got a 50-year love affair with the place, and I’m only 51.”
Tack, from Sweet Home, said her great-grandparents emigrated from Sweden to the Upper Midwest before coming to Astoria.
“It’s something we’re both really proud of, that our families came here … that they made that sacrifice for future generations,” she said.
The donation brought the $1.4 million fundraising effort close to the amount needed to start construction at Peoples Park off Marine Drive in the fall. The park will include a large midsummer pole in the middle of a plaza surrounded by trees and shrubbery. Granite slabs and flagpoles will represent Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, with an archway leading to interpretive panels explaining the heritage of Scandinavians in the region.
Janet Bowler, the vice chairwoman for the Nordic Heritage Park Committee, said the donation was a nice push forward given the challenges of trying to raise money without in-person gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a way to meet people and new donors, and we’ve been without that for two years,” Bowler said. “But despite that, we’ve made really great progress. The Nordic community really wants to see this park built.”
Bowler said the park still has several border plaques and laser-cut inscription panels available for naming rights.
Larson said there are some scaled back, online and socially distanced events planned for the midsummer festival from June 18 to June 20, including a livestreamed coronation of the court and an optog, or parade, from the Columbia River Maritime Museum to the site of the Nordic park.
“We’ll be in native wear,” Larson said. “We’ll have our flags out. I think we’re going to have a smaller version of our midsummer pole. Our standard is quite unwieldy. But we’ll be singing the national anthems, both of old and of our American home.”
Bowler said the Finnish Suomi Hall in Uniontown will sell rice pudding and fruit soup to-go behind the building. The attic of the hall will also host a livestreamed reader’s theater production of “Of Love and Politics,” she said, after 13 scripts were found in the attic and translated.
“Theater was really big at Finnish Brotherhood from the turn of the century to the ’50s,” she said.