Karen Fried is this year’s Syttende Mai Grand Marshal

2012 Syttende Mai Grand Marshal Karen Fried. Photo by Jan Lee Buxengard

By Jan Lee Buxengard
Special for the Argus

“Should I ride in the Viking ship, on a float or on my bike in the parade?” is a question Karen Fried  pondered after learning she was chosen grand marshal for Spring Grove’s Syttende Mai celebration. With interest and involvement with Sons of Norway and Syttende Mai, and as an avid bike rider, she just may decide to participate more than once throughout the Saturday, May 19 parade.

It is interesting to note that Karen’s mother, Georgia Rosendahl, was parade marshal for the Spring Grove Homecoming celebration in 2007.

For many years, Karen has played an important role for the success of Syttende Mai. Likely, parade watchers through the years have not realized that Karen’s artistic talent is displayed in the unique signage she designs and constructs to identify the honorees and special units in the parade.

Not only is the lettering bold and easy to read, the rosemaled designs represent the Norwegian heritage for the community’s annual celebration.

“I should start making my sign now!” she said with a chuckle.

Over the years, Karen has been involved in numerous ways with the Syttende Mai celebration. On the Syttende Mai Inc. board she served as vice president in 1993 and president in 1994 and 1995.

Looking back, she recalled, “As president, I had to emcee the blast off program at the school. I don’t like to talk in front of people, so I had my husband, Bill, help me emcee. I dressed him to be “Billena, the Bunad Dummy”. He stood behind the podium and acted the part well.”

Over the years, she has been involved in numerous ways with the celebration. Some that come to mind include: helping with the Folksmarj event, silk screening Ola and Per on tee shirts, rosemaling a 25th anniversary commemorative plate that was given away, demonstrating lefse making, and much more.

“I’m always busy doing something during Syttende Mai,” Karen commented.

Home grown

Karen was born June 27, 1957 to Donald and Georgia Rosendahl, the third of four children in the family, and the only girl. She was raised on the family farm in Spring Grove Township, where they raised a large number of chickens. In 1972 a new dairy barn was built and they went into dairy. “Growing up on a farm was a fun thing and a good experience,” she stated adding, “But farms today are so different.”

On Dec. 29, 1973, when Karen was a junior in high school at Spring Grove, her father passed away unexpectedly. Overnight, all the farm work became the mother and children’s responsibility.

“Girls’ sports were just starting in the school in my junior year. When you live in the country, it’s hard to get to town to take part in things, but I was able to participate in basketball, volleyball, track and golf.”

Karen was a member of the Newhouse Norsemen 4-H Club for 10 years, taking projects such as photography, conservation, etc. “4-H was a lot of fun. I liked to play softball in the summer and won some trips to the state fair. It was at that time that our club started mowing the town hall lawn as a Community Pride project,” she recalled.

After graduating from SGHS in 1975, she attended college at Waseca for two years, graduating in 1977 with a degree in horticulture. She worked for 1 ½ years at a landscape business in Rochester, but decided pushing a wheelbarrow and working in the dirt wasn’t what she wanted to do the rest of her life.

She went to Winona State, majored in biology with a minor in photography, and graduated in 1982. “After college I came home to help with the family farming operation.”

In 1985 she married Bill Fried, who had come to Spring Grove to teach at the school a couple years before. The couple has two children, Christopher born in 1987 and Kjersti in 1991. “Mom would watch the kids each day when I went to the home farm to milk cows.”

Norwegian heritage is important to Karen and her family. “My grandparents and aunts and uncles spoke Norwegian. My mother could understand it, but didn’t speak it,” she stated, and added, “My Grandma made lefse, flat brod, and rosettes.

“When our kids were younger, the Zaffkes, Bergsgaards and us would get together and make lefse. Kjersti is pretty good at making it and is my helper when demonstrating lefse making.”

Karen started employment at the school working part-time in the media center, and currently is the full-time secretary in the school office, and also serves as advisor for the yearbook.

Sons of Norway

Some years ago Karen joined the Valheim Sons of Norway of Spring Grove, and has been president of the lodge since 2004. “I’m the youngest member. The average age is close to 80, and mostly women.”

Katie Peterson, secretary of the organization, points out that “Karen gets things done, and does a lot of artwork for posters.”

“Food is a tradition to carry on with any nationality,” Karen stated. The Sons of Norway sponsor three bake sales throughout the year — at Syttende Mai, Uffda Fest, and Christmas.

“In the spring, we have Flat Brod Day at the Trinity Church kitchen, where people are encouraged to come and learn how to make flat brod, and other traditional Norwegian treats such as sandbakkels and rosettes. Saturday, April 21 was the fifth year of this event. Members bring recipes and Karen compiles a small booklet of recipes used that day. Some of the flat brod is preserved and sold at the bake sale during Syttende Mai.


“Photography, knitting, and riding my bike are my favorite things to do,” Karen noted.

“My interest in photography goes back to when I was in second grade. The new Kodak Instamatic camera was being advertised. I wanted one and got it for a Christmas gift that year,” she recalled adding, “And I have that camera yet today.”

Karen enjoys knitting and would rather knit than do rosemaling. With such a busy life, a knitting project is something you can pick up or put down at any time. Currently she is knitting Viking hats, and trying to figure out how to do the horns on them.

“I like to ride my bike. I’m a commuter biker, biking to school and home – five miles in, five miles home when the weather is nice. It’s a great thing.”

Since 1990, she has tried to get in a trip each year. Along with her Spring Grove classmate Ann Gerleman of Colorado, she has participated in some type of organized bike ride across various parts of the country. Some of these activities have included: MS (Multiple Sclerosis) ride in Minnesota – 350 miles; Onalaska to Milwaukee Wis. – 400 miles; Northern Wisconsin to Prairie du Chien; Montana through Canada; and the Ragbrai in Iowa, to name a few. “This year’s ride will be from Duluth to La Crosse. We ride 40-50 miles per day,” she reported adding, “It would be fun to do something with my bike for the Syttende Mai parade.”

Karen took a rosemaling class through Community Ed and another in Decorah. The city’s former entrance signs with the troll on were her creation. “I haven’t done a lot of it lately,” she stated about the Norwegian art form, explaining, “It’s a lot of work each time to get everything out and, after painting, cleaning up the brushes and putting it all away again.”

During the restoration of the Spring Grove Viking Ship, Karen helped redo some of the shields on the side of the parade vessel.

She also enjoys the yearly task of helping Mary Zaffke paint the large backdrop for the Trinity Lutheran Church Christmas program. “Mary is the mastermind, and I’m the helper.”

Some years ago Karen got involved with the YOOH summer musical. In her first year she was the producer for “Oliver”, and has been involved in some way ever since. She refers to her participation over the years as the “three Ps” – producer, photographer and making popcorn. There could have been a fourth “P”. One year, and only once, they offered peanuts and discovered they get soggy from the humidity of summer.

She also works part time at the Spring Grove Cinema.

Karen is involved with the Giants of the Earth, and currently serves as the organization’s treasurer. “It’s a great organization, and treasurer is a big job.”

“There are lots of things to do, and I have a hard time saying no,” she commented about her very busy life.

She urges, “Everyone should come to Syttende Mai May 18-20. It’s a wonderful celebration!”