Solveig Keeps Norwegian New York in Action

By Solveig Eileen Johansen

I love to tell the story that we honored my mother’s and father’s memory on the American Immigrant Wall on Ellis Island.

Harry Marius Hubertz- Country of Origin: Lyngor, Norway

Hulda Lindberg Hubertz – Country of Origin: Hango, Finland

My mother immigrated in 1906 on board Aurelia Hango, Finland. She left her widowed mother and six siblings. Hulda had a small wooden box with all her earthly possessions. She was walking on the pier when she dropped her box. She gathered all the items together and put them in a dress which became her backpack for her belongings. At 16, she traveled by train to her aunt and uncle’s farm in Stutgard, Arkansas. They had wanted to help, but Hulda had a bout of malaria followed by extreme loneliness . Her cousins Inez and Ingeborg, were working in Chicago and invited her to join them. Hulda did this and and took a job with a well-to-do family in the windy city where the cooler weather suited her better. Then it was on to New York, where she worked for the banker, Clews on the East Side.

My father Halvor Marius Hubertz had sailed to sea with his father when he was 12 years old. Halvor finally arrived on Ellis Island in 1910 when he was 19 years old from Lyngor, Norway. His sisters, Ingeborg Olsen and Signe Nilssen welcomed him to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Hulda Lindberg and Halvor Hubertz met at a New Year’s Eve party.   Halvor had a very good friend, Langfe Nils, who had a sister, Anna Logan, who was a cook in the house that Hulda served as chambermaid and waitress. Even though they were tired, the “girls” made their way to the party where Halvor was singing and his friend Helmer Jensen was playing the accordian. Hulda and Halvor met. Halvor would come calling on Hulda on her day off. Hulda loved to go ice skating in Central Park, but Halvor, not a skater, stood on the side of the rink just watching.

In 1917, America asked for young men to “make the world safe for democracy.” Halvor was a member of the World War I Infantry Division and sent to Fort McClellan for training. English officers were in charge and Halvor became “Harry”. He became a cook and received his citizenship papers as Harry Marius on his honorable discharge from the U. S. Army.

Hulda and Halvor were married by Pastor Andrew Hansen of the Sunset Park Methodist Church In Tante Signe’s and Uncle Gustav’s home on43rd Street on Nov. 22, 1999.

Their first home was 225-55h Sreet (across from the Lutheran Medical Center). Pappa was working for the New York Foundation Company as a rigger.

Papa would take me out in a stroller to Bliss Park to meet friends and enjoy coffee as they surveyed the Norwegian ships in the harbor.

Hulda and Harry were parents who devoted their lives o their family, friends and faith. They bought their first house on 142nd Place on South Ozone Park. Papa’s best friend from Lyngor, the Ellingsen’s from Mandal, had bought a home a home in Richmond Hill. We all attended Sunday Schol in the Evangelical Free church on Liberty Avenue.

In 1928, Mom, my brother Kenneth and I boarded the Stavangerfjord for a trip to Norway to visit family in Hamar. Kenneth and I were in the dining room for every meal. But a tray had to be fixed for Mom. Then I got red spots and was diagnosed with measles. The Stavangerfjord was quarantined.   Tante Jenny came on board and read “eventyr” books to us. We did have a wonderful visit with my grandmother in Naadendal.

Papa had a good idea that we should move back to Bay Ridge. They bought a house on 51st Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Tante Ingeborg and Uncle Alfred lived on 49th Street and Tante Signe and Uncle Gustav lived nearby on 52nd Street. My cousins would pickup Kenny and me to go to Sunday School at Sunset Park Methodist Church on 45th and 7th Avenue. My parents struggled with finances in those Depression years. Papa sailed to sea and I was heart-broken that he couldn’t be home for my Confirmation Day. But Mom gave a family Confirmation dinner. A telegram of congratulations came from Papa in Copenhagen. Even after he had worked around the clock, Papa took Kenny and me to see the wonderful boats at the Boat Show in Grand Central Palace. He also took us to Madison Square Garden for the New York Rangers Hockey games. During intermission, Sonja Henie performed. She was Norway’s renowned figure skater, and the one who popularized the sport.

The Depression seriously impacted our lives. Kenny and I never knew how little we had. Papa couldn’t work for the PWA (Public Works Administration) because he owned a house. So Mama and Papa lost our home on 51st Street because they could not make the mortgage payments to the Bay Ridge Savings Bank.

Tante Julia Hansen on 57th Street gave me her piano so I could take piano lessons. I walked to Helen Jacobsen on 70th Street so I could take piano lessons. I played Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman at her recital. I was so proud of my accomplishment.

As a family, we went to the big revival tent on 56th Street, where the Christian choirs from all churches sang so beautifully. My father joined in singing his favorite hymn, the Old Rugged Cross.

At Christmas time, we went to the Norwegian Seamen’s church for their juletrefest and brought a gift for the youngest seaman, the oldest, etc. then we walked around the huge tree with members of all the churched in our Norwegian community.

I attended Bay Ridge High School ( a girl’s school). One day our principal announced that King Olav and Queen Sonja were going to dedicate a stone in honor of Leif Erikson at Leif Erikson Park. We could have the day off if we wore a Norwegian costume to the ceremony. My mother went to Fru DeLarios’ Embroidery Store on 53rd Street and 8th Avenue and borrowed a costume for me.

I joined the Norwegian Folk Dance Society of New York—walked from 80th Street and 12th Avenue to Imatra Hall on 40th for rehearsals.   I learned from a wonderful dance leader, Asmund Goytel, and received a lovely costume for exhibitions.

Life changed when father started in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a master rigger where he worked until he ws 70myears of age. He never took time off. Finally, when he retired, he and Mom took a vacation to his boyhood home of Lyngor.

Kenny and I never stopped being the children of our parents and everything they taught us. My brother graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School. His first job was with Ford Instruments. He played soccer as a goalie and as a junior player for the Norwegian Turners and then the Sporting Club Gjøa.

Kenneth joined the US Air Force and became a pilot-Lt US 15th Air Force on a B-24 Flying Fortress Bomber. He was shot down after many missions, but every man parachuted to safety. They became Prisoners of War, were marched through the streets and put into box cars which took the to concentration camps. He was freed by General Patton’s Army at the end of the war.

I never saw my father cry before he received a “missing in action” telegram.” My parents always had faith that Kenneth would be able to come home to them. A telegram from the Red Cross announcing Kenneth was found arrived on Mother’s Day.

During World War II, I collected funds for US War Bonds and the Allied Forces on Norway night. In addition, I was active in the Norwegian American Women’s Committee which waged a successful campaign on behalf of Norwegian War Relief during World War II.

I joined the Telemark Ski Club and met Leif Kaare Johansen at the Norwegian Club, 117 Columbia Heights at a Christmas party. During the war, Kaare had been part of a whaling expedition to the Antarctica. His ship was surrounded by the British cruiser, Ajax, off Trinidad (a free port) and their trip home was halted. They had a cargo of sperm oil and the Germans were looking for these ships. This had a significant impact on Kaare’s life because Norway was occupied and he couldn’t get back to his family.

Kaare and I were married in the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on 75th street and 4th Avenue and settled in Bay Ridge.   Because of his many activities, among them General Chairman of the 17th of May Committee 1961-1965, his active membership in Bondungdoms Laget, the Norwegian Club and Nordmanns Forbundet, he was awarded the St. Olav Medal. Tante Klara, of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church arranged a tremendous celebration.

Ninety years ago a small group of Norwegians, who will forever remain the founding fathers met to establish the Norwegian Children’s Home. It was folks, struggling with their own finances, families and jobs, who saw their goal and dream become a reality to help children in need. They counted pennies, nickels and dimes to establish a home when there was such a great need. They worked selflessly and devotedly to make a “home” for children whose parents through injury, illness or misfortune could not care for their children. For our rich history and for all of our committed we had much reason to rejoice and be thankful that we gave the children love, a Christian education, friendship and the personal touch they needed.

After 80 years, the Norwegian Children’s Home was sold. The monies realized became the Norwegian Children’s Home Scholarship fund to help needy college students.

I was Mistress of Ceremonies at Norway Night at the 69th Regiment Armory and had the pleasure to introduce Kirk Douglas who played in Heroes of Telemark. Many celebrities such as, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mme Pandit, President of the UN General Assembly, Celeste Holm, and Arlene Dahl were also guests.

The years have been full of community activities I so enjoy. I am a life member of Faerder Lodge#103, Sons of Norway. I am a past member of the New York State Advisory Council of Ethnic Affairs, part of Governor Carey’s committee.

From 1973-76, I was a member of the Norwegian American Sesquicentennial Commission, which celebrated the arrival of the ship, Restauration, with the first Norwegian immigrants to this country. From 1986 60 1990, I served on the committee that selected Norwegian American recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

I received a Certificate of Appreciation for generous support and work from the Norwegian Seamen’s Church. I have been a member of the Norwegian Club, The Norwegian Seamen’s War Veteran’s Club and the American Scandinavian Society.

I was very honored to have been an Honorary Marshall of the 17th of May Parade together with Liv Ullman.

Hard work in America is nothing new, as Tom Brokaw observed in his moving portrait of the 20th century. Hard work was a gritty fact of life. People worked hard because they had to, played when they could and left a legacy that enriches us all.