Bolli Huginsson, left, and Brynjar Ornofsson, posing in front of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, are University of Iceland students studying at the University of Minnesota for four months via a Val Bjornson Scholarship program. Brynjar Ornofsson, left, and Bolli Huginsson visit the gravesite of their ancestor, Jon Sigurdson, in the Icelandic Lutheran Cemetery in Lincoln County.

Icelandic students get tour here of heritage

Visit ancestor's grave, Big Store, St. Paul's Church

Two University of Iceland students who are studying at the University of Minnesota on an exchange program for four months, visited Minneota on Saturday.
Brynjar Ornofsson, 26, and Bolli Huginsson, 21, were able to attend the University of Minnesota with support from the Val Bjornson Icelandic Exchange Scholarship.
Bjornson, born in Minneota of Icelandic descent, was part owner and editor and of the Minneota Mascot and associate editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He was also the Minnesota State Treasurer from 1951-55 and from 1957-75.
Bjornson's Alma mater was the University of Minnesota and the scholarship program was set up in his honor in 1982. Since then, nearly 50 students from Iceland have been able to come here to study. Bjornson died in 1987.
The two students did not know one another before earning the scholarships. Once they were informed of each other being here on the exchange program, they were united on campus at the University of Minnesota.
Ornofsson is a graduate student studying Business, while Huginsson is a senior studying Philosophy. The arrived in Minnesota in August and will leave in December. Huginsson's family will join him here before they return to their home in Oronofsson will be married on Dec. 20 in Las Vegas before he and his wife will then return to Siglufjordur on Dec. 28.Claire Eckley, who was the President of the Icelandic American Association of Minnesota in 2019, lived briefly in Minneota and had many family members live her. She was contacted about the two Icelandic students here on an exchange program. She contacted them about learning more about their heritage with a visit to the Minneota area. Eckley and her cousin, Pat Born, (their grandmothers, Christine {Johnson} Anderson and Ella Johnson were sisters) brought Ornofsson and Huginsson here on Saturday morning.
The group first visited the gravesite of Jon Sigurdson, a distant relative of both boys, as well as Eckley and Born, at the Icelandic Lutheran Cemetery three miles northeast of Ivanhoe in Lincoln County.
"Everyone in Iceland is related to each other," joked Huginsson.
From there, the group traveled to Minneota where they visited St. Paul's Icelandic Church, The former Big Store (now the library), Opera Hall, Bjornson's former home, and more.
The biggest difference between Minnesota and Iceland, both boys agreed, is in the personalities of people.
"When I came here, I wasn't used to people holding the door open for me," said Ornofsson, who has been to the United States four previous times. "Minnesota nice. They don't do that in Iceland. Everyone there is more closed off."
"When I go into a grocery store here, strangers come up and say hi to me," said Huginsson, who has made two previous trips to the United States. "They don't do that where I come from."
Although the boys claim the foods they eat in Iceland is similar to this region, they were able to consume a few things they had never had before.
"We went to a nice restaurant (in the Twin Cities) where we had Tennessee wings and mustard cole slaw," Huginsson said. "That was really good."
"And we had cornbread for the first time," Ornofsson said.
Gary and Mary Buysse joined the group in the library's conference room. Mary is of Icelandic descent and made a trip to Iceland several years ago. While discussing the area she visited with the two students, she was surprised to learn that her great grandfather's farm in Iceland was right next to Huginsson's family farm.
Iceland is a much smaller country than people realize, especially since Minneota has such a rich historical connection. There are only 350,000 people living there.
"Iceland is about the size of Kentucky, with the population of St. Paul," Born noted.
Like everywhere in the world, Iceland struggled with the pandemic.
"About 95 percent of Iceland is vaccinated," Ornofsson relayed.
Both students have enjoyed their time in Minnesota and plan to return again.
"I love the States," Ornofsson said. "I've been to about 15 states so far and my goal is to visit all 50. I was born on the Fourth of July so I feel like I am an American."

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