All my ancestors emigrated from Norway, most of them coming from Kviteseid, Flaabygd, Tuddal, and Bamble in Telemark. I am the fourth generation born in this country and the first generation growing up speaking English.
I was born to Alice and Orval Lea, in Lanesboro, Minnesota on December 30, 1946. Some of my ancestors were the first settlers to come to this part of southeastern Minnesota. One of the churches they started in Fillmore County was the Highland Lutheran Church, where I was baptized, confirmed, and married. My family and my church community have been an important part of my life.
After graduating from Peterson High School in 1964, I attended Winona State University and graduated with a B.S. degree in music in 1969. During my senior year, I was an exchange student at the Oslo Læreskole (Teachers College). I was hosted by a wonderful couple, Else and Johannes Bjørnhaug, who lived at Nordstrandhøgda (a suburb of Oslo). I remember well a trip I took with them to Telemark, where they had their roots. They asked me where my Norwegian roots were and I didn't know. This question planted a seed within me and after returning to my home in Minnesota, I began my search - where were my roots?
While living in Oslo for a year as an exchange student I was active in the college activities. I played in a small orchestra, sang in the college choir, and my new venture was folk dancing. The first evening of folk dance practice at the læreskole I was paired (according to height) with another tall Norwegian, who charmed me and later became my husband.
Kjell Olav Nordlie and I were married in the summer of 1969, after which I moved to Norway where we lived for fourteen years and raised three daughters. While living in Råde, Norway, I worked as a piano teacher and a church organist. Kjell and I continued to enjoy folk dancing; we joined the Råde Leikarring (folk dancers). I also belonged to a community band for thirteen years. I had learned from my grandparents that most of my ancestors came from Telemark. I was excited because now I had the perfect opportunity to begin my research for ancestors, farms, and stories. I did research, leafing through the original church books at the Riksarkivet in Oslo, and then traveled around Telemark to find the ancestral farms. At one of the farms I met a very interesting and helpful gentleman, Torjus Fjågesund, who gave me valuable advice. From that time, I have been on a continuing journey to learn more about my ancestry. My journeys have, among many things, revealed that my family has engaged in forms of farming, music, woodworking, and have had a passion for learning for generations.
Kjell, Catherine, Cecilie, Christine, and I emigrated from Norway in 1983 after the diagnosis, by an American doctor, that Christine had complex heart failure. Norwegian doctors at that time did not have the experience needed to help Christine. After several heart surgeries in Minneapolis, our dear Christine died in 1991. Her heart failure, resulting in our move to Minnesota, changed many lives. I now also have five beautiful all-American granddaughters.
Kjell left a job as superintendent of schools at the Rygge Air Force Base in Norway and took a job as an independent financial advisor in the U. S. I retired in 2003 after teaching music in the Dassel-Cokato School District for seventeen years. I continue to teach piano lessons and Kjell and I continued with our favorite hobby, folk dancing. Kjell and I started a local folk dancing group in Dassel. We performed in many states and enjoy sharing the love of folk dancing and history of Norwegian dance culture. Kjell fought a long battle with cancer, passing away in November of 2013.
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