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This year the largest Swedish-American fraternity celebrate its centennial. It is a significant year because it is also 500 years ago that its namesake Gustav Vasa was born.

Celebrations are taking place all across "the Vasa Land" both in North America and in Sweden, leading up to the 100th Anniversary celebration on September 28 in Waterbury, Connecticut where it all began.

The Vasa Order of America emerged out of the many Swedish sickbenefit societies that existed as a safety net for early immigrants. In the 1880s a small loosely-knit coalition of these independent Swedish societies existed in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. When the coalition was dissolved, George K Rose invited representatives of the Connecticut societies home to discuss a new formation. His proposals included: "l. All units in the organization must work as closed or secret societies. 2. The organizations to be headed by a Grand Lodge having repre.sentatives from each society."

When the first official meeting was held on September 18, 1896 in New Haven, two of the original six invited societies had dropped out. The first Grand Master (1896-1901) was Blekinge-born Nils Pearson. George Rose took over after him and led the organization until 1903.

The name "Vasa Order of America" was proposed by George Rose. "Gustav Vasa, just like George Washington, had been called the father of his country. He, like Washington, delivered his country from the hateful yoke of a foreign monarch. He persuaded the Dalecarlians to rise and later the other provinces joined in the fight for liberation. With the help of the peasant armies, he won a glorious victory over the oppressor, and on June 6, 1523 he was proclaimed King of Sweden. Four years later he introduced the Lutheran, religion to Sweden, not by force but through intelligent reasoning. The major part of the wealth of the country which had been acquired by the church through 500 years of accumulation, was given back to the rightful owner, the Swedish commonwealth. There is no other name in Swedish history and very few
in world history that can match that of the heroic character and giant of the north, Gustav Vasa!
Today there are several hundred local Vasa lodges located throughout the U.S., Canada and Sweden. A lodge can have hundreds of active members in all ages with its own building, Vasa Park, newsletter and youth program. It can also be a couple of old members meeting in someone's home and knowing full well that their lodge will disappear when they die. Whether large or small, all lodges welcome visitors from other lodges at their regular meetings and do everything to make their guests really feel at home.

The Vasa Order organized its first children's club tour to Sweden in 1924, where the children sung for King Gustav V and held concerts in cities all over the country. The visit was such a success that Swedish Lodge Göteborg was formed and there are now 50 Vasa Order of America lodges all over Sweden.

The Swedish Vasa Lodges choose the Swedish American of the Year and treat him or her to an extensive summer program. The Swedish American this year is Honorary Consul General Siri Eliasson, San Francisco who will be the honored guest at the main events - Minnesota Day in Växjö, Swedish-American Days in Värmland and the wrap-up at Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm.

The original charter of the Vasa Order pledged "to educate members in moral, intellectual and social aspects and make them more valuable representatives of the Swedish nation". This pledge is carried out today through Scandinavian cultural and heritage programs, Swedish language study, literature, films and slides; children and youth clubs, including summer camps in the United States and Sweden; scholarships and student loans for vocational undergraduate and graduate study in the United States, Canada or the Scandinavian countries; the bi-monthly magazine "Vasa Star" for every family; commemoration of Swedish holidays and other specific Scandinavian cultural events; folk dancing, choir-singing, dinners, dances, sports activties, genealogy, music and many worthwhile activities for members of all ages.

In the similar Sons of Norway order, ~~ the sick-benefits developed into a modern insurance and life insurance program. In the Vasa Order the original creed to "support" is now mostly of a symbolic nature.

The local lodges are organized in 19 district lodges. The whole organization is "guided and directed" by the Grand Lodge and its Grand Master. The present Grand master Eric G Johnson lives in Stockton, California while the rest of the Grand Lodge members are spread all over the continent as well as in Sweden. Vasa's archives are beautifully housed in Bishop Hill, Illinois. So Vasa is not only the largest Swedish-American nonpolitical, non-religious, cultural fraternal organization, it is also the most geographically widespread.


© and all rights reserved from Swedish Press May 1996