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Third-generation Swedish-American maintains his roots
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Photo: John Greenwood
Local Swedish expert John Norton has conducted countless hours of research at the Swenson Immigration Center, Augustana College, Rock Island.
MOLINE -- When John Norton's wife goes to use the couple's home computer, the first thing she normally has to do is switch off the Swedish language mode.

Mr. Norton, a noted local Swedish historian and translator, invariably leaves the computer running in Swedish mode. He and Janet have been married for 45 years so she's gotten used to it, as much as she can, he said.

Mr. Norton, a third-generation Swedish-American, has been an active member of the Moline Swedish Friendship Association, Augustana American Scandinavian Association, Bishop Hill Heritage Association and Bishop Hill Vasa Lodge Association, and he edits the Augustana Historical Quarterly magazine.

U.S. Army leaders and Deere & Co. officials often would call on him when visiting military or agricultural ambassadors from Sweden needed a translator and tour guide.

Mr. Norton is a frequent visitor to the Swenson Immigration Center at Augustana College, and he can tell you everything you'd ever want to know about the book exchange Augie has with Sweden or the artwork on display in the center, such as a horse head crafted by famous Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, given to Augustana before the artist returned to Sweden with his fame and riches.

Mr. Norton also was named as the 51st Swedish-American of the Year a couple years ago by the Vasa Order of America, Swedish Foreign Ministry, Emigrant Institute of Vaxjo and additional similar organizations.

His father, Paul Norton, was a noted local artist who was well known for his paintings of local Lutheran churches and other landmarks.

''He was Lutheran and was commissioned to paint dozens of Swedish Lutheran churches,'' Mr. Norton said. ''That made me curious to learn more about my heritage. My dad was obviously influenced by his Swedish roots.

''And in high school and college I just got really interested in learning more about what brought Swedes here,'' he said. ''Every group has an interesting story.''

The story of Bishop Hill particularly enthralled him because of all its controversy, including the murder of colony founder and religious leader Erik Jansson.

The settlers ofBishop Hill were a unique American community, he said, similar to the Shakers, Quakers, Mennonites and Amish, who sought to practice religions they weren't allowed to practice in their own country, Mr. Norton said.

"I've always been interested in finding out why such a large Swedish population just up and left their country to come here," he said. "They're just such intriguing stories."

Some of the stories told in old letters and documents still await his translation into English, a task he truly enjoys, he said.

Mr. Norton refined his Swedish language skills by attending a Nordic Folk High School in Scandinavia and spending a year studying at the University of Stockholm, "where I was exposed to all sorts of things and learned enough Swedish to be dangerous," he said. "The Army also gave me invaluable experiences when making me a translator."

In 1990, his last year as an active Army Reservist, the Pentagon gave him $10,000 to take Sweden's armed forces supreme commander and general staff on a U.S. coast-to-coast tour. Mr. Norton was called back, even after his military retirement, to serve as a translator and guide for Swedish military, parliament and intelligence officials.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Norton also has led Elderhostel group programs in Scandinavia and Europe and has hosted numerous Scandinavian study groups during Midwest visits.

He generally visits Sweden at least once a year, he said. During one trip, he was telling a group of people he had no more living relatives in Sweden when one woman raised her hand and introduced herself as his sixth cousin. "So I do try to stay in contact with her," he said.

He also maintained close relationships with Swedish-Americans in the Quad-Cities through his years as a Lutheran Brotherhood insurance agent, a company now known as Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Mr. Norton was born March 14, 1936, at the former Moline Lutheran Hospital, the son of Paul and Lucy McClean Norton. He graduated from Davenport Central High School in 1954 and attended Knox College in Galesburg to participate in its ROTC program.

He and his wife are the parents of two grown children and have three grandchildren.

Mr. Norton's great-great-grandfather, Olof Nordin, emigrated in 1849 from Gastrikland, Sweden, with his wife and three children and settled in Andover. Mr. Nordin, without his family, returned to Sweden in 1880 and never returned to the U.S.



Sweden

 -- Location: Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, Kattegat and Skagerrak, between Finland and Norway.

-- Population: 9,103,788 (July 2012 estimate). No. 92 in the world.

-- Languages: Swedish (official), small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities.

Source: CIA World Factbook.


Local events heading








  Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses.
1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000.
1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.




(More History)