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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 Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.






(More History)