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Scandinavian folk singer to perform at Colfax auditorium

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  What would any celebration of Colfax’s sesquicentennial be without including the Norwegians?

After all, many of the early settlers and pioneers were Norwegian.

And Colfax has the Scandinavian American Fraternity Park (the Colfax Fairgrounds), which started out as the Independent Scandinavian Workingmen’s Association Park (ISWA).

Then, too, we still have a bunch of lutefisk, lefse, krumkake, sandbakelse and meatball lovers around town.

To honor the area’s Scandinavian heritage, Jim Nelson, a Scandinavian folk singer and storyteller with Colfax roots, will be performing on Saturday, July 19, at 3 p.m. in the Colfax Municipal Building auditorium as part of the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration.

“My father was born in 1909 on a farm about five miles southeast of Colfax. He and his siblings were raised speaking Norwegian, as were their cousins and many of the other parishioners at Barum and Big Elk Creek Lutheran Churches. Mary (Nelson) Larson is one of my many cousins. Her father, Emil Nelson, was one of my father’s brothers,” Jim Nelson said.

Nelson, who was born and raised in Indiana, holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies.

According to the biography on his website (, he began learning Norwegian as a child and developed an interest in Scandinavian music early on. At the age of 14, he started to play in dance bands.

Nelson majored in music education and studied Swedish at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. At UW-Madison, he played accordion, alto saxophone and the trumpet for old-time dances.

From 1983 to 1994, Nelson served as an assistant professor of Scandinavian studies at colleges in Alberta and Minnesota and was a featured musician at folk festivals in San Francisco and western Canada.

For 19 years, Nelson lived in Norway and taught music and languages in public schools and also did performances.

Nelson currently lives in Indiana and presents programs on Scandinavian music, history and folklore. He translates from Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish and has started teaching introductory classes in Norwegian and Swedish.

For his performance at the Colfax Municipal Building auditorium, “I’ll change headgear — peasant cap, panama hat, old time lady’s bonnet — for when I’m doing folk music or vaudeville. And in one case, I’ll gear up as an old lady prior to doing a humorous monologue,” Nelson said.

The one-hour performance the Colfax auditorium also will include a sing-along, Nelson noted.

“I like to have audience participation,” he said.