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Vasa Order of America celebrates Scandinavian heritage

Date: 1/31/2013

By Lori Szepelak

EAST LONGMEADOW — Marcia Peterson Radner believes in lifelong learning — and especially in one's heritage.

This retired Springfield middle school teacher now volunteers with the Springfield School Volunteers Program and Big Brothers Big Sisters, centering on remedial reading. In her spare time, she also serves as the children's club leader of Brage-Iduna Lodge #9 of the Vasa Order of America, based in town.

"I have fun with all of my roles," she said during a recent late afternoon interview with Reminder Publications. "I learn so much from the children."

Besides her "fabulous experiences" in the Springfield city schools working with youngsters and girls in their early teens, her passion is to educate children with a Scandinavian heritage. Radner noted that the local lodge is a welcoming group.

"Membership is open to anyone interested in Scandinavia," she said. "Some of our members immigrated, most are second or third generation Swedes."

The Vasa Order of America, an international organization, began in 1896 as a benefit fraternal society for Swedish immigrants to the United States. There are lodges based in this country, Canada and Sweden.

Vasa was named for the royal house in Sweden beginning with King Gustav Vasa in 1523 who is thought to be the founder of modern Sweden, according to Radner.

The local lodge meets at the St. Paul Lutheran Church on Elm Street on the second Tuesday at 6 p.m. in March, April, May, September, October and November. The lodge also sponsors a children's club, which currently has 14 enrolled.

"People can enjoy a sense of community as they learn more about the traditions and culture of Sweden and they'll be able to make it part of their family's lives," she said.

The children's club focuses on learning Swedish vocabulary, as well as practicing folk dances, enjoying cultural celebrations including the Påskkärringar (Easter witches), or decorating the may pole at midsummer. Children also participate in the lodge's annual Luciafest program in December.

"The benefits of joining the organization are social as well as sharing in the cultural experiences of Scandinavia," she said. "Members are of all ages and walks of life."

Dues are $20 a year with more than 75 percent of the amount benefiting the Massachusetts District Lodge and the Grand National Lodge to cover costs, provide for the archives genealogy database, scholarships and a quarterly magazine.

As Radner looks back on her years growing up listening to her grandparents talk in Swedish, as well as the trips she has taken abroad to learn more about her heritage with her husband Larry and daughters, Rachel and Leah, she encourages others to do the same.

"We have photos and great memories of the country, its people and our Swedish relatives," Radner said of her trips abroad. "Also, we can now stay in touch with letters, email and Facebook."

Radner notes that since she joined the local lodge in 1991, she has made a lot of new friends.

"We are all fun people," she said, adding, "and the children's club is a phenomenal group of kids."

For more information on the local Vasa group, contact Radner at 782-4959.