November 16, 2015

2015 GAA – Linda Wallenberg

Linda Wallenberg


Linda Wallenberg is highly deserving of the Swedish Council of America Great Achievement Award because of her long-term dedication to fostering a love of Sweden and the Swedish language among young people at Sjölunden, the Swedish language immersion program at Concordia Language Villages.

When Sjölunden was founded in 1975, Linda Wallenberg was a student at Gustavus Adolphus College. Her professor, Roland Thorstensson, and his wife Edi, were the first deans in charge of the program and they invited all of the Swedish students at Gustavus to work as counselors that first summer. They built Sjölunden from the ground up, turning a typical American summer camp into a slice of Swedish heaven in the Minnesota north woods. Linda took over the position of dean in 1977 and truly became the heart and soul of the program. She started traditions that continue today, such as celebrating St Lucia day, Christmas and Midsommar with every group of kids, every summer. She wrote the first curriculum for teaching Swedish through immersion and trained countless teachers in how to teach Swedish to young people. She led (and still leads) the most energetic Allsång (singing time) you can find, engaging beginner speakers of Swedish as well as more advanced students through music and dance.

Linda has a knack for connecting with the young participants at Sjölunden, who range in age from six to eighteen. During the summer you are likely to find her working one-on-one with a student learning the Swedish art of dalmålning (traditional folk painting), of which Linda is a self-taught master. Campers clamor to join her activity groups because they know that she is a dedicated and inspiring teacher with an unmistakable passion for her subject. Linda gets to know all of the participants she works with on a personal level, asking them about what inspires them to study Swedish, encouraging them to build on their learning by studying abroad in Sweden, and connecting them to the greater Swedish-American community. Every summer I hear our campers say “I can’t imagine Sjölunden without Linda!”

Linda is the unofficial archivist of Sjölunden, keeping the history alive and maintaining connections with alumni and friends from the forty-one summers of our program. She has countless photo albums and scrapbooks with memories through the years, and she loves to make connections across generations. At Sjölunden, we have the honor of often welcoming students whose parents or other relatives studied with us in the past, and the strength of these inter-generational bonds are due in large part to Linda’s long-term commitment to the program. When these former campers come back to drop off their children, they see in Linda the evidence that our program inspires life-long learning.

Linda stepped down as dean after 1993 when her two children were young, and returned to work again in 2000 when her daughter was old enough to be a camper and start her own journey of learning Swedish. Since 2000, Linda has come back to Sjölunden every summer and she continues to inspire new generations of young people to learn the Swedish language and pursue connections with their Swedish heritage and the Sweden of today. Linda is equally comfortable dancing around the majstång (may pole) in her folkdräkt (folk costume) and engaging in meaningful dialogue about current events in Sweden. She has never stopped learning and always has a new project to work on or a new song to teach.

When she is not at Sjölunden during the academic year, Linda works as a high school English teacher in Eden Prairie, MN. Her career as an educator has both informed and been influenced by her work at Sjölunden and her connections to Sweden. She has launched thousands of students from her classroom and from Sjölunden into lives underpinned by a greater understanding of their identity and heritage and inspired to seek out connections in our global community. While at Sjölunden, Linda also inspires her fellow staff members, many of whom are college students. She has encouraged many counselors to pursue a career in education or to delve deeper into their Swedish heritage and connections with Sweden. Both her son and daughter have worked on staff at Sjölunden, where they have also helped pass on a love of Sweden to younger generations. Linda traces her love of Sweden to a trip she took with her grandmother when she was a young girl—they travelled by boat and spent the summer visiting relatives and exploring the Swedish countryside. Upon returning to the Chicago area, where she grew up, Linda joined the Vårblomman Children’s Club and her love of Sweden has only grown since then. The inter-generational connection Linda made with Sweden during that trip parallels her ability to reach out to younger generations of Swedish learners today.

We will celebrate Linda’s thirty-fifth year on staff at Sjölunden in the summer of 2016. That represents thirty-five years of inspiring young people to carry the torch of their Swedish heritage and make new connections with Sweden today. As our participants come from all over the United States and Canada, it is clear that Linda’s tireless dedication has influenced thousands of young people across the continent. Linda’s contributions to Swedish language learning have been recognized by the Swedish government, which awarded her the Order of the Polar Star in 1988. It would be a great pleasure to also honor her as a recipient of the Swedish Council of America’s Great Achievement Award.

Linda Wallenberg was nominated by Emily Pyneson, Dean Sjölunden Swedish Language Camp on behalf of Christine Schulze, Vice President for Concordia Language Village. CLV is an SCA Affiliate Member.