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Married to an Icelander — Icelander by Marriage

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

This post marks a milestone: Blog Post #100 and it is time to honor a non-Icelander!

School was just getting out for the summer. It was just one week after my 17th birthday and the end of our Junior year. Our young minds and bodies wanted to be outside and enjoy the warm spring weather after having a long and bitterly cold North Dakota winter.

I had just finished working the day shift as a Nurse’s Aide at the hospital and had walked a few blocks to the home of my grandparents where I was staying for the summer. They lived in a little house along one of the main roads in Cavalier and we were outside on the sidewalk. Actually, I was showing my two younger cousins how to do minor “experiments” on some earth worms that had crawled onto the sidewalk during a recent sprinkle of rain.

A big red truck zoomed by with two guys in the cab. The passenger yelled out the window, “Hey … How are you?”

I had recently met this passenger and his name was Rodney. Little did I know that the guy driving the truck, (who I had never met before) was going to be my future husband. They circled around the block, pulled up to the curb, and began talking to me. They were going to the Icelandic State Park with a group of other friends and wondered if I wanted to go along. They listed off others who were planning to meet at the park. It sounded like a fun group and I wanted to go.

I replied, “I need to go ask my grandma.” So, I went into the house and asked her if it was okay.

She asked, “What are their names?”

I told her the name of the passenger, but admitted that I did not know the driver of the truck.

She said, “Well, go and ask who it is. Then come back and tell me.”

I went out to the truck and said to the driver, “Grandma wants to know your name.”

He said his name. I looked at him and said, “Jeff …. What?”

He said his surname again and again and again. But each time, I looked at him and just could not understand his last name of Furstenau.

You see, I grew up in an Icelandic community. Most people had names that ended in “son” like Olafson, Sigurdson, Jonasson, Halldorson, Sigfusson, Einarson, and Johnson. There were a few different names such as Byron, Laxdal, and Hillman but we knew them to be Icelandic names, too. We had a few Norwegians, Irish, and Scottish surnames in our school but in my neighborhood, almost everyone had a “son” name.

Finally, I could pronounce his last name. I went inside the house and told Grandma, “His name is Jeff Furstenau.”

She gave me a big smile and said, “Oh, they go to our church. He is such a nice boy. Just don’t stay out too late. You have to work early in the morning.”

So, off to Icelandic State Park we went. As “the girl,” of course I had to sit in the middle. After arriving at the lake, some of the guys (as well as our friend and passenger in the truck) swam out to touch the ice in the middle of the lake. Jeff and I did not go but we had a great night. There we were — two gangly farm kids with so much in common – work ethic, plans for the future, ideas on family, religion, and politics. We got along great.

Over the next years, he graduated from UND as a Civil Engineer and I graduated as a Registered Nurse from St. Luke’s School of Nursing. We were married 3.5 years after first meeting on a clear, sunny, and super cold day (-18°F or -27.8°C) in the Vikur Church in Mountain.

We have grown together over all these past 36.5 years. There have been lots of adventures, some tragedy and sorrow, ups and downs, but mostly lots of happiness and great times together. We had two babies that have turned into amazing adults. Now they have children of their own and we are grandparents, which is so wonderful. Time has really flown by.

As teenagers and young adults, we always attended the annual Deuce of August Icelandic celebration . . . . . but we just went for the party and fun. We never volunteered any time or talents in those growing up days. Jeff knew that I was from the Icelandic community and there have always been lots of jokes about it.

My mom “married an Icelander.” She is 1/2 Norwegian, 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 Irish. I knew about these jokes all through my growing up years, too.

Some people brag about being a full-blooded Icelander …. An FBI. While that is very cool and as a genealogist, it would make my job easier tracing just one lineage, I think it is great to bring more people into our clan with these “Icelanders by Marriage.”

Jeff teases quite a bit about being married to an Icelander and the Abrahamson’s have had fun with the concept and sold lots of t-shirts with sayings like this:

He says that Icelanders are in a vortex and if you hang around with them long enough, you get “sucked into the Icelandic Vortex.” So now there is a shirt for that, too.

I am sure that as a young guy, dating that tall, blonde, farm girl, Jeff did not plan to attend or to support Þórrablóts, trips to Iceland, Snorri Programs, various Icelandic events in North America, tour buses coming to our homes, hosting visitors, giving tours, Lögberg-Heimskringla, Icelandic National Leagues of ICELAND and of NORTH AMERICA, and all the books and resources associated with Genealogy — but yet he supports them all. For my 50th birthday, he even gave me an Icelandic National Costume! I wrote about it in the March 6, 2013 newsletter.

Jeff gives emotional and financial support for so many Icelandic projects. Without him, the work I could accomplish in this Icelandic Adventure would be much much less. Usually his support is behind the scenes. He is not a fan of big crowds or events. His hobby is being out in the woods alone where he can hunt with a bow and arrow for big game animals such as deer and elk. We like to joke around that he hunts for animals and that I hunt for Icelanders.

Our children are 1/4 Icelandic. Our Grandkids are 1/8 Icelandic. Some people worry that with the dilution of percentage there will be less interest in our heritage. I do not believe this is so.

We should continue to pass on our heritage to them by being a part of Icelandic clubs, going to events such as The Deuce and Islendingadagurinn, reading the publications from Iceland and North America, serving foods such as pönnukökkur, kleinur, and hangikót, and most importantly by telling the stories of our heritage and culture to our descendants.

By understanding our own traditions and stories we learn more about ourselves. People with Icelandic heritage are so lucky and can go back in time to the sagas. I don´t know about you, but being a descendant of the Vikings is pretty cool! We can keep the connections strong with our cousins in Iceland so easily now compared to our ancestors that immigrated to North America. By sharing all of this, we give our descendants a tremendous gift.

I am so blessed that Jeff married an Icelander. He is a fabulous “Icelander by Marriage.”

Love you, JD.

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