Updated: Jul 26, 2021
It is with great sadness that I let you know, our dear friend, mentor, and Icelandic leader - Sir Magnus Olafson has passed away. While sad to see him go, we are happy that he is now at peace.
Marino Magnus Olafson was born 23 Oct 1920 at Gardar, North Dakota to Jon Kristinn Olafson and Kristin Hermannsdóttir Hermann. Jon Kristinn was born in Wisconsin and is the son of Kristinn Ólafsson from Efra-Skúfi í Norðurárdal and Katrín Guðríður Ólafsdóttir from Sveinstöðum í Neshreppur. They emigrated in 1873. The mother of Magnus was born in Raufarhöfn, Melrakkaslétta to Hermann Hjálmarsson Hermann and Guðlaug Magnea Pétursdóttir. They emigrated in 1890. Both families settled in Gardar.
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson presented the Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon to him in an official ceremony on November 28, 1999. The award honored Magnus for his efforts to preserve the history and culture of Iceland in America. He was in Iceland with the North Dakota tour group, which performed “In the Wake of the Storm” written by Mountain, ND native, Lauga Geir. This 3-act play was first published in 1957.
Magnus was always happy that he had lived! On 23 Oct 1920, Dr. Olafur Bjornson rushed down from Winnipeg with the hopes of saving a baby and mother from imminent death during the birth. Both mother and baby boy survived – and this story is so interesting and is found in the memoir Magnus wrote, A Knight in Dakota. Magnus believes both he and his mother would have died without the doctor´s great work. This doctor, Dr. Bjornson, is the grandfather of Christina Sunley, the author of The Tricking of Freya. She came to North Dakota twice in 2010 for book signings and readings from her fabulous book. She was also the North America to Iceland International Visits Program choice for 2010.
Magnus married Lois Patricia Flanagan 30 Oct 1945 in Gardar. She died 2 Nov 1984 just three days after their 39th Wedding Anniversary. They had two sons – Larry and Robert, and a daughter – Jean, who has also passed away.
Meeting visitors from Iceland was one of his favorite activities. The Icelandic tourists all loved meeting “Sir Magnus” and were surprised with his fluent Icelandic.
In May 1986, the North Dakota Heritage Association was organized to continue the work of G.B. Gunlogson preserving the story of the pioneers in northeast North Dakota. In 1989, along with the Icelandic State Park, they completed the Pioneer Heritage Center on this property. There is a permanent exhibit of the homestead era, the Hallson Icelandic Church, the Akra Community Hall, the Cranley School, and a replica log cabin. Magnus and other board members met every Thursday for over 20 years. They laid out the site and buildings for the park while preserving the plant life, the sheepherder’s digs, and the homestead buildings.
Magnus was a long-standing member of the Icelandic Communities Association and he wrote the booklet, “Solving the Mystery of the 2nd of August.” He has assisted with several Iceland television documentaries including a film on Chester Thordarson, the electronics genius, and the History of Icelanders in North Dakota by Plus Films. He was the 2010 Parade Grand Marshal for the Deuce of August Celebration.
In 2005, he received the Honorary Lifetime Membership to the Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga (Icelandic National League of Iceland).
He was involved in fostering many relationships with our friends in Canada and in Iceland. North Dakota is very proud to have “Sir Magnus” as part of our community and we will miss him greatly. His knowledge of our Icelandic ancestors and the immigrants to our region was phenomenal and we valued him so much.
His memoirs are recorded in a book he planned as a special gift to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His book includes reflections on family and local history and also his visits to Iceland and the work done there that led to him being honored with the Order of the Falcon and the title of Sir Magnus Olafson.
Magnus passed away 24 Apr 2015 at Cavalier, North Dakota. My deepest condolences to the entire family and also to the Icelandic Community. We will continue your work to foster relationships and carry on sharing the stories of our Icelandic history.
Rest in Peace, dear friend.
Sir Magnus "Mike" Olafson