Updated: Jun 30, 2019
Heidi Herman-Kerr Icelandic National League of the United States
Íeda Jónasdóttir Herman is an unassuming, 94-year-old Iceland native who considers her time on earth to be the ‘amazing life of nobody special’ and can’t imagine why anyone thinks she’s special. She’s lived a long life, filled with love and adventure. People have asked her secret and despite the variety of answers she’s given, she often shrugs and says, “I’m just Icelandic.”
Her story begins much like any other. Born in 1925 in Reykjavík, the daughter of a fisherman and homemaker, the third child in a family of six. Growing up, she always had her nose in a book and held a fierce belief in trolls and Huldufólk, the “Hidden.” She spent the school year in Reykjavík and summers at her grandfather’s farm, Hámundarstaðir, just outside Vopnafjörður. She loved adventure and exploring - always wanting to know what was ‘just over that hill.’
During WWII, she met an American who was stationed at Keflavik with the US Navy. They married in Reykjavík, and she moved with him to the United States, where lived happily for 70 years, raising ten children and growing their family to eighteen grandchildren, nineteen great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren.
In the early days of their marriage, travel to Iceland was difficult and expensive. For many years, she was unable to visit her family. They wrote letters, and when long-distance calling became affordable, telephone calls added. Years passed and visits became more frequent. She began traveling with her children to introduce them to her native country - their heritage. She cherished her Icelandic homeland and instilled that love in her children.
In 2013, she wrote an account of her childhood growing up in Iceland as a gift to her children and grandchildren. When it was published, she was happy to share it with a broader audience. After her husband passed away in 2015, she began traveling attending Scandinavian festivals and events, sharing her stories about Iceland. With a current population of only 330,000 and world-wide descendants of not much more than that, Iceland is a mysterious unknown and people were always eager to hear her speak.
Her Icelandic pride prompts her to work for her country’s acknowledgment and recognition. Any time an Icelandic flag is not represented in a Scandinavian event, she will point it out. If a library lacks books on the country, she will donate at least one.
Once, while walking through the international hall at the Salt Lake City airport, she eagerly watched for the Icelandic flag as they walked under the row of banners. The further they walked, her heart became heavy, because she did not see her homeland’s flag. Belligerence set in as she ticked off the identity of flags that were represented, even lesser-known entities. Even one for HATU, but who ever heard of HATU? When she tells the story, her voice carries the same irritation (haughty/miffed) she felt that day. Then she spotted her beloved Icelandic flag and her annoyance faded. But still, HATU? She turned and realized from the other direction, it proclaimed UTAH.
One day, as she organized paperwork and gathered information for passport renewal, for the first time in many years, she noticed that line indicating ‘nationality’ in her passport. It read ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.’ That wasn’t right. She was Icelandic. She went to the passport office and learned when she became a US Citizen in 1956, she lost her Icelandic citizenship. The wording hit her like a physical blow. Lost. How could she lose being an Icelander? She could trace her roots from both parents back to the Settlement days. She was at Þingvellir and witnessed the founding of the republic on June 17, 1944. She was as Icelandic as anyone could be. How could she not be a citizen?
Several years of paperwork, visits to administrative offices in Iceland, emails to a plethora of contacts in the United States and Iceland, and numerous telephone conversations proved unfruitful. Then, with the help of the staff at RUV television in Iceland, Ieda again completed paperwork, and this time was included in a Legislative bill from the General and Education Committee to be granted citizenship. It was approved by the Icelandic parliament, Alþingi, on June 13th, her father’s birthday.
It was a perfect moment, resulting in an onrush of happy tears. She immediately made arrangements for a celebration in Reykjavik for friends and family. Thanks to a new feature in Icelandic Roots database, she identified several thousand more cousins that share common great-great-grandparents. 2,590 to be exact. She’s looking forward to getting to know as many as she can during future trips. In the meantime, she supports education and heritage preservation efforts at home, honored to be one of the founding members of Icelandic National League of United States.
As she always says, “You can take the girl out of Iceland, but you can never, never take Iceland out of the girl.”