Tuesday, March 18, 2014

ISLAND STUDENTS SEEK NEW LAND, NEW LIFE

The entire Washington Island Schools student body, here
led by kindergarten children with teacher Margaret Foss,
filed aboard the Arni J. Richter for a voyage of immigration.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The prospects of opportunity and a new life, a Voyage in Experiential Learning, brought 59 students and 11 staff members onboard the ferry Arni J. Richter yesterday morning.  In their current unit, the Washington Island Navigators (WINS) sought a taste of practical understanding, to expand on classroom studies of what it might have been like to be an early Island settler, in this case, Icelanders who arrived on Washington Island.

Jeannie Hutchins and Mary Andersen
offered early Icelander perspective to
elementary students.

Helping to provide images from an early Icelander's point of view, the positives and the uncertainties about their new home, were portrayals of early Icelandic settlers and one particular family who came from Iceland by way of Winnipeg, Canada.  Jeannie Hutchins spoke about the Lindals, her forbears, who arrived in the early 1920s to work for Mr. Thordarson on Rock Island, then stayed, making Washington Island their home.  Mary Andersen took the part of Gertie Andersen, her husband's, Martin's, grandmother and the first child born to Icelanders on Washington Island. Her children became an integral part of the Washington Island community (and as an aside, she christened the new ferry Eyrarbakki in 1970, the centennial that marked the arrival of the first Icelandic immigrants here).

Howard Scott as Goodmander Gudmundson, and Tony Woodruff, a heavily accented Jon Gislason, related challenges encountered in being the first of their countrymen to join Washington Island's melting pot.

With temperatures in the low-20s and new ice already several inches thick where Friday there had been none, the ferry arrived off Plum Island's southern point around 11 a.m., the voyage half-way point.  Course was then adjusted for Washington Island's Detroit Harbor.  Island students, upper grades and elementary, were cheek-to-jowel in separate, overheated cabins, not unlike immigrants packed into steerage.  They respectfully absorbed the lessons passed along from early Icelanders, names that still resonate in many families today such as Gunnlaugsson, Bjarnarson, Magnusson, and Gudmundsen.

Island students proved to be an ideal audience, offering
their full attention in the confines of one of the AJR cabins.
After what may have seemed like an eternity, a voyage of endurance, the ferry at last touched land and the young immigrants came ashore, fleeing to the warmth of their yellow school bus - but not until a group photo commemorated their ordeal.

The low rumble of diesels and constant parting of ice notwithstanding,
upper-level students gave their full attention to Gudmunder
Gudmundson and Jon Gislason, portrayed by Howard Scott
and Tony Woodruff (gesturing).


Around this same time, it might be noted, a St. Patrick's Day parade comprised of adults honoring national Irish heritage marched up Main Road, cheered on by more adult bystanders.  They "made land" at Karly's, where corned beef and cabbage and adult libations awaited, a learning reinforcement with a slightly different flavor.  It can be said that among the Island's earliest European pioneers were the Irish, who along with German immigrants led that parade, followed by Scandinavians.  The first Icelanders arrived in 1870, at a time when others had already staked their claim to land.  A collection of dwellings on the western slope of Washington Harbor was dubbed the "Irish Village."

Island students (59 of them!), school staff, Island Players
and ferry  crew reach destination in time for lunch.
Our thanks to School Administrator Mr. Raymond and the Staff Members of Washington Island School for voyage arrangements that ignored stow-away photographers.

 - Dick Purinton

6 comments:

Tony Woodruff said...

A very special 'thank you' to you, Hoyt, and the crew of the Arni J. for making this reenactment come to life in such a memorable way for the school children of Washington Island. We adults who were on board will fondly recall yesterday's event as well! - - Tony Woodruff

Margaret Foss said...

This was a very special voyage, made more so by the generous participation of the "visitors from the past," and by our wonderful ferry line hosts. The students of this community are so blessed to live among so many caring and creative citizens. Thank-you! Margaret Foss

Ginny Craig said...

I love the idea. The kids, if one could overlook the bright colors, truly looked a bit like huddled masses. Congrats to all of you in making history and heritage come alive.
Ginny Craig

Tim Raymond said...

To hear our island's past riding the Arni J. Richter, with the deep and heart-full presentations by the Island Players was a moment neither student or adult will forget. Thank you to Hoyt, Dick, the entire crew of the Arni J., and of course the wonderful performers from the island players. Our children became better connected to their home and community through your efforts.

Mary Andersen said...

Being able to do something like this with a lot of the students being related to the people being portrayed, is just one more unique thing about our island. Those unique traits need to be preserved always....it is what attracts tourists to come visit us. Always grateful for that deep tie to history.Proud to have been a part of the day.....it was fun

Elin Hansen said...

After a long, pressure-filled week at work, I came home to find the latest issue of the Observer in my mailbox. It is always a welcome reminder of the Island and what a delight to read this post published on the front page. I'm so in awe of this story and the way you made the history of the early Icelanders come alive with the young students. It really touched my heart and needless to say, my work week melted away in an instant. What a special community you have on the Island. You should all be proud! Warm regards from Minneapolis ...