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Great-grandson of pioneer family is on Norway TV’s ‘Alt for Norge’

Greg Larsen, second from left in the back row, was one of 12 Americans of Norwegian heritage featured on the 2013 edition of “Alt for Norge,’’ or All for Norway, one of the country’s most popular shows. He is pictured here with other American cast members donning Viking outfits for a group photo with the show’s host. Submitted

Andrew Hegreberg said goodbye forever to his family in the region of Stavanger, Norway, at age 15 in the late 1800s.

He spent his first winter in America burning cow chips for heat in a sod house near Minot, N.D. He eventually made his way to Spicer, Minn., where he farmed and started a family.

More than a century later, great-grandson Greg Larsen became a celebrity on Norwegian television. In the process he learned what his heritage was really all about.

“Here I am a couple of generations later reaping the benefits of all their sacrifices,’’ said Larsen, 44, of Los Angeles, Calif. (His mother was Reneé (Hegreberg) Larsen, a 1958 Willmar High School graduate.)

Larsen was one of 12 Americans of Norwegian heritage featured on the 2013 edition of  “Alt for Norge,’’ or All for Norway.

It is one of Norway’s most popular television shows. The reality TV show introduces Americans to the country their ancestors had left.

They travel the length of the country and compete in a variety of events for a $50,000 grand prize and the opportunity to meet with the side of the family descended from those who had remained in Norway.

The contestants are eliminated one-by-one, week-by-week: Larsen made it seven of the 10 weeks before he was forced to walk the plank of a pirate ship in a theme park. He was on a plane and home the very next day.

Larsen is the second with ties to this area to be featured on the show. Deborah Breberg, of Dawson, was a contestant in 2010.

Larsen’s family heritage is Norwegian on both sides. His grandmother, Stella (Olson) Hegreberg was born on the family’s farm on Olson Point on Eagle Lake.

Despite all of the Hegreberg family reunions every June in Spicer, and all the Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, Larsen confesses had never paid much attention to his family’s Norwegian heritage.

What he took from it mainly was a mannerism of instinctively answering “ya, ya, ya,’’ just as had his grandfather, Clarence Hegreberg.

His mother embraced her American upbringing and used to scold him for the mannerism, he laughed.

Larsen grew up in Coon Rapids, and earned a theater degree at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul. He was trying to launch a career as a musician and songwriter in Nashville, Tenn., when he won a spot on the show earlier this year. He currently lives with his Pakistan-born wife, Dr. Sarah Larsen, M.D., and their two children in Los Angles and helps market her holistic medical practice.

Larsen said he always had an interest in finding the “missing piece” of his heritage. He answered opportunities to try out for a spot in the show. He didn’t make the cut for either season two or three, but won the opportunity to appear in this fourth year of the show.

The timing couldn’t have been better. With his mother’s death on April 26, 2012, Larsen said he was feeling the sudden loss of connection to his heritage.  

This year’s final show aired Nov. 3. Filming took place in the spring and early summer.

It was an exhausting, challenging and most of all, a highly personal experience, said Larsen.

Larsen said he and the other contestants, many with Midwestern ties like him, all gained an appreciation for what their ancestors had sacrificed. “Here I am better able to do all the things I am able to do,’’ he said.

He wasn’t able to visit his family’s ancestral home while in Norway, but was provided with material about his extended family members in Norway when he left the show. He has since initiated contact via social media with them.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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