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Man who grew up in Sunburg named honorary Norwegian consul

SUNBURG -- There really could not be any stronger roots to Norway than to be from Sunburg, a town of about 100 people in northwest Kandiyohi County where Norwegian is still spoken in the caf? and Syttende Mai is celebrated with a Lutheran church ...

SUNBURG -- There really could not be any stronger roots to Norway than to be from Sunburg, a town of about 100 people in northwest Kandiyohi County where Norwegian is still spoken in the cafรฉ and Syttende Mai is celebrated with a Lutheran church service, a parade and a baseball game.

Gary Gandrud, who was nourished by those Norwegian-Sunburg roots as a child, is now one of two Minnesotans representing Norway at the new honorary consulate in Minneapolis.

The other is former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Mondale was named as the "honorary consul general" and Gandrud was given the title of "honorary consul" by the Norwegian government.

In Minnesota terms, that makes Mondale the president and Gandrud the vice-president, said Gandrud during a telephone interview from his law office in Minneapolis.

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Gandrud was named to the high-profile volunteer position in February, about three months after the Norwegian government announced it was closing down its consulate general office in Minneapolis, sending their career diplomats back to Norway and putting the consulate's house, decorated with traditional Norwegian designs, up for sale.

The closure is to be completed Aug. 1.

The announcement caused an uproar among Midwesterners.

Norway's decision to close the office, "didn't go over well at all," he said. "They heard from an awful lot of people."

In practical term, there wasn't the need anymore for having a diplomatic Norwegian post in Minnesota.

When the office opened in 1906 there were Norwegian immigrants who needed passports and legal assistance that the Norwegian diplomat provided.

"Those reasons didn't exist like they had in the past," said Gandrud.

But the office was still a "very important connection for the 850,000 Minnesotans who have ancestry in Norway."

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After hearing opposition from Norwegian Americans -- including Mondale and Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- the Norwegian government agreed to establish a new "honorary" consulate here, similar to other states.

The Minneapolis honorary consulate, however, will have four full-time paid employees. Gandrud said it will be the only honorary consulate with full-time paid staff on board.

The attaches will focus on increasing shared opportunities between Norway and Minnesota in the areas of business, science and education.

"I'd like to see students from Kandiyohi County studying in Norway," he said, and see business and commerce "reach out to the entire region."

In frank terms, Gandrud said he and Mondale are trying to turn lemons into lemonade. "We do feel we'll turn it into a positive," he said, adding that he and Mondale "couldn't be more pleased" that Norway is fulfilling their promise to maintain their strong relationship with Minnesota.

"There are a lot of reasons why this is going to work," he said.

Perhaps one of those reasons is because Gandrud grew up in Sunburg in a home where their Norwegian heritage was celebrated.

"This is who I am," he said. "This is how I grew up."

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Gary Gandrud

Gary Gandrud went to School District 59 in rural Sunburg through sixth grade before his family moved to Wayzata.

He's been involved in numerous Norwegian American organizations, including the Norwegian American Foundation, the Upper Midwest Chapter of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Last fall Wegger Chrstian Strommen, the Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, presented Gandrud with the 2007 Ambassador's Award for his contributions for strengthening ties between Norway and the U.S.

Gandrud is a partner with the Faegre and Benson law firm in Minneapolis.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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