Norwegian king, queen due in Duluth a week from Monday
Irene Raimo was a 14-year-old among the cheering crowds in Oslo, Norway, on June 7, 1945, when the royal family, including 8-year-old Prince Harald, returned from exile after World War II.
On Oct. 17, she'll again see Harald -- now King Harald V -- and Queen Sonja when they come for a four-hour visit to Duluth.
"I was part of the celebration and waving our flags and singing, and it was very special," said Raimo, 80, her voice retaining the accent of her native land. "So for me to be here now and see Prince Harald, who is now the king -- that's real exciting for me."
Raimo, now of Solon Springs, spoke during a news conference at City Hall on Thursday morning that was called to announce details of the monarch's visit. It's a visit planners hope will be marked along the way with throngs of people waving the distinctive Norwegian flag of an indigo blue Scandinavian cross outlined in white over a field of red.
"I would recommend, if you have a Norwegian flag, to bring that and wave it brightly and be very proud -- even if you're not of Norwegian heritage," said Amy Norris, a spokeswoman for the city.
She was referring to the two opportunities the public will have to see the Norwegian royalty without either having an invitation or buying a ticket for lunch. The first will be at 1:45 p.m., when the king and queen will exit their limousine downtown to enter Norway Hall, where they'll meet 60 invited guests.
The second will be the centerpiece of the visit, the rededication of Enger Tower. That will be at 3 p.m., but people wishing to attend will need to arrive early. No parking will be allowed at Enger Park. Instead, parking will be available nearby at Enger Golf Course, and shuttle buses will take people to the park on Hank Jensen Drive.
Shuttles also will run from the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center for people who attend the $100-a-plate royal luncheon at noon.
The ceremony will take place at the base of the tower and a plaque will be dedicated in honor of King Harald and Queen Sonja. The plaque will be opposite the one placed in 1939, when Harald's father, then Prince Olav, originally dedicated the tower. Olav visited again as king in 1968.
The event will be televised from 3-3:30 p.m. on PACT TV and My 9, Norris said. It also will be viewed remotely from Norway Hall, because the guests there won't have time to get to Enger Park. "And after that, we're going to have a huge party celebrating the fact that this has been a historic day," said Kris Eide, president of the Sons of Norway lodge in Duluth.
The lodge is grateful to the king and queen, Eide said, because news of the impending visit stimulated them to refurbish their aging downtown building. "It's a typical Norwegian thing to do -- to turn the house upside down, make everything clean and everything beautiful ... for company," she said.
It also stimulated some street improvements, Mayor Don Ness said.
"We've not only resurfaced Skyline Parkway and Hank Jensen Drive around the tower, but we've also now resurfaced the driveway up to the park as well as the parking lot and the trail that goes from the parking lot up to the tower," he said.
But he noted the city's commitment to improving Skyline Parkway and refurbishing Enger Tower began before the king's visit was contemplated.
"That was one of the selling points to convince the king to come to Duluth," Ness said. "To say it was your father who dedicated the tower back in 1939, and now we've done the most extensive renovation since the tower was built. And what a great opportunity for the king to come and have the rededication."