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Minnesota town is "Little Scandinavia"

Nordisk Hemslojd is a variety store in Karlstad and features a mural painted by Sharon Wikstrom. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

KARLSTAD, Minn. -- The Nordhem restaurant that opened Monday has a fitting name.

Nordhem is Swedish for "northern home." Small town residents' home-away-from-home often is the local eatery that serves up coffee, chow and conversation.

Curtiss Wikstrom, president of Wikstrom Telephone Co. that owns the restaurant, is hopeful that the town's improvements don't stop there. He implored local residents at a town meeting Friday to continue a volunteer project undertaken by his wife Sharon, who died four months ago.

An artist, Sharon painted several buildings in an authentic Scandinavian flavor in a region with strong Norwegian and Swedish roots. The centerpiece of her work is a mural she created on the south outside wall of a store on Main Street.

An emotional Wikstrom asked the 150 people at the meeting to carry on her volunteer work to keep Karlstad vital.

Mix of old and new

Nordhem, located on Main Street, will include a museum that spotlights the area's history and ancestry. It's not your ordinary mom-and-pop cafe, however. It has the capability to video-stream events among its technological assets, as Wikstrom Telephone has been on the cutting edge of Internet service. The building's size, triple that of a typical small-town café, also will provide meeting rooms.

"The purpose of Nordhem is to get people to stop in town and then go to our other businesses," Wikstrom said.

"Hopefully, we'll attract enough people here to employ enough people that we'll have to build a couple more houses."

It's just the latest contribution from the Wikstrom family.

Among other assistance, the company has helped to restore eight buildings under a Scandinavian theme. One of them is for use by arts and crafts groups.

Wikstrom Telephone, widely known as Wiktel, has a foundation that contributes greatly to the community, notably to the fire department.

"The Wikstroms have been so generous and thoughtful to Karlstad over the years," said Justin Dagen of rural Karlstad.

Bonnie Loveness had similar thoughts. "Warroad has Marvin's and we have Wikstrom's," she said. "They both are willing to put back into their communities."

Completing a mission

Curtiss Wikstrom said paint, equipment and expertise will be supplied to people who want to improve their properties in a Scandinavian theme.

"The idea is to give Karlstad the feel of driving through a small town in Sweden," he said. "We can complete Sharon's mission."

He also pleaded with residents to volunteer and shop locally. "We need to treat businesses like family or else we will lose them," he said.

"We must strengthen, and in some respects redevelop, our sense of community."

So, although curiosity about the new restaurant may have attracted the crowd, Friday's gathering was about much more. It also was about maintaining a woman's legacy and the survival of a rural town.

"Let's keep business alive and let's make this a beautiful place," Wikstrom said.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to