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AUSTIN EDITION - Spring Grove unveils comic strip sculptures

Uff da, it's Ola and Per

By Mike Dougherty

For the Post-Bulletin

SPRING GROVE -- St. Paul has Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Lucy. Spring Grove has Ola and Per.

And as Minnesota' s; capital city tries to raise money for a park with sculptures of the Peanuts characters, Spring Grove, a town of 1,300 about 70 miles southeast of Rochester, unveiled life-size bronze sculptures of the Norwegian-American duo, Ola and Per, on a bright, chilly Saturday in Viking Memorial Park.

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The work of Peter J. Rosendahl, the Spring Grove man who created the characters for the syndicated comic strip in 1918, was celebrated throughout the day. But the most anticipated event was the unveiling of the bronze sculptures created by another Spring Grove native, Craig Bergsgaard, who now lives in Colorado.

Viking Memorial Park, a triangle-shaped park with a gazebo and a number of memorials to war veterans, was teeming with people about 4 p.m. Saturday as they waited for the unveiling of the two statues, whose shrouds were bound by bungee cords.

The crowd patiently waited as the ceremony began inside at Trinity Lutheran Church across the street. Once it finished in the church, more people spilled over to the park and crowded the sidewalk on East Main Street, pushing the crowd size to about 225 people.

Joseph Langland, a Spring Grove native and noted poet and professor, read from several poems about the area, and was interrupted by the bells of Trinity Church tolling at 5 p.m.

But finally, the moment arrived. The late afternoon sun glinted off the bronze figures. Per leans in from the right wearing his bowler hat and swallowtail tuxedo coat and clutching a pipe wrench in his right hand. Ola leans with his left hand on a pitchfork and his right thumb slung in his overalls.

Spring Grove is noted for its Norwegian heritage. Visitors are welcomed at the edge of town by a sign in both English and Norwegian (Welcome to Spring Grove; Velkommen ti Spring Grove) and U.S. and Norwegian flags fly next to it. The telephone cooperative's long distance corporation is called Norsk Telekom, and you'll find at least a couple of Viking statues in and near Viking Memorial Park. One of the Viking statues, titled "Quest," sits in another corner of the park and was created by Bergsgaard to honor the town's Norwegian ancestors.

"You still hear Norwegian spoken in Spring Grove," said Geneva Tweeten of Spring Grove. "They're not long conversations, but mostly greetings, brief."

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