POULSBO — Turn-of-the-century Norwegian immigrants saw a bit of their old country in Poulsbo. The freshwater and saltwater fishing, the dense forests and rich soil for farming, and snow-capped mountains peeking above the trees mimicked the Scandinavian landscape, but was a little warmer than home.
Erling Hansen, 93, and Archie Lien, 89, are first-generation Norwegian-Americans, and grew up in a Poulsbo that was like a slice of Norway in the Pacific Northwest. Farms dotted the hills around Poulsbo (Liberty Bay was known as Dogfish Bay then). Logging was a prime industry, but many men were commercial fishermen, like their fathers in Norway before them. Norwegians brought with them a strong dance tradition, and music and dance halls in the communities around Poulsbo were plentiful, according to the history book “The Spirit of Poulsbo.”
Hansen and Lien’s parents would have been around for the large fire that wiped out Poulsbo’s burgeoning business district in 1914 — and saw it quickly rebuilt. Cars began to appear on local dirt roads.
Both men were born in the 1920s, and as young boys in the ’30s, they would have seen a cafe, a dairy, shops and a shingle mill in town, where many of the owners and patrons still spoke Norwegian to conduct business.
Neither Hansen nor Lien remember much Norwegian these days. But Norwegian was spoken at home when they were young, and they remember hearing Norwegian in the shops in town.
Hansen, Lien and their families met for dinner a few weeks ago at the Sons of Norway Lodge in Poulsbo; Hansen lives in Shelton, and Lien still in Poulsbo. Hansen’s niece, Melinda Dietlein, said he’d been itching to get back to Poulsbo. She said his memory of his childhood is starting to return, so she asked her friends at the Sons of Norway if anyone knew of anyone else who had lived at the Martha & Mary children’s home. Someone mentioned Lien, who still stops by the lodge often.
It turns out they didn’t know each other, but their memories were similar and candid. Both are hard of hearing, but their faces lit up when they remembered some of the same things: ringing the bell at the Free Lutheran Church, now the Gran Kirk condos on Front Street; and plowing nearby fields and milking cows as a part of their chores at the home.
When asked if he liked the Martha & Mary’s children’s home, Hansen said, “Well, I don’t remember any fights.”
Hansen and Lien are also quick to correct you if you call it an orphanage; it is a children’s home, and neither were actually orphans. Both of their fathers were commercial fishermen, gone for months at a time. When tragedy struck — Hansen’s mother died of pneumonia and Lien’s mother was no longer able to care for him and his brother — the boys spent time with relatives before being placed at Martha & Mary.
Lien went to Martha & Mary in 1937, when he was about 13, with his younger brother, Ernie. He had lived with his aunt and uncle on Hood Canal for a bit.
Although he spent his teen years at the children’s home, Lien said he remembers having a good relationship with his father. He attended Poulsbo High School, located where the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is now, down the street from the current Martha & Mary. Lien also remembers, with a smile, working as a butter churner at the Poulsbo Creamery.
Hansen grew up in Vinland with his brother Victor and his sister Solveig. The children went to live with their aunt and uncle after their mother died, and went to Martha & Mary in 1926.
Both men said they attended school in Poulsbo and stayed at Martha & Mary until they were “farmed out” and went to work.
Hansen left for Granite Falls, just east of Marysville, about 1930, where he graduated from high school and worked at a service station. But for both men — as for most men of their generation — World War II interrupted their plans.
Hansen volunteered for military service in 1939 and was sent to India. During the war, he was also stationed in California and the Philippines.
Lien also went to the Philippines during his military service. After graduating from Poulsbo High School, he began working at Keyport Naval Base where he was drafted in 1941. He disarmed nuclear weapons in the Philippines and Japan, and said he sent home several Japanese samurai swords — which his first wife ended up throwing out.
Returning to the Pacific Northwest, Lien returned to work at Keyport’s nuclear program. His stepson, Mike Lanning, said the program only accepted the best. He retired in 1980 and continued to spend a lot of time at the Poulsbo Sons of Norway.
Hansen also returned to the Kitsap area after the war, working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and one season tuna fishing in California. He moved to Shelton in the 1960s, where he raised his children, Carol, Helen and Chris.
Although Hansen and Lien led similar lives, and shared some memories and laughs at dinner, there is one thing on which they disagree.
Lien loves lutefisk — he said he helped start the annual Sons of Norway lutefisk dinner and has won several lutefisk-eating contests at Viking Fest.
Hansen, however, says he doesn’t care for the consistency of lutefisk.