Farmer and hunter
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A lifelong farmer and hunter, Wilbur Stoen grew up in northeast Iowa outside of Decorah. A member of the Big Canoe Lutheran Church, he is also active in the Luren Singing Society, a Norwegian-American men’s singing group based in Decorah. Though he is semi-retired, Wilbur and his son still run a dairy farm, located just down the road from the one his great great grandparents homesteaded. Stoen’s family came to Decorah in the mid-nineteenth century, part of the wave of immigrants from Scandinavia who came to the upper Midwest beginning in the 1860s.
A number of factors caused many Norwegians to emigrate. The industrial revolution led to a decreasing number of jobs and lower wages; increased population resulted in greater competition for available jobs; and a strict caste system and limited suffrage meant that there was little hope for improved social status. Conversely, the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862 and the availability of low-cost land attracted many Norwegian farm families to the United States. Also influencing emigration from Norway to the United States was the promotion of the U.S. by emigration agents, newspapers and writers, and earlier settlers. The new Norwegian Americans, like members of other immigrant groups, sent letters back to friends and family, extolling the virtues of the United States.
Decorah, Iowa is known as a Norwegian stronghold. The home of the Vesterheim (western home) Norwegian-American Museum and Luther College, the town and surrounding farm communities are bound by kinship, ethnic, and religious ties that are evident in the predominance of church suppers, lutefisk dinners each fall, Sons of Norway suppers, the annual summertime Nordic Fest, and the traces of Norwegian speech rhythms in people who are fourth and fifth-generation Americans. According to Eunice Stoen, Wilbur’s wife, visitors say, “Decorah is more Norwegian than Norway.”
Contact information: Wilbur Stoen, 563.546.7903.