- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon’s early winter sports pioneers are about to get their due.

The Des Chutes Historical Museum announced it had received a $14,164 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, money that is earmarked specifically for the museum’s upcoming “Winter Comes: Oregon’s Nordic Ski Heritage” exhibit.

With $15,000 committed from the Oregon Nordic Ski Foundation and another $12,000 from the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund, museum officials hope to have the Nordic exhibit up and running by January.

“For years, we’ve wanted to do more with the skiing history in the area,” Kelly Cannon-Miller, the Des Chutes Historical Museum executive director, said Friday. “Members talk to us about it all the time. But it’s a piece of our history that the community doesn’t necessarily think in terms of sharing with us because these are really personal family stories. It’s the thing you did growing up.”

Partnering with the Oregon Nordic Ski Foundation, though - ONSF’s president, Tim Gibbons is helping organize the exhibit - helps put Central Oregon’s Nordic traditions in a broader, statewide context, Cannon-Miller said.

“This story, we’ve wanted to have a structure to tell it,” Cannon-Miller said. “That’s what makes the partnership with the Oregon Nordic Ski Foundation so fantastic. . We knew these experiences weren’t unique to us. The influence of Scandinavian immigrants coming to Oregon, that had an impact around the state.

“This exhibit will tell our story in Central Oregon, but also tie our story into the history of the state as a whole.”

In addition to old and replica skis and boots, the exhibit will include videos about local Nordic pioneers such as Emil Nordeen, Jack and Virginia Meissner and brothers Nels and Olaf Skjersaa.

Nicknamed “The Old War Horse,” Nordeen, for whom the annual Bend Nordic race The Great Nordeen is named, won the grueling 42-mile Crater Lake Wilderness Race between Fort Klamath and Crater Lake Lodge twice, the last time in 1931 at age 42. Jack Meissner famously skied 300 miles from Mount Hood to Crater Lake in 1948 and the Skjersaa brothers - along with Nordeen - were founding members of the Bend Skyliners Mountaineering Club in the late 1920s.

“One of the great things about this exhibit is that it gave us a chance to do a bunch of oral interviews,” Gibbons said. “We talked to Jane Meissner about (her parents) Jack and Virginia. We talked to my dad (longtime Nordic skier and coach Tom Gibbons), to Terry Skjersaa, Sr., Olaf’s son, and Jay Bowerman, who was great friends with Emil Nordeen.”

“People know the name Nordeen, they know the name Skjersaa, but they don’t know the stories behind them,” Cannon-Miller added.

One of the highlights of the exhibits is expected to be “The Klamath,” the 39-inch silver-plated cup Nordeen won in 1931. The Fort Rock-to-Crater Lake race allowed winners to hoist the cup each year - they were awarded mini trophies called the “Shadow of the Klamath” - but the large trophy was the permanent possession of the Crater Lake Ski Club, unless someone won the race twice, then The Klamath would be theirs.

The 1931 race, which drew nearly 4,000 spectators, according to newspaper accounts, featured Nordeen, the 1929 winner, and Manfred Jacobson, a fellow Swedish immigrant who had won the race in 1928 and again in 1930. Both times Jacobson bested Nordeen. The 1931 race was the epic battle to see who would keep the cup, which Nordeen won by finishing the race in a course record of 5 hours, 35 minutes. In 1960, Nordeen donated the trophy to the Swedish Ski Foundation, ideally to be used as a trophy for elite international races.

The Klamath disappeared from the public eye for several decades, until earlier this month when Bend resident Tor Hanson, a Deschutes County Historical Society board member and Swedish native, went back to Sweden in search of the cup. He tracked The Klamath down to a museum in remote northern Sweden and negotiations are underway to have the cup on loan at the Des Chutes Historical Museum for at least a year.

“I’m going to freak out when this thing comes,” Cannon-Miller says, only partially joking. “We really want to tie this year’s Great Nordeen (a 26-kilometer race near Mount Bachelor set for Jan. 30) with the opening of the exhibit.”

“Winter Comes: Oregon’s Nordic Ski Heritage” will be on display at the Des Chutes Historical Museum in Bend from January or February - whenever it opens - until October. The exhibit will then travel to both the Klamath County Museum in Klamath Falls and the Mt. Hood Cultural Center & Museum in Government Camp before going on permanent display at the Des Chutes Historical Museum.

“For me, it’s interesting to pull the story out and see what the immigrants brought,” Gibbons said. “They brought this very cultural tradition and way of life that we’re still seeing.”


Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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