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Here comes Miss Norway - Beauties vie for coveted Norwegian cultural crown

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Though Brooklyn’s Norwegian American population has declined since its heyday in the mid-20th century, Norwegians have remained a proud and vital presence in the borough. This cultural pride will be on display on March 15 during the 53rd annual Miss Norway Contest, held at the Norwegian Christian Home and Health Center at 1250 62nd Street in Bay Ridge. The contest, event organizers are quick to say, is not a beauty contest; rather, contestants are judged largely on their appreciation for their Norwegian heritage, as well as other standard criteria like goals for the future, artistic talents and public speaking ability. Women between the ages of 17 and 24 with one grandparent of Norwegian extraction are eligible. “The whole thing is based around heritage, so it’s about how the next generations will keep our traditions alive,” said Laila Jensen, the former chair of the contest who was a runner-up to the winner as a contestant in 1987. “It’s pretty special being able to keep these traditions and pass them down to my daughters,” she added, naming codfish dinners on Christmas Eve and devotion to her Lutheran faith as examples. The Master of Ceremonies will be charismatic Norwegian actor Rolf Stang, who has hosted the contest for nearly two decades. Traditional Scandinavian music will be provided by Jeanne Eriksson Widman, a renowned Swedish-American accordion player. The contest will produce two winners, a Miss Norway and a Miss Heritage, along with runner-ups for each winner. As in most “Miss” competitions, Miss Norway will win a tiara. Miss Heritage, however, will win a solje, a traditional Norwegian brooch. Prizes for the winners and runner-ups include round-trip air tickets to Norway on Scandinavian Airlines and Icelander, as well as travel luggage donated by Staten Island-based Verrazano Travel. The winner will be officially crowned at the Norwegian Day Parade, the May 17 Bay Ridge celebration that commemorates the day in 1814 when the Norwegian constitution was drafted. Bay Ridge is an appropriate locale for these cultural celebrations. During the first half of the 20th Century, it became the epicenter of the New York’s sizable Norwegian population. In 1940, there were 30,750 Norwegian-born people in Brooklyn, a figure that, combined with American-born people with Norwegian parents, made a total of 54,530. Many of these Norwegians were concentrated in the area around Eighth Avenue, which became known colloquially as Lapaskaus Lane after the traditional Norwegian salted beef stew. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Norwegian population began to leave the area in droves. By the late 1970s, Lapaskaus Lane had almost completely turned over into a Chinese neighborhood, which it remains today. Reflecting on the Norwegian flight from Brooklyn, Jensen said that “In years past, [contestants] were almost totally from Bay Ridge. Now they’re their children and grandchild­ren.” But this year, the committee is looking for contestants, according to Jensen. So far, there are six contestants, but “it’s nice with ten or more,” she said. The 53rd Annual Greater New York Miss Norway Contest will take place at the Arthur Nilsen Banquet Hall at the Norwegian Christian Home and Health Center at 1250 67th Street. It begins at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $30 and include a light traditional ham meal. To attend the contest or to enter it as a contestant, make inquiries to Marie Larsen at 212-832-2884, Mlarsen@nyc.rr.com or Vibeke Steineger at 212-534-1241, VSteineger@aol.com.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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