Randi Nilsen Kirkemo Oral History Interview, 1982  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Kirkemo, Randi Nilsen
Randi Nilsen Kirkemo Oral History Interview
1982 (inclusive)
2 file folder
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Randi Nilsen Kirkemo, a Norwegian immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington
Telephone: 253-535-7586
Fax: 253-535-7315
Access Restrictions

The oral history collection is open to all users.

Additional Reference Guides

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Randi Nilsen Kirkemo was born on January 1, 1910 in Larvik, Norway, a town south of Oslo. She had three brothers and sisters, and her parents were Dina and Carl Nilsen. Her father was a sailor and left home when Randi was 4 months old; she did not see him again until she came to the U.S. when she was 12. She started school at age 6. Her father had been writing to her mother from the U.S., and Randi, her mother, and her sister Margit left from Larvik on July 22, 1922. They stayed with friends in Oslo until the boat arrived and took the "Stavangerfjord" to New York. They took the train and stopped in St. Paul, MN; Randi's aunt lived in Clear Lake, WI, and they visited her there for seven to ten days. They then reboarded the train and her father met them in Seattle. He was working on an oil tanker for Standard Oil in the Puget Sound, and they lived in a house he had bought in West Seattle. Randi was put in first grade when she started school in September, but she quickly moved up to the grade she had been in when she left Norway.

She met her husband when she was 16, and they went together for three years. He lived in Tacoma and was from Horten, Norway, which is near Larvik; he changed his name from Johansen when he first arrived in the U.S. Randi went to West Seattle High School and got a part-time job in an office at a school, but she quit when she was a junior because she knew she was going to get married. She and George married in a Methodist church in West Seattle in 1929 and then moved to Tacoma. They had one daughter, Diane, who was born on March 14, 1934 in Tacoma. Randi and George visited Norway in June 1963, but first went to England, Paris, and Copenhagen. George's brother and his wife met them in Oslo, and they stayed with them for about two and a half months.


Full Name: Randi Nilsen Kirkemo. Maiden Name: Randi Nilsen. Father: Carl August Nilsen. Mother: Halvordine (Dina) Mathilde Andersen. Paternal Grandfather: Olaves Nilsen. Paternal Grandmother: Ingeborg Alaura Olsen. Maternal Grandfather: Andreas Andersen. Maternal Grandmother: Inger Marie Gulliksen. Brothers and Sisters: Borghild Victoria Nilsen, Margit Olalia Nilsen, Rolf Nilsen. Spouse: George Johansen Kirkemo. Children: Dianne Margaret Kirkemo.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with Randi Kirkemo on August 4, 1982 in Tacoma, Washington. This interview contains information on family history, Larvik and childhood home, school in Norway, childhood activities, Christmas traditions, emigration, voyage to America, Ellis Island, first impression of U.S., school in America, new experiences in U.S., impressions of Seattle, settling in, church, marriage and family, visit to Norway, and Norwegian heritage. The interview was conducted in English.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Custodial History

The Oral History collection project was started during an experimental course on Scandinavian Women in the Pacific Northwest. Students in the course were encouraged to interview women and learn about their experiences as immigrants to the United States. The project was continued and expanded with support from the president's office and by grants from the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, from the Joel E. Ferris Foundation and the Norwegian Emigration Fund of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project was directed by Dr. Janet E. Rasmussen. The collection was transferred to the Archives and Special Collections Department.

Acquisition Information

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Processing Note

The interview was conducted by Morrene Nesvig using a cassette recorder. A research copy was also prepared from the original. To further preserve the content of the interview, it is now being transferred to compact disc. We deliberately did not transcribe the entire interview because we want the researchers to listen to the interviewee's own voice. The transcription index highlights important aspects of the interview and the tape counter numbers noted on the Partial Interview Transcription are meant as approximate finding guides and refer to the location of a subject on the cassette/CD. The recording quality is good

The collection was transcribed by Mary Sue Gee, Julie Peterson and Becky Husby.


Rasmussen, Janet Elaine. New Land New Lives: Scandinavian Immigrants to the Pacific NorthwestTacoma, WashingtonUniversity of Washington Press1993

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The partial interview transcription highlights important aspects of the interview. Numbers may be used as guides to important subjects. Two numbers separated by a slash indicate that the first number is for cassette and the second for CD.

Container(s) Description
183, side 1 019:
Randi Kirkemo, maiden name is Nilsen. Born January 1, 1910 in Larvik, Norway. This city is south of Oslo.
183, side 1 058: PARENTS
Dina and Carl. Mother's maiden name was Halvorsen. Father was a sailor. Mother was a housewife. Father was gone for long periods of time. He left when Randi was four months old, she did not see him again until she came to the U.S. in 1922, 12 years old. He went all over the world. Mother was a single parent.
183, side 1 101: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Borghild, Margit, and Rolf.
183, side 1 113: GRANDPARENTS
Barely remember any, just paternal grandfather who was working in a glass factory in Larvik.
183, side 1 131: LARVIK CHILDHOOD HOME
20,000 people. Had a big mill. Railroad met there so there were many doings. Was also a port there so many boats came in. Lumber mill. Lived in a big apartment, belonged to the mill. Those that worked at the mill lived there. Nice neighbors.
183, side 1 170:
Mother worked. At Christmas she made julekake for various people. Helped people when they had babies.
183, side 1 185: SCHOOL
Started at age 6. School in the neighborhood until fourth grade then went to the big school in town until seventh grade.
Swimming in the summer, skied, and skated in the winter. Sometimes the whole fjord froze. Church activities.
183, side 1 227: CHRISTMAS
Baking, brother cut all the wood. Went to church at 5 o'clock. Brother went out and got the tree, mother decorated it. Children could not look at it until it was all done. Decorated with baskets, nits, candy, oranges and candles that you lit. Danced around the tree on Christmas Eve. Mentions songs that they sang around the tree. Randi still makes the julekake that her mother used to make. Mother made good fattigmand, she describes this.
183, side 1 330: FOLK BELIEFS
Mother believed in the Julenissen. Would put out mush for them on Christmas Eve. Mother said that she had seen one when she was little girl.
183, side 1 364:
Father would write to the family and send them things.
183, side 1 375: REASON FOR COMING TO THE U.S.
Came to the U.S. because her father had been writing to his wife. He was still in the U.S. He was in San Francisco and came to Seattle on an oil tanker for Standard Oil. He worked for them until he retired.
183, side 1 400: PLANS FOR COMING OVER
Father wrote and said he would send money. Remembers packing, filling a big wooden box. Planned for a permanent move.
183, side 1 437: THINGS BROUGHT OVER
Clock that had been a wedding present. Bedding, dyne (down comforter), pillows, figurines, clothes. Margit, mother, and Randi came first.
183, side 1 459:
Left Norway July 1922. Left Larvik the 22nd, went to Oslo and stayed there with friends until the boat left. Went on the Stavangerfjord.
183, side 1 478:
Felt sad about leaving friends. Excited about leaving at the same time.
183, side 1 484: BOAT TRIP
Nice ship. Lots of good food, four meals a day. Four people stayed in a cabin. A big storm came up, many were sick. Took ten days.
183, side 1 498: LANDING IN NEW YORK
Remembers getting peaches from a friend, had never seen them before. Did not like the fuzzy peeling.
183, side 1 525: ELLIS ISLAND
"Quite an experience." They put all kinds of cards up. Did not know what they dais. Had to pay so much for head tax. Went through a line for the doctor. The lady who had been with them in their cabin did not make it through. Had lots of things to carry.
183, side 1 562: FIRST IMPRESSION
Had little boxes prepared for them with sandwiches. No butter on sandwiches; mother said "Don't they eve have butter in America?" Coffee was sweet here.
183, side 1 583:
Took the ferry to the train station.
183, side 1 588: TRAIN TRIP
Did not speak any English. Wasn't easy to manage. Couldn't understand what the man in the train station said.
183, side 1 619:
Tells a story about the first time she saw a black person, he was the porter on the train.
183, side 1 655:
Stopped in St. Paul, Minnesota, Randi's aunt lived in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. She was supposed to meet them. She did not know what time they would get in; she had been meeting trains for two days. She was there when they arrived. There were people there to help the immigrants. A Scandinavian man helped them.
183, side 1 680:
Visited in Clear Lake for a week to ten days. Comments on the tall corn.
183, side 1 690:
Tells about the first time they had ice cream in Chicago. This was a real treat. Mentions her experience in bakery.
183, side 1 730: ARRIVED IN SEATTLE
Were tired when they arrived. There were loggers on one train, they played craps all night long.
183, side 1 770:
Train trip from Chicago to Seattle took four days. Met father in Seattle. Describes this.
183, side 1 784:
Father had bought a house in West Seattle before they came so they moved right in. Had to wait for their big box to arrive as it was shipped separately.
183, side 1 807:
Father worked on a boat in the Sound for Standard Oil. In West Seattle, Pigeon Hill was all Scandinavians. Spoke mostly Norwegian. Mother never really learned to speak English.
183, side 1 826: SCHOOL
Went to school in September, put her in the first grade. This hurt her feelings. They did it so she could get adjusted. The teacher could speak Swedish. Quickly moved up the grades until she made it to the grade she had been in when she had left Norway.
At first she thought there was nothing but telephone poles. Loved it, so much like Norway, water and trees. Had a lot of friends from Larvik that lived there.
183, side 1 866: MOST DIFFICULT THING
Language. Could not express yourself. Learned to say wieners, had these often.
183, side 1 878: MOST EXCITING THING
Lonely at first. Got letters from Norway and would cry. Hard for her when she was with the little kids in school.
183, side 1 894: MEETING SPOUSE
She was 16 when she first met her husband. He was from Tacoma. They went together for three years. George Kirkemo. He came from Horten, Norway not far from Larvik. His name was Johansen, but he did not like that name so he changed it to Kirkemo, the name of his place, when he had first come to the U.S., means a place near the church.
183, side 1 919:
Went to West Seattle High School and took typing. Got a part-time job in an office at a school. Quit when she was a junior because she knew she was going to get married. Married when she was 19.
183, side 1 932: MEETING HUSBAND
Oldest sister helped them get together.
183, side 1 942: WEDDING
Married in a Methodist church in West Seattle. Had Norwegian food. Lutheran church there was so small.
183, side 1 948: CHURCH
Went good when they got to Seattle. Pastor Nesvig's church. Took the streetcar. Church was important to the immigrants. Had a lot of doings like when the fishermen came home. It made them feel at home.
183, side 1 969:
Came to Tacoma after married in 1929. Returned to Seattle often for Scandinavian functions.
183, side 1 985: MAY 17TH IN SEATTLE
Had a big celebration at the Masonic Temple and then at the Civic Center. This day was special in Seattle. Chorus sang. August Warner was the leader of this group. Had a dance where they danced all the Scandinavian dances. Still celebrate this day in some way.
183, side 1 1010:
Husband worked in lumber, in a door factory. Husband off for one year during the Depression. He made about $200 dollars. He worked for the WPA, the park.
183, side 1 1022: DAUGHTER
Daughter was born during the Depression. Diane lives in Puyallup. She is keeping up the Norwegian heritage. She could only speak this when she was growing up. She was four when she began learning English. Not active in Norwegian clubs.
183, side 1 1042: CHURCH
Went to Central when it was where the Court House is. Then went to Covenant Church. Joined Central Lutheran in 1958.
183, side 2 035: TRIPS TO NORWAY
June 1963, went first to England, then Paris. Were supposed to go to Amsterdam but did not make the connection. Went to Copenhagen then to Oslo. Met by George's brother and wife. They stayed with them for about two and half months.
183, side 2 096:
Saw her girlfriends in Larvik. They had a party for her at the Grand Hotel in Larvik. This was an exciting time. They were surprised that she could still speak Norwegian so well. She has always spoken Norwegian a lot at home with her husband.
183, side 2 145:
Fun to be in Larvik after many years. Recognized many people. Still have cousins in Larvik.
183, side 2 171: KEEPSAKES
Still have pictures and silver.
183, side 2 195:
Speaks Norwegian, says the Table Grace.
183, side 2 224: NORWEGIAN HERITAGE
Proud of it. Norway is a beautiful country. They are honest and proud people. Glad to be in America.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Christmas
  • Education--Norway
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Marriage service
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Ethnic identity
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • Railroad travel

Personal Names

  • Kirkemo, Randi Nilsen --Interviews (creator)
  • Kirkemo, Diane Margaret
  • Kirkemo, George Johansen
  • Nilsen, Olaves
  • Olsen, Ingeborg Alaura
  • Andersen, Andreas
  • Anderson, Halvordine (Dina) Mathilde
  • Gullikson, Inger Marie
  • Nilsen, Carl August

Corporate Names

  • Central Lutheran Church (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Ellis Island (N.J.and N.Y.)
  • Pigeon Hill (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Stavangerfjord (Steamship)

Family Names

  • Anderson family
  • Gulliksen family
  • Halvorsen family
  • Kirkemo family
  • Nilsen family
  • Olsen family

Geographical Names

  • Bengfors (Sweden
  • Clear Lake (Wis.)
  • Horten (Norway)
  • Larvik (Norway)
  • Seattle (Wash.)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Sailors