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Interview with Naomi Silfversten and Ruth (Silfversten) Coppins



Beginning in 1998, the City of Duluth (Minn.) Sister Cities Commission collaborated with the Iron Range Research Center to record a series of oral history interviews. Independent scholar Dr. JoAnn Hanson-Stone acted as the lead interviewer. The voluntary, self-selecting participants were second-generation Swedish Americans whose parents settled in northeast Minnesota in the early 1900s. The interviews were initiated to create supplementary material for a planned exhibit, “A Long Way Home: Swedish Immigrant Life in Duluth and Northeast Minnesota, 1890-1940.”





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Use of this oral history is governed by U.S. and international copyright law. Please contact the Iron Range Research Center for more information in regard to this oral history; http://mndiscoverycenter.com/research-center/archive



Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 1

DATE : January 29, 1998
SUBJECT : Interview with Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins,
and Betty Hamsten, Duluth, Minnesota
PROGRAM : Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
City of Duluth Sister Cities Commission

My name is Ed Nelson and we're at the office of the Senior Reporter in Duluth,
Minnesota. This is an interview with Naomi Silfversten, and Ruth Silfversten Coppins,
petty Hamspen, Ruth and Naomi are sisters and they grew up in the West End of
Duluth and your father's name was Carl J. Silfversten.

Can you give me a background on where your father and mother were born and how
they came to this country?

My father was born in the Swedish section or part of Finland and the town was Narpes,
Finland. Mother was born in Sweden, Skane. (with an umlaut, I think.)

Mother's name?

Ellen Benson.

Wilen were they born?

M9ther was born in 1883. I remember that. Because she was 95 just about 96 when she died
and that was in 1979.

Was your father older than your mother?

Yes, about 4 years or so -so 1879.

They immigrated -stories?

Well, Dad was 19 years old when he came here and he wanted to go into the ministry
eventually so he had to go to school and I believe he probably came from Rock Island or that
area and I don't know much about the -after 19 I suppose he had to get -he had an education
in Finland and they came here because he did get to Gustavus Adolphus College and from
there he went to Theological Seminary; that was in Rockford. This is where he met Mother as
shewasamember ofthechurchandthe choirandtheyweremarried.

Did he tell you about life in Finland?

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 2

No but -well I'm quite sure he was a poor child and like so many immigrants because they
wanted to get a better -have a better life so he was interested in becoming a minister and this
was his goal to come to this country to study.

Was his father a minister?

No, his father was a captain ofthe high seas or a fisherman -a commercial fisherman on the
gulfof01 soDadwassort ofraisedtobeafishermanwhenhewasachildsoDadhas
written several books but he has that one that is a safe channel that he writes stories regarding
the -ofthe days with his dad fishing.

I am pretty sure I have that at home.

I have that one too. And I don't have much on my mother's background. Apparently she was
just a baby when she came here to this country.

So your father was a Swede-Finn?

Dad always said Finland Swede and -Swedes are born iii Finland and which is -I had made
a trip there-it would be ten years this year and I visited the area where Dad was from and it's
onthe westcoast-theGulfofB.?-andI don'tknowhowmanytownsorcitiesareincluded
in all ofthe west coast but it does go up quite a ways and I don't have that map with me. It's
Finland and all outside on the west coast ofFinland.

It was settled by Swedish people?


Finnish government?

I suppose they had to be. Part ofthe time they were undertheRussian -in 1917 then Finland
declared its independence.

Were they amongst Swedish speaking people?

Oh yes the whole area is. Jim was on that trip too.

When your father came here did he come by himself?

I understand that.

Any relatives?

Not that I'm aware of. Not that we know.

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project .

Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 3

We had relatives way up in T., He didn't come over the same time she did and
whether she was born over there or in this country -I don't know. That is the only known

relative I can think of.

When did he come here?


What did he do when he first came here?

I suppose he had to go on in school, I don't know ifhe completed high school in Finland so
called-he probably did but then he went to Gustavus College in the summer he used to -in
fact he came to Duluth. I remember him telling us in 1905 and he worked on the coal docks
in order to get some money for school and at that time he also -he didn't join but he would
go to the Bethany Lutheran church in West End and I think he taught Saturday Bible Schoolsomething
like that and ~
but and then from then he ofcourse

When did he meet your mother?

When they probably came to S.? in that area. I don't know much about them landing here. I
know that she was -well he was at this church in Chicago because she was from Chicago and
he met her at church naturally because he was interested in becoming a minister and shemother
was in the choir and so apparently the romance started that way and so they were
married and then -married in Chicago.

So he graduated from Gustavus and went on to Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, IL.


It must have been 1909 because it seemed to me they were married in 1909.... Church? The
first church he was assigned to was in Worchester, Massachusetts, and then from there they
moved to Gladstone, ML He was a SwedishlFinland minister. He had these churches that
were Swede/Finn origin and then went to Gladstone, ML, went to Ironwood, Michigan, then
to Rhinelander, WI and then ofcourse in 1920 he was called here to Bethel,

Did he stay in Duluth?

Yes until he passed away. He was the pastor ofthis church for 26 years.

Where were you guys born?

I was born in Ironwood.
I was born in Rhinelander and our brother was born in Gladstone.

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Rnth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 4

What is your brother's name?

Hilden?? And of course she was a twin and the other brother passed away when he was 19

months old.

Then the family moved to Duluth and that is where all-

There was -this church had a parsonage down the block here and -so that.is where we were
for a period oftime. I don't remember how long because at that time Dad decided he wanted
to build his own home so he got some property up on Central Avenue so -but at that time
mother took ill and she was an invalid from the time she was 40 years old until she died in
1995. But nevertheless we managed to get along. They sold the parsonage and then we
moved down to 53" this way temporarily until our house became livable or we could move
in. So that is where we spent most ofour time.

What do you remember about your ethnic group?

I don't recall what we singled out -we chummed around with anyone and everybody. We
had different nationalities. I can't say that we singled out the Swedes or Finns. A great part of
our time was spent here at church. When we went to school or out to play it was all
nationalities. But I think that we had a normal growing up as anybody else. Except that we
were the minister's kids and you felt you had to be so good because your father was a

It is a lot different now. Even the ministers are different. It's kind ofnice because -you're
something a little special. I don't know ifthey felt that way or not. We lived a normal life.

------:-----Htilro.-.wVlfabhOlrurrtt-allJ1mniiinnmisltt<>err"'s-Ufe in those days?----------------------

Visit sick people, that is part oftheir ministers in the homes or in the hospital and he had to

attend a lot ofdifferent meetingswith otherministers andtheyhadtogo out oftownandthe

conference meetings and things like that. Dad was not interested in sports or anything but he

loved to fish so any time that he could get up to Boulder Lake or Fish Lake or sometime I

remember being with him a couple oftimes and he was very patient and we just sat all day in

the boat.

I remember going on part ofhis vacation with him once because he went up to Eagles' Nest
Lake and he had fixed the car the back seat -the back part ofthe seat so they would go down
and you could sleep in the car and I remember being up there with him for several days with
him and I don't remember how old 1 was but I remember-

He loved to fish.

I remember also one time he fished at Islaud Lake and the blinding snow storm on the first

fishing day ofthe season May 15 so here we are in January thinking ofwhat we might have

to look forward to.

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998

How would you describe a typical week for a miuister?

Church, church. Oh well yes and his daughters and son spent all of our time here. We used to

have three services on Sunday: a Swedish, and English, and a Swedish at night and we three

kids so caIled we all had to take our turns at being the organist -we alI had training -we all

had lessons of course piano and organ so brother first because he was older and then I went

ontonurses'trainingandmysister, Ruth. SowealIhadto spend lots oftime hereandlots of

time then we would have prayer meetings on Wednesday we had to be here. Friday was choir

practice because then we had to take care ofthe choir and then the three services on Sunday.

Of course Saturday was confirmation and for whatever. We had willing workers and I

remember we had it in that second room especially when it was real cold and Dad would put

fire in that little stove so we huddled around that.

Is this the organ?

That's the organ -that's the one we played.

So you were the center of attention?

Well, we didn't have a choice; put it that way.

Any stories?

I can't remember but like I say it's a little different now with pastors' families. Kids speak up
more than -I belong to Pilgrim Lutheran church in Superior and I have been there ever since

than they were when Naomi and my brother and I grew up here. But that was the
times; everything has changed. And one thing I have to say that I am proud to say that I was
brought up in the minister's home. I am very happy that that time-

Even ifthey were so strict. Mother wasn't but Dad ofcourse -he ruled the roost, I can tell

Was he a strict miuister?

WeIl, it wasn't fire and brimstone, I don't think. He had some good sermons. You know-

Was the church a place where somebody was coming from Sweden -did they come to
the church in those early days?

We did have quite a few people that came over from Finland and find our church. I think it

was mostly the men who came and some ofthem went back and some didn't go back to

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 6

Oftenwehadvisitors tocometothechurch; guesswheretheystayedovernight. Wewouldbe
routedout ofourcribsorbedstotakecare ofsomeotherministerthatiscomingtovisit. But
it didn't hurt us.

Did you get late night phone calls of death in someone's family?

Idon't recallmuchofthat.Dadhadastudyand

Onethingabouthimthat-hequiteoftenhewasupinthemiddle ofthenightandthenhe
wouldgo downto the kitchenandcookand drinkhis coffeeand studyandwritesermonsand
ofcoursehedidwritesomebookstoobutthatiswhenhedidhisthinkingbecausehe saidit
wasalways morequietinthehouseduringthenightthanitwasduringthedaywhenwewere
around. Quiet,quietdownthere.

Was he a prolific writer?

Yeshe was. HehadoutlinesbecauseIthinkI havesomestillat home-someoutlinesand

he wouldpreachfromthem.

He wrote a book?

Yes I happenedto -I haven't had time to -I have all these and I have to get this all together
-the Finland Swedes in America; this is it. Itwas published in 1931 and it is all here
translatedtotheEnglish languagebuthowI receivedthesewasthroughtheSwede-Finn
HistoricalSocietyandtherereferredtotheFinland Swedes hadalodgeandtheyarestill
activeoutwest-BrunebergLodgeandtheBrunebergLodge ofSeattleisthenthere -they

---------I\}ougHansen,wewereintouchor contactandhe saidthatwe WIll seethat yougetthe
publication andthisisofcourseIwouldtakeitoutlikethisandsothereis26chapters. Itwas
a bigbook;just bylookingatallofthisyoucanseewhatourfatherwasdoinginthemiddle
ofthe nightbesidewritingfor sermons andthis wasn't theonly book.

Did he ever tell you why?

Oh,he was soproud ofhispeopleand hefelt it andthen ofcoursehe traveledto get some

. information forthebook.HewentoutwestandtherearequiteafewFinland Swedes inthat
area,andCaliforniaandoutin MichiganandMass. AndalsoAustralia;therearealot of
Finnsand Swedes. SothisiswhatIsay; hereallydidquiteabit of-

He knew of the other people who were working the church; is that where he got the


Ipresume hegotthatthroughmanypeopleandIthinktowardthe endheretheseveralpeople
that menthatwereinfluencedhimandthatiswherehegotinformationfrom.

He wrote that in Swedish?

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Rnth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
Jannary 29, 1998
Page 7

Yes, in Swedish.
Was he in the lodge?

We -I think we were members for a while. W.e weren't lodge people; we never had been.
There wasn't any reason to. It was a sick benefit.
Was there a chapter here in Duluth?

They had many years ago but they had it -there were two up on the range also.
What other books did he write?
I have sent a couple ofours out there. Well we know "Safe Channels" aud then "My

Home..."andIdon'trememberthetranslation oftherest ofit.Idon'thavethe listwith me
that I sent to the Historical Society.
Did he perform a lot of weddings?

I imagine he did at one time; it was a very busy church and congregation. And so he it was a
lot ofactivity inthis church.
How many members?
200 or so. Maybe when they were at the peak time might have been.

Was this church built when he arrived?

Yes, it was. Yes, because there were other ministers here before Dad came. Pastor Oberg was
here. Kastlin? was here at that time.

You said there were 200 or 300 people and you had church services and choir practices;
were there other social things and choir practices?

We had dinners and church suppers -oh yes, and we eveb had lutefisk suppers and trout
suppers -must say something right at this popoibnt, too,that dad organized a church out in
french river -a church oput there -he felt the need -beind Dad was so interested infishing
and all he fel the need along the shore out there and then found out they were FinlandSwedes
and that there was quite a number ofthem -maybe, it was kind ofa mission church
at the time out there so he did organizethat too. They built after a while but the fi5rst socalled
services were held in the homes -and then after that they did buid a church up on the
Ryan road and that was there until they decided -I'm trying to thiuk ofthe date -51 or 252
and then they had ground-breaking for the new church onRyan road that's there now -so
it's an active church.

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 8

Another pastor?

No, he was the pastor there for several years, taking over that so he had this church and then
French River. In between when he must have ahd a little time -back ill the '30's -he was a
pastor up in Eveleth, at that church, so he spent some ofhis time -I say a third ofhis timesee,
he had three churches -and so he was busy.

Eveleth in the '30's-

Well, I know because I used to accompany him. I used to play that organ there -kind of a
reed organ-they had somebody blowing it or pumping it from behind or whatever -so -1that
was a long trek.

Can you imagine some of the dinners-Iutefisk?

Oh,thatwasimportantpart of-inthosedays-andasI say,laketrout-youseethe
connection we had was French river -then -I remember going up with dad one morning and
waiting for the -Mr. Sundstrom -Mr.Gunderson-they write out -having pulled up their nets
and fish and so forth -really fresh fish-I remember getting it and putting it on the back seat
andoffwewentto betherl-fresh-sowehadlaketroutsuppers. Thatwasverygood. Of
course I do like lutefisk, so that was -still do! You could have it everyday and twice on

What about special times like holidays -Christmas, Easter -were those a lot of

A lot ofactivity in the church -you know, Sunday school program here, and we all had to
take part in that and -special church events -Christmas morning you'd always have morning
services at 6 o'clock in the morning.! it was called -surprising how many people came out
for that ~
frost on the windows ---candles next to the windows, you know -it was very very


Did you open presents before or after?

Don't say presents -present -we were lucky then. That was a special service -course we
had Easter service also. Good Friday -Good Friday services we had in combiuation with
other churches -we had Elim, .. and other churches. Isn't that funny, I can't remember too
much on that. Don't know. Can't remember ..

Confirmation and •••••

And then after coufirmation the group that we called our Junior league or Luther League pretty

How would you describe the Luther league •••?

Have a program and -I don't know ifwe had speakers or anything like that but -I don't
recall. It was an active -very active time.

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 9

Where you had officers and had a meeting?

We might have ha d a president Dances
or parties?
Oh, heavens, are you kidding? You must be. We weren't even allowed to go dancing or to a

'movie -or-times have changed. Itwas strict.
It must have been difficult for you going to the public school and
1 always think back going to prom night -Ithink it was at the Spaulding -we got dressed up

-and nobody asked me to dance because the kids all knew 1was the minister's daughter, so 1
was there for a wallflower.
Well, you were lucky -I don't think anybody ever asked me to go.

Well,1mean1went-abunch of-youknow-As1say1didn'tgettodance.

He was pastor here for a long-a relatively long26
Did -from the time you came to the time -did that change quite a bit?

Til the time he retired?
Were churchpeople more liberal and the Sewdish services?
Oh, no, he cut out the Swedish services -Well, 1don't recall too much. You see, 1went in
nurses'trainingin193 and1 don'tknow-1camebackhere toDuluthin37-butwell,yes,1

s'pose1cameback toliveathomebecause1 startedtowork-1don'tremember-isn'titsad
-I'm getting aged it's hard to remember -you were home, too
Special memories ofthe Depression years in Duluth?

They certainly weren't very good but everybody was in the same predicament. Cause, things
weren't as costly as they are now so we managed. 1think from what 1 remember -was his
salary $125 a month -he when he passed away in 1953 -from '46 on, when he retired, his
pension was $35 a month.

Who was -when you say he had a boss he reported to?

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 10

They were called bishops -or it'd be like the head of the synod -Augustana Synod -and I
think it was probably -they had branches -the ministers from this area maybe had to report
to someone down in the cities But they main synod was in Rock Island, I think -the
Augustana, so -oh, yeh

There was a hierarchy?
Oh, yes, oh, sure they had to. They had all these obligations and things when the church -the

main church now what it is called is Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Urn, women's role in the church -how would you describe that?
Very active I would say.

Ladies' aid society?
Very active, um-hmm, Dorcas society, they were the mainstay ofthe church, you know, in
those days, very active. I think in most churches they are still the mainstay. The groups and
the things that they do. It was a very active church. Good choir, and there's a picture on the

wall now. Alberta directed the choir. It's so little. He was quite a musician.
And you said some ofthe services were in Swedish?
Most people could understand Swedish. I could understand Swedish quite a bit. 1did way

back. Come to church and hear Dad preach in Swedish, I couldn't quite get it all. At home, if
he and my mother wanted to talk about something and they didn't want us to know what they
were talking about, they'd speak Swedish and we knew what the were talkin about. We
cou trans ate that. Itwas a little bit different.

Speak in Swedish?
I suppose most ofthem. He did a lot ofperiodicals too for the church. And then he wrote for

the? But... periodicals for the church itselfand so
Any other humorous stories?
How many people are going to listen? Statute of limitation run out?

We can delete some of it. Other things that might shed some light on

Oh, other thing he did for a hobby, he built boats. Like rowboats. I don't know. He had
special-Weide, and long at the bow Garage and our basement. I don't know how many he
had built. How many years -maybe you don't recall the Knudsen Shipyard -ofcourse, it
was in Superior-and in fact I know the granddaughter of the Knudsens, and anyway he came
one time to look at my dad's boat and he complimented him on it, he said it was a very well

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 11

done. So that's what he did as a hobby, in his spare time. After writing and preaching and all
these other things. A winder man.

Parades and carpentry and wood-working••• Character, do with your families •••

I know one thing that I do all these years I always any place that I go, I always go about half

an hour before I have to be there because I don't want to be late because I remember dad

saying I'd rather be anyplace a half hour early that a haifa minute late. And I carry that
tradition. I think people have -I'm a believer in being early. That carried over here with me
too ofcourse.

Strong work ethic, I s'pose?

Well, not _ I can't say that.

Your father and n!'w your brother •••

Well, I've stayed single and been in the nursing profession most ofmy life except for 20
years now I've been retired from it. I kept pretty busy. I spent most of my nursing time at the
Duluth Clinic. 39 years -surgery section -surgeons, orthopedics, and for 10 years
supervisor ofnurses and aides, and so that was very interesting work.

You told earlier •••


Story behind that.

Well, we have this organization or so-called -Finland Swedes; they get together -Margaret
Orley started this many years ago-might be over 10 now -she passed away last year -and
she said something about -she asked at one ofthe luncheons ifany ofus would be interested
intakingatriptpoFinland, soIwas interested. Because1didn'tknow ofanyrelativesatthat
time -maybe this was a good time to look up somebody ifwe get up to the Verkas area so
she organized this tour and I think there were 22 ofus but we weren't all from Duluth. That
went ofthis trip -we spent -2 liz days in Verkas, that's all but while the planning was going
on had been over in Finland and found a Harry Silfversten that lived in Memphis, and we
corresponded and so then there was a reason and I was invited to stay with them which I did
and so we got to see the church where Dad grew up -it was built in 1453 -a beautiful church
and he had been back in 1927 and preached there so I was -I took some pictures ofthe pulpit
because it was up pretty high and those churches they are and then take in a couple of
cemeteries and found some more Sifverstens -only they were below ground at that point, and
it was a funny feeling to be way over in Finland and then you see these tombstones -the
fellow named -same as ours -of. Course it was correct -in past years trying to find more
Silfversten's -this Harry Silfversten -did start a genealogy-ofSilfversten -and I was able
to fill in a few things about our family and then I have -its in booklet form, cheaper than this,
and find out there are several Silfverstens in this country bot they've changed their name to

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 12

Silverstone so -you can't -at this point in my life. I'm too old now to go through some more
history -I've done enough. But why -it all comes at this time in my life -these things -and
yetawaysback,wewouldn'thavebeeninterested-weweren't. Nowhowimportant is-

When you're reading these stories of your father's translated, are you making
discoveries ••

Ihaveto admitthat Ihaven'tlookedthroughthemyet..Ishouldn't sayIhavenotime, butI
haveto startoneofthesedaysandstartfromthebeginning,butjustfromwhatIhaveread,
some portions -I'm amazed at what he did, in writing. I can't believe this was all published in
1931-my goodness. And all the facts, my goodness, he really delved into this history of the
Finland-SwedeshereinAmerica. IwaskindofhopingMr.Fortnerwashere;Iwasgoingto
askhimhowto ?about-I'dliketohavethiseditedbutnotforanybody'sinformation,just

Bethany home?

The children's home. Its called North Woods -Bethany crises center it is on 40th
avenue west just right above the railroad tracks. It was on 40th I remember and not the
-the big building'was on 40th but the other one was down on the avenue because I
remember going over there sometimes. It was a big house -on the comer from the
supermarket. That was the first then they built and went across the railroad tracks and
that big building is still there -it is called Northwoods Crises Center.

Did your dad have any connection?

I suppose I think he went there and may have had a speaker and spoke one time or
other but it was a place for orphans and I don't know ifthey had any programs. Ijust
remembergoingthereonce butIcan'trememberwhat ifwe hadabunch ofchurch
here to go or -that is a long, long time ago.

By the way this coming year 1988 or 1989 its going to be 100 years old -this is 1998
I know but it would be a 100 years old or 99 years old -because I asked Mr. ? that
last year because he mentioned about removing the corner stone when the church was

100 years old and so forth so I think. either this year or

What year did your father retire?


He turned it over to another pastor?

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Naomi Silfversten, Ruth Silfversten Coppins, Betty Hamspen
January 29, 1998
Page 13

Oh yes and from then there were several pastors. Two or three. Matson was the last

and who was the other one? Falk after dad.

I don't remember when the church -Mr. Fortner. had this church for about 10 years

and it was empty for a while before Mr. F bought it.

Did you dad continue to write after he retired?

Oh yes he continued to write, fishing, fishing.

He painted several altar paintings for various churches. He painted French River
Lutheran and there is one now that is Holy Cross and that's a big one that is in the
Fireside room. There is one in Fellowship Hall in French River. I understand that

there are others in Concordia when we belonged to that little white church. He

painted that alter painting and I think somebody mentioned the Arnold Church which
is now the Family ofGod church there should be something there. I haven't pursued
'all ofthese leads. We do know that he was wonderful artist. And music and whatever

he was -practically everything. A farmer. And a newspaper -he wrote and was

editor ofthe Mound Sun Newspaper. He composed music, opera. Now this is our

brother not our father.

Anything else?

He used to love children and in our home there on Central Avenue, his study of

course was offthe living room and the windows on the study face the porch because

that was years ago when they all had process and the little kids in the neighborhood

End of tape