Remembering Arne Brekke

Arne Brekke
Arne Brekke

Arne Brekke, retired languages faculty member, died June 25, 2018, at Altru Hospital. He was 90.

A celebration of life is set for 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, July 2, at the Gorecki Alumni Center.

Brekke was known for founding both Brekke Tours & Travel and UND’s “bygdebok” collection of Norwegian family history books, which he began in 1980.

In recognition of his contributions, the Chester Fritz Library named the Bygdebok Collection in honor of him in 2010.  Thanks to his daughter, Karen Hoelzer, the Arne G. Brekke Endowment was started to fund ongoing support for the Collection and its activities.

Born in Norway, Brekke earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1949. He did graduate work at Cornell University and returned to Luther College in 1954 to become head of the Norwegian Department for three years.

It was during his stay at Luther College that Brekke organized his first escorted tour of Europe as a way fund a return visit to his homeland. Brekke said this arrangement was the “very modest” beginnings of what would become his travel business later in life.

Brekke earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1962, becoming an expert in comparative Germanic and Indo-European languages. Again, he found himself to be sought after by others.

“I was able to interpret names that other people couldn’t interpret,” he said.

To finance his studies, Brekke maintained his role as tour operator, leading summer tours throughout Europe.

Brekke joined the Languages Department at UND in 1967, teaching primarily German and Norwegian classes.

That same year, Brekke connected with a Sons of Norway lodge in North Dakota and worked out a deal, in which he would organize charter flights to Norway for the lodges.

His success led to the formation of his business: Brekke Tours & Travel – a full-service travel agency that specializes in “heritage tours” to and from Norway. He retired from UND in 1987 to focus on Brekke Tours.

In a 2012 interview, Brekke estimated that he chartered to Norway more than 200,000 tourists – many seeking their ancestral roots – and countless others to other points around the globe. He also helped a large number of Norwegians to visit America.

Since 1956, Brekke returned to Norway every year, making five or six trips some years.

In 1977, Brekke received the prestigious St. Olav Medal from Norway for his work to foster relationships between people of Norwegian descent and their ancestral homeland.

Brekke’s desire to foster these relationships extends beyond his travel agency to another of his great passions.

In 1980, Brekke began spearheading a project to bolster the Norwegian genealogical research materials of the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections within UND’s Chester Fritz Library. At the time, Special Collections had only two sets of “bygdebøker,” compiled histories of genealogical, cultural and geographical information about local areas.

Brekke began penning letters in his native Norwegian to representatives of Norway’s nearly 450 municipalities. With each letter, he requested donations of bygdebøker.

Within a year, he had secured about 200 more volumes, and he collected 600 in three years.

Brekke used his chartered trips to Norway to promote the bygdebok project, often garnering attention through Norwegian media that took part in the trips, and as a way to transport the sets back to the Grand Forks. There are more than 1,800 volumes today at the Chester Fritz Library.

— Information courtesy of David Dodds, UND Today