A North Park Family History
More than 100 years ago, Oscar and Hannah Bengtson immigrated to the United States from Sweden looking for religious freedom and economic opportunity. They made sure their children and descendants found both at North Park.
Oscar’s two brothers, David and Albin, wound up marrying Hannah’s two sisters, Esther and Jennie. The three families have had 55 members attend North Park Academy, Junior College, College, University, and/or Theological Seminary. The number increases when considering that 19 of the attendees met their spouses North Park institutions.
The Bengtsons’ father purchased a Bible in 1838 in Sweden, which was among the reasons his family eventually emigrated to the United States, and his descendants wound up at North Park.
“They were ambitious and smart but did not have the opportunities in Sweden,” says Karen Kettleson, granddaughter of Oscar and Hannah.
At the time, the state Lutheran Church of Sweden forbade lay religious activities, arguing that lay people could not properly interpret Scripture or hold the Lord’s Supper in their homes. Dissention from this dogmatism led to the revivalist movement that became known as Mission Friends.
Oscar and Hannah began looking for a church with the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant in America when they arrived in Minnesota, because the denomination had been born out of the Mission Friends movement. The three Bengtson families sent their children to North Park initially because of its academic offerings, but also because of its religious affiliation with what eventually would be known as the Evangelical Covenant Church.
“I think it was important for our parents,” says Kettleson. She adds, “We went in part because we wanted to make them happy, but we also went because it was a good school.”
Mark Bengtson C’75 S’79 says the school has always been an example of what a Christian university should be. “They hold to the wonders of the faith while looking at the wonders of the world God created without losing their faith.”
Mark points to the importance North Park’s science programs have had on his family members. After graduating, many have gone on to careers as chemists, dentists, medical physicists, physicians, nurses, and other health practitioners.
Other family members have left their mark on society as judges, journalists, educators, ministers, and artists. The latest Bengtson descendent to attend North Park, Anders, is traveling with a musical production and will return to complete his studies in the fall.
North Park’s urban location has led some family members to attend, including Mark’s adopted Korean son. When Mark attended North Park, the surrounding neighborhood was largely Greek and Jewish. He had no idea the area had transitioned to having a significant Korean population.
To that end, Mark says, only half-joking, “You might say it is Providence that has led us to North Park.”
The family didn’t realize so many descendants had attended North Park until it held a family reunion in honor of the centennial anniversary of Hannah and Oscar’s arrival in the country. Experiences at North Park kept coming up in discussions, so attendees passed around a paper on which they listed all their relatives who had matriculated at the school.
“We were amazed,” says Kettleson. She is the unofficial family historian and did further research to find the other relatives with a North Park history; she continued to be astonished. “It took a while to track down their names.”
Mark sums up for the families, “North Park has continued to have a deep and rich meaning for us.”
Stan Friedman S'93 is the news editor for the Covenant News Service