The Utne Mens’ Saga

On November 22, 2016,I received an email that read:

Hello. I am a Norwegian farmer, and I recently found a letter from my great-grandfather’s sister. It was written from Minnesota on the 4th of July 1888. Torine had just given birth to her son Theodore (1888-1943). Her husband was Oliver Martin Utne (1848-1930). Are they your ancestors? Regards, Jostein Matre

On November 22, 2016, I responded thus:

Hi Jostein, Thanks for contacting me. Yes, Oliver and Torine Utne were my great-grandparents. Their son Theodore was my grandfather.

P.S. Where is your farm? Do you know the Utne farm near Sarpsborg?

On November 23, 2016, Jostein wrote:

Thorine, who wrote the letter on the 4th of July 1888, was the wife of Oliver Utne, so we are related. In a few hours I will bury my father, but I will come back with more information.

(Thus began a correspondence with my third cousin, Jostein Matre. As it happens, my neighbor, Ole Köppang, is also from Sarpsborg, Norway, and was going home for Christmas, so he offered to bring Jostein something from me. I sent along several issues of Utne Reader, and, on an intuition, an article I’d co-authored that mentioned Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education.)

On January 5, 2017, Jostein wrote:

Thank you for the magazines, I have started reading and find them interesting. We have been parents at the local Waldorf school since 2002, still are.

On January 8, 2017, I wrote:

Hi Jostein, I just got back late last night from visiting my son Oliver (named for his great-great-grandfather), his wife Alegria, and my granddaughter Emma Luna in Quito, Ecuador over the Christmas holidays …
I’m amazed that we share an interest in Steiner education. All my four sons attended Waldorf schools from at least pre-school through 8th grade. It really is a small, mysterious world, isn’t it?

P.S. I’m four years into writing a memoir, still a work in progress. Here are a couple chapters about teaching in my kids’ Waldorf school, for your interest.

On January 10, 2017, Jostein wrote:

Hello. I have not read any of Steiner’s books, but I am familiar with some of his ideas. I enjoy seeing how the school system inspires kids to explore the world. None of my kids have been tired of school like I was as a teenager. … I have also enjoyed reading about your son’s project in Ecuador ( It looks like an idea with power to have valuable impact on this region for a long time. Wish him good luck from Norway.

On January 11, 2017, I wrote:

Hi Jostein, Thanks for the honey and beer from your farm. They are treasures — ambrosia from the ancestral gods. Thanks too for your well-wishes re. my son’s project in the Ecuadorian Amazon. He’s about to deliver the solar boat to the Achuar — a 25-day, 1,800 km journey, planned to begin on March 5th. We’re all very excited for him.

On May 17, 2017, I wrote:

Hej Jostein, Gratulerer med dagen! Ever since you contacted me last autumn, I’ve been thinking how much fun it would be to meet you, and see the ancestral family farm… Will you be in Norway at this time next year?

On May 17, 2017, Jostein wrote back:

Hello. My plan is to be here, and we have room for all of you. I am looking forward to show you the area, and spend some evenings around the fire in our garden. … I suggest that you stay here for a week. … You can also take part in the work on the farm. The lambs are born in April, and May is the time to bring them out to the pasture for the first time. They are joyful little creatures, curiously exploring the world for the first time…

So, dear reader, there you have it. Leif (46), Sam (36), Oliver (32), Eli (27), and I are going to Norway next May 11-25. My agenda is for my sons to meet long lost family and make new friends, and return to the U.S. proud of their Norwegian heritage. If you have any ideas for places to go, people to see, or things to do, please let me know. You can reach me at:

Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader.

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