Lela Peterson whole heartedly concurs with Seth Godin, an American author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker, who once told an audience, “The book that will most change your life is the book you write.”
Lela, from Reynolds, N.D., has written a book — about her grandparents. Titled, “Selma,” it was published in June and last Saturday (September 26, 2015) at a conference in Moorhead, Minn., “Selma,” received the Family History Award from the Heritage Education Commission.
The award is, “a real honor,” Lela said.
Perhaps an even greater honor for Lela is that when she was born, her grandmother’s name, Selma, was given to her as a middle name.
Lela’s grandfather, Johan Sjoqvist, died before she was born. Lela knew her grandmother on her mother’s side, although not well. Their visits were few and far between, but when Lela did sit at Selma’s knee to hear stories of Sweden and to learn Swedish words, she recalls being mesmerized by her grandmother, hungering to know and understand and love her more deeply.
And that’s how writing this book has changed Lela. As a result of three trips to the area of Sweden where her grandparents came from and years of researching their lives both across the Atlantic and here, she knows them now, almost intimately, and profoundly respects and appreciates them for the hardships they endured both in Sweden and America.
“Selma,” with a picture on nearly every page, is a book about deep and abiding pioneer fortitude and love, sorrow and loss, an unwavering faith in God, unbelievably back-breaking endurance, and added to the mix, very interesting North Dakota history.
Here’s just enough of the story of Selma to whet your reading appetite:
Life was tough in Sweden in the early 1900s, and advertisements were placed in Swedish newspapers about free land in America. Why all you had to do was throw wheat seed into the black dirt and you could become rich in a year’s time
In 1902, Johan Sjoqvist, a maker of shoes, received a letter from a Swedish acquaintance who had already settled in Grover Township of Renville County near Tolley, N, D. The man wrote that 100 acres of land was available to Johan, free for the taking. It was a tough decision, but after pondering it, Johan and Selma decided to act on the offer. They would make a fortune in North Dakota and then return to their beloved Sweden.
By 1903, they had decided that Johan would cross the ocean first, build a house for his family and Selma would follow a year or so later with three of their five children leaving two in Sweden with her parents.
Because, of course they would return.
But did they?
Only the book knows.
Lela’s grandmother was one who “leaned back in the arms of Jesus,” Lela said. “She had very strong faith. She was always calm. No matter the adversity, she hung tight saying, ‘it’s going to be OK.’ ”
Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of “Selma” may email Lela at: email@example.com. The book sells for $20 and for an additional $4, Lela will mail it out.
She’s also doing a book signing at the Christian Bookshelf in Grand Forks from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 10.
Lela Selma Atwood Peterson is a graduate of both Minot State University and the University of North Dakota. For many years she taught elementary school in North Dakota, Wisconsin and Germany. In her retirement she enjoys writing family history and doing genealogical research.
In her acknowledgement at the close of “Selma,” Lela writes these words to her large extended family — her fellow descendants of Johan and Selma Sjoqvist:
“My heart is filled with love for all of you. I want to thank my grandparents and parents for making this possible and my children for making it necessary.”