Don Sandy is an inveterate story-teller, an avid Swedish enthusiast, a financial representative, a loving family man, an accordionist, a fine public speaker and a man well-known to many Jamestown residents.
Still, he asks when approached for a personal profile, ''What have I done that's interesting?''
What is interesting is the accepted belief that if a man follows his star even the quest for that star is interesting. And for more than 25 years, Don Sandy has followed a star. He was born in Jamestown to a family with Swedish and English roots. After high school he went to Jamestown Community College and from there to the State College at Buffalo, where he acquired a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and a Master of Arts Degree in Social Work. He then came to the Gustavus Adolphus Home and stayed for three decades. Don is a helpful, compassionate man and part of what drives him, as a man, is ''a thirst to know about the old traditions of the Swedes.'' And it pleases him that in Jamestown'' we are celebrating the Swedish heritage of our ancestors.'' Hence, the Swedish festival that occurs each year (this is the 11th year) and this year , it will be held July 20 to 22.
King Carl XVI?Gustav is pictured presenting Don?Sandy with the Royal Order of the Polar Star, a coveted Swedish honor, in October 2011. Sandy’s wife, Sandy, looks on.
Photo by John?Conti
''You grow with it and eventually you become somewhat of an expert." This is his view of an endless devotion such as he has for the Swedish music, which he happily spins out on his accordion, another Swedish invention; and Swedish folk dancing, for which he cites the two dance teams in Jamestown. The interest in Sweden and Sweden's roots for many local citizens is not a frivolous one. Don lauds the computer age we live in and its ease in providing genealogical studies and searches for family roots. He also has investigated ship's manifests to learn names which may be connected to those who search. He has been traveling to Sweden since 2004 and in 2005, he and his wife Sandy, a nursing instructor at BOCES, came upon a town named Ulrick where, he learned, his father had come from. It was at this time that his wife became enterprising in her Swedish fascination. She purchased Swedish cloths, by the bolt, and took home with her the ideas for tablecloths, napkins, aprons and other handmade artifacts which she sells. Together, they have spun a colorful and exciting aspect to their lives in this search for anything Swedish. Visiting in Sweden has taught them three things: The Swedish people are genuinely nice people and welcome visitors always; the genealogical sources there are priceless and available to all and going to Sweden, says Don, will fire up your passions for the Swedish heritage even more.
Conversations with Don Sandy reveal salient facts about Swedes coming to Jamestown; it was a roundabout trip. The Swedish immigrants began arriving in this area, both here and in western Pennsylvania, during the mid-19th century. Life in Sweden, at that time, was very hard. There was a need for jobs, soil was old and over worn and farming was a trial. A second chance, a rebirth, lay across the ocean in America. They heard of this and craved a new life. The first group, in 1846, came to Iowa; a second group came to Albany, N.Y., was robbed and finally made it to Buffalo. Louise and Josephine Germund, part of that group, went to live with two families in Warren and Sugar Grove. They became indentured servants and were left thus, until age 18. In spite of separation, the girls loved what reminded them of Sweden - the land, hills, trees and the weather were sweet reminiscences.
The first real settlement in the area was at Chandler's Valley with the Hessel Lutheran Church in 1854. From that time, Swedes came very quickly and by 1870, half the population in Jamestown was Swedish. Businesses flourished with the Swedes; clothiers, hatters, shoe dealers, general merchandise, grocers, teachers, photographers and other forms of enterprise. One prominent Swedish entrepreneur was Oscar Lenna, who in 1914, began a company later known as Blackstone. In 1920, 75 percent of businessmen were Swedish and Jamestown had the highest percentage of Swedish people of any city in the United States.
Johannes Johnson, writing for the Swedish newspapers, is quoted: ''We are in good health ... the climate here is healthful, we have good fresh water and we are surrounded by plentiful forests; indeed, almost too much so.'' She later writes: ''The earth gives good increase if it is rightly used. A large number of the Swedes have bought houses. Others have bought land and are in the process of building homes.''
Brita Stina Johnson, also writing home at that time, says: ''When we left the mother country we had no other aim or destination than America. In our company, however, were some whose destination was Jamestown and likely because we did not have the means to continue with those going farther west, we made up our minds for Jamestown, too.'' She adds: ''I believe there are about 250 Swedes or more in this place.''
There is more to explore in this quest. Don says there is hardly enough time in any day to do all that he wants to with his exploration. ''The only books I read are about Sweden,'' he says. He also regrets that over many generations, some Swedes have lost the customs and the culture in order to become Americans and while this is regrettable, the Swedish Festival has done much to re-ignite perpetual interest. Don's timeless efforts to keep the culture and heritage alive were awarded in 2011 when King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden presented Don with the Royal Order of the Polar Star, a coveted Swedish honor. We praise Ms. Sandy for his ongoing interests and devotion to everything Swedish.