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Voyage in Experiential Learning: Island Students Seek New Land, New Life



The prospects of opportunity and a new life, a Voyage in Experiential Learning, brought 59 students and 11 staff members onboard the ferry Arni J. Richter, March 17. In their current unit, the Washington Island Navigators (WINS) sought a taste of practical understanding, to expand on classroom studies of what it might have been like to be an early Island settler, in this case, Icelanders who arrived on Washington Island.

Helping to provide images from an early Icelander's point of view, the positives and the uncertainties about their new home, were portrayals of early Icelandic settlers and one particular family who came from Iceland by way of Winnipeg, Canada.

Jeannie Hutchins spoke about the Lindals, her forbears, who arrived in the early 1920s to work for Chester Thordarson on Rock Island, then stayed, making Washington Island their home.

Mary Andersen took the part of Gertie Andersen, her husband's, Martin's, grandmother and the first child born to Icelanders on Washington Island. Her children became an integral part of the Washington Island community (and as an aside, she christened the new ferry Eyrarbakki in 1970, the centennial that marked the arrival of the first Icelandic immigrants here).

Howard Scott as Goodmander Gudmundson, and Tony Woodruff, a heavily accented Jon Gislason, related challenges encountered in being the first of their countrymen to join Washington Island's melting pot.

With temperatures in the low-20s and new ice already several inches thick where March 14 there had been none, the ferry arrived off Plum Island's southern point around 11 a.m., the voyage half-way point. Course was then adjusted for Washington Island's Detroit Harbor. Island students, upper grades and elementary, were cheek-to-jowel in separate, overheated cabins, not unlike immigrants packed into steerage. They respectfully absorbed the lessons passed along from early Icelanders, names that still resonate in many families today such as Gunnlaugsson, Bjarnarson, Magnusson, and Gudmundsen.

After what may have seemed like an eternity, a voyage of endurance, the ferry at last touched land and the young immigrants came ashore, fleeing to the warmth of their yellow school bus - but not until a group photo commemorated their ordeal.

Photos by Dick Purinton

(Bottom) Island Players performed dramatic readings about early Icelandic settlers for 59 students who boarded the Arni J. Richter for a voyage of immigration. Left to right are Howard Scott, Mary Andersen, Jeannie Hutchins, and Tony Woodruff. 

(Top) Island students (59 of them!), school staff, Island Players
and ferry crew reach destination in time for lunch. They had been on a ferry voyage of immigration learning about early Icelandic settlers to Washington Island, March 17.


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