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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Devoted Volunteer Service Award Certificate: Verla BLAKEY Williams

Verla Williams holding the crystal bowl she was awarded for her devoted volunteer service. Images courtesy of Vincent Williams.

Citation for Verla Williams, Recipient of a Vesterheim Heritaqe Award
Jon Hart, Presenter
October 21, 2006
Vesterheim Biennial Folk Art Benefit Auction Dinner

Tonight I am pleased and honored to present a special Vesterheim heritage award to Verla Williams for her devoted volunteer service to the Vesterheim Genealogical Center & Naeseth Library.

For over 25 years Verla has sat at an electric typewriter in her home in Iowa City, where she has typed somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 index cards containing the names of Norwegian immigrants. Beginning in January 1981 with a list of emigrants from Holla, Telemark, Verla worked her way into much larger projects including the complete list of Norwegians in the 1900 Iowa census, followed by the 1900 Minnesota census. In 1900 there were 11,000 native born Norwegians in Hennepin County alone! Verla is the Genealoqical Center's longest serving volunteer, and the census indexes she created have helped countless people find information on their family histories.

Blaine Hedberg, who is the Naeseth Chair of the Vesterheim Genealogical Center, is unable to be here with us tonight, but says this about Verla Williams: "I wish we had a way to duplicate Verla; she has really been vital to the resources at the center. . . . Researchers for generations will be talking about her efforts to document the Norwegians in Iowa and Minnesota. When I think of Verla, I think of extreme persistence and dedication. Please extend my greetings and thanks to Verla for all the wonderful help she has given over the past years."

Verla, on behalf of the trustees, staff, members, and friends of Vesterheim, I present you with this small token of our appreciation for persistence and dedication. Thank you.

"Volunteer Corner," Norwegian Tracks 34/1 (Fall 2009), p. 5.

Verla Williams of Iowa City, Iowa, has won the distinction of being the Norwegian American Genealogical Center and Naeseth Library's longest-serving volunteer. Verla has logged nearly 30 years of loyal service to NAGC & NL.

Verla began volunteering in 1981 preparing a first name card index of emigrants from Holla in Telemark, Norway for Gerhard Naeseth. She went on to complete other immigrant lists including those who emigrated from Birkenes and Bygland in Aust-Agder, a card index to the head of households for Winneshiek County, Iowa, and a card index for all Norwegians listed in the 1900 census records for every county in Iowa. By October 1987, Verla had completed the index for all counties in Iowa, which took her approximately 1300 hours to record 23,634 Norwegians, plus their families. In 1989, Verla began a similar project for the 1900 Minnesota census and she typed over 100,000 index cards of Norwegians in Minnesota census. Verla telephoned recently and said she had found the last Norwegian in Minnesota!

In addition to her volunteer efforts, Verla has been working on her and her husband's genealogy for many years. She has provided the NAGC & NL with copies of four manuscripts, Asbjørn Hallvardsen Raa Family, an 1852 immigrant family from Laerdal, Sogn og Fjordane; Seming Hogansen Haarset family, an 1880 immigrant family from Nes, Akershus and the Sigvart Williams Descendants, history of an 1864 immigrant family with roots in Kråkstad, Akershus, who left from Toten.

Verla has served on the NAGC & NL Advisory Council for the first year of its existence. Her knowledge of genealogy was a great benefit to the organization, helping to look to the future with a keen eye on all that had gone before. She decided it was time to step aside from her role on the Council and she will be greatly missed by all the Council members and NAGC & NL staff that work with the Council.

Verla and her family have lived in Iowa City since 1977. At that time husband Vincent, a dentist in Decorah, Iowa, joined the faculty at the University of Iowa - College of Dentistry, retiring in 1997. The Williams' children are Jené, Dawn, Mark, and Arik.

Verla is an inspiration to all of us and we are grateful for her dedication and commitment to the mission and goals of the Norwegian American Genealogical Center & Naeseth Library.


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