Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Word of Appreciation

As in previous years, the awards ceremony at the 98th annual convention of the Icelandic National League of North America highlighted the brilliant array of contributions to the wellbeing of the Icelandic community by the various individuals who were recognized. It was moving to listen to each award’s presenter, read about each honoree in the program, and then listen to recipients express their thanks for their award when, in point of fact, it should have been us thanking them.

Healthy organizations recognize and appreciate the good work of their leaders and other volunteers, so it’s heartening to see the efforts the INLNA puts into acknowledging them through the Laurence S.G. Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award, its honorary memberships, and the new Joan Inga Eyjolfson Cadham Award for contributions through literature, arts and media. As in the past, this year’s worthy recipients earned their awards through hard work and dedication – some locally, some regionally, some internationally.

When the ceremony was over, however, I found myself wondering why we sometimes wait so long to publicly appreciate the work of our leaders. I’m thinking here about public institutions and voluntary associations in general, not just the INLNA or its member clubs. I was reminded of a deceased ministerial colleague who used to ask why honorary degrees were given out towards the end of their recipients’ careers when it would have been better to have honoured them somewhere closer to the midpoint.

Our society’s wellbeing is dependent on the contributions of countless individuals who step forward to offer leadership in the public arena, most on a purely voluntary basis, and I’m struck by how quick we can be sometimes to demand more or criticize imperfections while being much slower to offer words of appreciation. Gratitude is a spiritual discipline that seems to be in short supply these days and it is best cultivated through conscious inner reflection and outward expressions of appreciation.

So I’d like to thank the board of the Icelandic National League of North America as well as the board of its partner in the old country, Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga, for their indefatigable efforts on behalf of our shared Icelandic culture and heritage, both individually and collectively, not to mention the energy they put into bringing our communities together to “connect the pieces.” I’m not prepared to wait until their efforts are just one part of a lifetime achievement – I want to thank them now. And, while I’m at it, I’d like to extend my appreciation to the Icelandic Communities Association of Northeast North Dakota for organizing a magnificent convention this year.
Sunna Furstenau, President of the
Icelandic National League of North America

I would especially like to highlight and celebrate the extraordinary leadership of the INLNA’s president, Sunna Furstenau, who is surely one of the most remarkable leaders in the league’s nearly century-long history. The energy, enthusiasm, and organizational skills she brings to her work, including both a robust vision and attention to detail, are rarely found in a single individual. Add to this her grace, positivity and tenacity, and you have a force that’s as powerful as a prairie windstorm and as gentle as a summer breeze.

I don’t quite fathom how Sunna juggles it all. In addition to guiding the work of the INLNA, she has led the development of Icelandic Roots from a simple genealogical database to a comprehensive cultural institution, strengthened ties between North America and Iceland, visited numerous Icelandic communities, supported local initiatives and international programs, and she has still found time to be a devoted spouse, mother and amma. She has both a deep sense of her roots and an expansive imagination, which are reflected in her creativity and drive.

No institution lasts forever without reinventing itself. Indeed, voluntary associations need to renew their vision and clarify their purpose every generation or their existential clock will begin ticking. In Sunna Furstenau, the Icelandic National League of North America has a once-in-a-generation leader whose presence has helped to reinvigorate the league and reset its clock. Our appreciation of Sunna’s leadership shouldn’t wait for some far-off awards ceremony. We should appreciate it and offer our gratitude now.

This post appears as the editorial in the May 15, 2017, issue of