ST PETER — Rosy cheeks, white-blond hair, pink winter coat zipped up tight, Anja Koij looked up at the face of Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden and waited to extend her hand until the queen first offered hers.
Anja had practiced, so she knew what to say as part of the welcoming party for His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia Friday morning at Gustavus Adolphus College. At Three Flags near the entrance to Eckman Mall, she first briefly shook the hand of King Carl and then waited for the queen to approach and meet her eyes.
“Välkommen till St. Peter,” Anja said with a curtsey as she presented the queen with a bouquet of brightly colored fall flowers.
“Tack,” or thank you, the queen said with a smile, reaching down to touch Anja’s jacket.
Queen Silvia actually speaks better English than Anja, whose family just recently moved to St. Peter from Sweden. Anja’s mom, the Rev. Sabina Koij, a minister of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, is a visiting chaplain at Gustavus. Anja’s dad, Mattias E. Koij, an accomplished organist and church musician, has joined the ministry team as a visiting cantor.
So Anja, a third-grader at North Intermediate Elementary school in St. Peter, and her brother, Aron, a fifth-grader, were perfect choices to join a few other Gustavus officials to line the sidewalk and be the first to shake hands and greet the king and queen.
Their majesties’ visit was in honor of the college’s sesquicentennial. The college’s Swedish heritage traces back to a Swedish immigrant pastor named Eric Norelius, who opened a school in a tiny church house in Red Wing in 1862. That school eventually came to be Gustavus, which has called St. Peter its home since 1876.
The royal couple visited Gustavus in 1982 and 1996. King Carl Gustaf also came alone in April 1976 during the U.S. bicentennial.
About 2,000 people, including 1,000 St. Peter school children, lined the walkway all the way to Christ Chapel. Many held small Swedish and American flags and waved them as the couple passed.
In the packed chapel, the king greeted the audience near the end of the Festival Worship service. He said the queen and he were happy to be in St. Peter on such a beautiful day, albeit a windy and cold one that resulted in a shivering crowd wearing winter gear.
The king also spoke of the “danger, hardship and loss” suffered by early Swedish immigrants to the United States who wanted to take a big life risk and invest in their futures by helping to settle new land.
“We may not be the largest country, but we left a certain impact on America and definitely, especially Minnesota,” the king said.
The king said Gustavus’ core values of excellence, community, justice, service and faith ring just as true for the students, staff and faculty of today as they did for the men and women who founded the college in 1862.
“We are proud of what you have done in the first 150 years and look forward to the coming years,” he said.
Also part of the Festival Worship program was a blessing of an altar cloth made by King Carl’s great-grandfather, King Gustaf V of Sweden. King Gustaf V was an avid needle-pointer, and the altar cloth originally was at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., for about 60 years before the church dissolved.
Bishop Ake Bonnier of Skara Diocese in Sweden blessed the cloth at the service, and King Carl said he hopes Gustavus will treasure it.
“I know it’s in good hands,” the king said.
Gustavus President Jack Ohle told the king and queen Gustavus will be “forever grateful” for the visit, which also included an afternoon dedication of the new Sesquicentennial Plaza and a tour of the Hillstrom Museum of Art’s “150 Years of Swedish Art” exhibit.
“This will be a memorable day for all Gusties,” Ohle said.
Outside Christ Chapel school children and area residents were making their way off campus, including Boy Scout Troop 58 of St. Peter which had been selected for the Color Guard and led the way to the chapel.
Although both Trevor Gurrola, 12, and Maccoy Blaschko, 13, said they didn’t practice beforehand and were all laughs and smiles before the arrival, the boys were all business when it was time to do their jobs. And the 10 Scouts were pretty thrilled to have been included in such an important event, they said.
So was Anja.
Although she couldn’t quite articulate her excitement in English, Anja nodded when asked if she was excited to meet her queen, whom she said she has seen before but never met until now.
“She was very excited,” said Anja’s principal, Karen Coblentz. “She is absolutely a precious, wonderful young lady.”
Queen Silvia seemed to think so, too.