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.