Odell Bjerkness graduated from Montevideo Senior High School in 1949, and after high school auditioned for a position with the U.S. Air Force Band, where he was accepted with the help and tutelage of his high school band director, Ralph Forde.

 

Odell Bjerkness graduated from Montevideo Senior High School in 1949, and after high school auditioned for a position with the U.S. Air Force Band, where he was accepted with the help and tutelage of his high school band director, Ralph Forde.

Bjerkness was named executive director of the Concordia Language Villages in 1971. He rented a bible camp near Alexandria, where he planned to expand the program beyond its original German Language Camp, launched by Professor Gerry Haukebo in 1961.

In his book “It Takes A Village: The Story of Concordia Language Villages, a Memoir and Perspective,” Bjerkness tells the story of how the villages near Bemidji became one of the most successful and copied language-learning programs in the country.

His book contains almost 400 photos taken by David J. Hetland, documenting the villages’ rapid growth and popularity.

Between 1961 and 1989, enrollment grew from 75 to some 7,000 villagers, and ten villages were added, including German, French, Norwegian, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Japanese, and Chinese, employing 41 full-time and 800 seasonal staff.

In 1961, participants joined a two-week session to learn German in an immersion setting. Fifty-seven years later, 15 languages are offered, with 5,000 participants in the summer programs and another 5,000 during the fall, winter, and spring terms, totaling around 10,000 participants per year.

Minnesota business leaders, philanthropists, and interested families across the country became supporters of the villages.

In one of the book’s chapters, Bjerkness recalls a meeting with Gov. Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary at their mansion. In 1987 a reception was held to familiarize foreign language teachers in Arkansas about the program, and daughter Chelsea Clinton attended Waldsee, the Concordia German Language Village, for six consecutive years.

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