Andersonville Mourns Community Leader
Many in our community mourn the loss of Kurt Mathiasson this past Spring. Kurt was well known as the founder of the Swedish-American Museum Center , proprietor of Svea Restaurant and the staunchest Swede this side of the ocean. Mathiasson, age 70 passed away after a two year battle with cancer.
Whether seen strutting about as a tough Viking, greeting the king of Sweden or playing Jul Tomten (Swedish Santa) to a lap full of kids, Mathiasson was such a fixture on Clark Street that the City finally named a part of the street from Foster to Balmoral in his honor in 1998.
Kurt Almer Emmanuel Mathiasson came to the United States in 1963 from his native Goteborg, Sweden.
With him came his gentle wife, Solveig and three year old Kurt S. Kurt once said he had planned to return to Sweden after finishing a year’s job. He did not go back.
Kurt’s involvement with Andersonville began in the early 1970’s when he purchased Svea Restaurant at 5236 N. Clark. The neighborhood, which was settled by Swedes near the turn of the century. Kurt, however, got some idea he was going to reclaim Andersonville for the Swedes. Kurt began by dedicating a wall in his restaurant to the history of Swedes in Chicago.
With the Bicentennial celebrations of 1976 came a planned visit by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf to the United States. It was time for a museum. A storefront was available at 5248 N. Clark and Kurt recruited the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, of which he was a member to help raise funds. Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf dedicated the Museum on Easter Sunday, 1976. By 1988, the Museum needed to expand and moved to the former Lind Hardware building, at 5211 N. Clark.
Work was completed just in time for time for the king to return with his Queen Silvia to cut the ribbon April 19, 1988.
Along with achievements as a community builder and diplomat, Kurt was famous for his congeniality and sense of humor. Along with the jokes Kurt often had a guitar slung over his shoulder. He could play any instrument by ear with tunes from Swedish folk to gospel. Kurt made you feel like family when you came into the restaurant. He helped restore a needed sense of direction to the community. He helped make the neighborhood a better place for everyone as well as for the Swedes. Mathiasson is survived by wife Solveig, sons Lars (Anicka) in Sweden and Kurt S (Esparanza) daughter Kristina (Dell) Oenning and seven grandchildren. Kurt’s ashes were returned to Sweden and scattered there at a family memorial on March 31, 2000.
Reprinted with permission: Andersonville Together May, 2000