If there is an award for the member of the Brownwood High School Class of 1968 who came the farthest for homecoming, and the class’s 40th reunion, Martin Gjelsvik gets it, hands down.
Gjelsvik, from Stavanger, Norway, was a foreign exchange student, arriving in Brownwood late in the summer of 1967 and returning home almost a year later after high school graduation. He said the memories and lessons of his time here have served him well throughout his life. He’s also remained close to several friends and his host family. In the almost 40 years since high school graduation, Gjelsvik has made trips back to the U.S., and returned for the Class of ’68’s 20th reunion and again in 1992 with his family. Friends Gjelsvik made during his high school stay here, have visited him and his family in Norway.
Gjelsvik said coming to Texas as a high school senior more than 40 years ago was somewhat of a cultural shock.
“Back then — in ’67 — we did not hear as much about Texas, except for cowboys and Indians and oil, but really not much,” Gjelsvik said.
At the same time, his home country with its homogenous Norwegian population and yet-to-be developed resources had made the 17-year-old boy very innocent and inexperienced about the world’s cultures.
“My year in Brownwood taught me that there is much to see and much to experience, which, at the time, I couldn’t possibly have experienced at home,” Gjelsvik said.
“I at least became a more open and tolerant person and that was very important.”
Forty years later, Gjelsvik’s home country is developing its resources with offshore drilling.
“Now a days, everything is completely different. Now quite a number of Americans and Texans are employed in my home town. We actually have a large collection of Texans where I live,” Gjelsvik said.
It’s fun for him to tell Texans he meets that he actually graduated from Brownwood High School.
His first semester, Gjelsvik said he stayed with the Greenwood family. The Rev. Greenwood was minister at First United Methodist Church in Brownwood. But the second semester, he went to stay with the Hulon Egger family because their son, Woody, who was about Gjelsvik’s age, was returning from an exchange in Norway.
The Egger family lived on a ranch toward Regency, in Mills County, and, Gjelsvik said, that gave him the chance to “be a farmer for a short time.”
Mr. Egger died several months ago, but his widow, Anna Bell Egger, and Woody, are still close friends with him, Gjelsvik said. He and his wife stayed at the Egger family’s lake house for their visit this last weekend.
Gjelsvik, today, is senior vice president of management for the International Research Institute of Stavanger. He has a doctorate, and explained he does research on innovation, how businesses and industry develop new processes. Also, he researches the development of cities and regions.
He credits the travels and experiences of his youth for making a large impact on his life.
“One thing, I really learned English,” he said. “But one of the most important things is that I have had a real advantage of knowing cultures and realizing people are very different, but they can be friends, work with one another.
“And one more thing, I learned in Brownwood. I learned to love American football. I was here back in the days of Gordon Wood, and though I couldn’t play football — it was against the American Field Service rules — I traveled with the football team.
“In the playoffs, we went as far north as Amarillo, and it was very cold. It brought snow. I could handle snow, I knew that. But could the football team? That was our concern.”