SHAKER HEIGHTS, OH–At a living-room press conference Monday, Dave Stenulson, founder and president of the National Association For The Advancement Of Stenulson-Americans, urged the nation to "finally recognize the many deep and lasting contributions Stenulson-Americans have made to society."
"This great nation is the product of many diverse groups coming together to form a rich tapestry. Yet the efforts of a certain group have gone virtually ignored," said Stenulson, 46, a lifelong Shaker Heights resident. "It's high time the nation as a whole acknowledged the importance of Stenulson-Americans, past and present. We demand nothing less than the respect we are due."
Flanked by wife and fellow NAASA member Gail Stenulson, as well as member-children Scott and Dave Jr., Stenulson said one of the organization's goals is to "shatter the many myths and misconceptions people have about us."
"Even here in America, the country our people have lived in for nearly 130 years–ever since Per and Frida Stenulson arrived from Norway in 1871–Stenulson-Americans have been the victims of prejudice and ignorance," Stenulson said. "There are so many stereotypes about us: We're a bit overweight, we don't keep up our yard, our kids aren't too bright, we have a little too much to drink at our daughters' weddings and vomit on cars in the parking lot. It goes on and on."
Continued Stenulson: "When asked about us, most people respond, 'Stenulson-Americans? Aren't they those people who live in Shaker Heights and have brown hair?' Obviously, they never bother to learn about people like Patti Stenulson, who lives in Cleveland Heights and has dark-blonde hair."
Seeking to shatter such misconceptions, NAASA is embarking on a campaign to educate and raise awareness about the important role Stenulson-Americans have played in U.S. history.
"Jakob Stenulson, Dave's grandfather, was part of this country's proud agricultural heritage," said Gail Stenulson, who is lobbying Congress to have December declared Stenulson-American History Month. "Sam Stenulson drove a road grader for 30 years, in addition to being an avid Ham-radio enthusiast. It was a Stenulson-American by the name of Tammy who invented the Quesadilla Casserole."
In addition to being misunderstood, Stenulson said that for generations, Stenulson-Americans have suffered injustice and oppression at the hands of other groups.
"I've been working at Hagler Heating & Cooling for 14 years now, but who do you think recently got promoted to delivery supervisor?" Stenulson said. "I'll tell you who: that little runt Tim Hagler."
Stenulson said the history of Hagler-American oppression of Stenulson-Americans dates back to 1968, when Stenulson's father Gerald was hired at Hagler Heating & Cooling. Gerald quickly discovered that there was a "glass ceiling" holding back Stenulson-Americans wanting to move beyond the warehouse and into the sales showroom.
"Statistics clearly illustrate the shocking discrimination that goes on in this Haglercentric environment," Stenulson said. "It is 6,000 percent more likely that a Hagler-American will be appointed to the Shaker Heights City Council. A Stenulson-American child has a pitiful 1-in-2,000 chance of making his high-school basketball team. Stenulson-Americans earn 68 cents on the dollar compared to Hagler-Americans, which explains the high rate of Hagler-American motorboat ownership."
Stenulson is calling upon the federal government to "take steps to fight discrimination against Stenulson-Americans" and "create a more level playing field for people of all surnames."
"Stenulson-Americans are consistently denied the opportunities enjoyed by Gates-Americans, Iacocca-Americans, and Bush-Americans," Stenulson said. "If Stenulsons were visible in high-profile positions at Hagler Heating & Cooling and on the Shaker Heights Jaycee Daze organizing committee, young Stenulson-Americans would have people they could look up to and aspire to be like. Our community needs more role models if we are to be as successful as these other groups."
Despite their best efforts to debunk myths and alter prejudices, Stenulson-Americans have not won over everyone.
"Those damn Stenulson-Americans are nothing but troublemakers," said Ray Jensen, 44, curator of the Shaker Heights-based Jensen-American Hall Of Fame. "My son Ronnie was playing over at the Stenulsons' house a few years back, and Dave backed his car over Ronnie's brand-new BMX bike. I'll be damned if Dave ever paid for a new one."