Sella was eager for the company of fellow Icelanders when she arrived in Norfolk, Virginia in 1983. Norfolk is the site of the largest U.S. naval base, and given the connection with the base in Keflavik, Sella was expecting to find many people like herself—an Icelandic woman married to an American navy man. She craved the company of her compatriots, having spent the previous six years in Germany and Italy, where her husband was stationed. She’d had few occasions to speak Icelandic during that time. The moment she arrived in Norfolk she contacted the local Icelandic Consul. To her disappointment, she was told that all the Icelanders had left the area. But Sella didn’t give up. She soon found one Icelandic woman in town, who pointed to another. Like unraveling the threads in a woolen sweater, she found, within a year, well over 100 Icelanders. She reached out to them and formed the Icelandic Association in Norfolk.
Sesselja (Sella) Siggeirsdóttir Seifert was born in Reykjavík in 1942. Her parents, who also hailed from Reykjavík, lived in the eastern part of old town Reykjavík, first on Njálsgata and later on Grettisgata. Fearing German aerial bombardments of Reykjavík during the British occupation, her parents took her, then a seven-week old infant, for a summer to the tiny town of Vík in Mýrdalur, Central South Iceland.
(The interviewer can’t help adding this aside: Had the German Luftwaffe known what was going on in the backyard of Vík, the town would no doubt have been a magnet for German aerial attacks, such as those that happened at Seyðisfjörður and Selfoss. Unbeknownst to most everybody in Iceland at the time, the British army was building a top-secret navigation facility next to Vík when young Sella was there. The installation, later known as a LORAN beacon, sits atop the vertical cliffs of the picturesque Reynisfjall. The low-frequency transmitter allowed Allied vessels and aircraft to precisely and secretly determine their location. The LORAN station was later taken over by the US Navy and its improved versions became an important element in keeping track of Soviet submarines during the Cold War.)
As was customary among Icelandic children at the time, Sella spent three summers on a farm across the Reynisfjall mountain when she was 9-11 years old. After completing her studies at Austurbæjarskólinn and Gagnfræðaskólinn við Lindargötu she found work as a pharmacist assistant in the State Pharmaceuticals Import Company and stayed there for 16 years. At age 31 in 1972, she became allergic to the substances she was handling and decided to change jobs. This took her to the US naval station in Keflavík, where she managed the payroll of Icelanders working at the naval base.
One day an American service member, named Robert Seifert, walked into her office and asked her job-related questions. He later asked her for a date, and when he was repatriated to Newport, Rhode Island, she accompanied him. They got married a short while later while Robert was studying at the Rhode Island Naval College. After a year of studies her husband, an intelligence officer, was promoted to captain and taught for the following two years at the college.
In 1978 the US Navy sent Robert to Stuttgart, Germany, for two years and subsequently to Naples, Italy for another three. Sella and her son, Kristinn who was born in Reykjavík in 1963, accompanied Robert on these tours. Robert retired from the US Navy in 1983 and he and his family settled in Norfolk, where he passed away in 2013. Their son now lives in Seattle with his wife, Kimberley, and their 18-year old twins, Alexandra and Collin. Sella visits her grandchildren 2-3 times a year, but this year´s pandemic has put a pause to her travels.
Sella was president of the Icelandic Norfolk association for 33 years until she retired from that position in 2017. Since Icelandic ships docked in Norfolk until 2013, bringing fish and other Icelandic goods, the association could offer its members traditional Icelandic food, such as hangikjöt and rúllupylsa during its festivities. The annual highlights of the group are the Þorrablót in February, a 17th of June celebration, typically with a huge backyard barbecue party, and a traditional Icelandic Christmas party in December. For many years, Sella and other members of the Norfolk Association have been key participants in the Washington Association’s Christmas bazaar, selling candy, hardfiskur, and other treats they brought from Iceland, and their table is invariably crowded with eager customers.