Behind this rather foreign-sounding name is a person with genuine northern Norwegian roots. Josef was born in Ankjelen in the municipality of Sørfold, and grew up with Johansen as his family name. While still very young he contracted meningitis, which left him deaf. At the age of nine his father brought him to Trondheim to start attending the school for the deaf at Bispegata. It soon became apparent that this was a very special young boy, excelling in many sports activities. An example of the many anecdotes about him is the story of his doing the long jump at 13 years of age, only to land beyond the prepared surface and injuring a knee! He enjoyed skating so much that the school gave him a pair of skates for Christmas. Endurance running in the summer eventually came to be the most important sport for him. From around 1915 and ten years on he was the prominent track and field performer in the entire region around Trondheim. He had at this point started to call himself Josef Ankile. In Nordic sports for the hearing impaired he was completely dominant when his career peaked after 1920. In the national championships in track and field events he came in second in the 5000 metre race. The following year he won the gold in the national championship in the 10 000 metre race, and in the two subsequent years he came in fifth and third in the same distance. These achievements contributed strongly to promoting a sense of self-worth amongst the deaf. After 1925 he gradually phased out his participation, mostly competing in races for deaf competitors.
Parallel to this remarkable sports career Ankile joined the active stonemason environment around the restoration of Nidaros Cathedral. He was a student at the technical college night school in Trondheim, and was "discovered" by the architect Nils Ryjord, who had close contact with the restoration workers. Here Ankile came for the first time in 1913, and this was to be his place of work for the next 53 years! In fact a number of deaf persons were among the stonemasons: Tore Skjørestad, Helmer Moe and Arild Moslet all had from 35 to 45 years’ experience of working in the profession between 1903 and 1978. Josef's son also became a stonemason in the same working environment. An important part of the work was to cut figures first modelled by artists. At least seven of the sculptures on the West Front are examples of Ankile's stone work.
Josef Ankile's name found its way into the spotlight again in 1996 when Erik Bye [a famous Norwegian artist and talk show host] arranged a concert and poetry evening in Nidaros Cathedral. Many years earlier Bye had made a radio programme about the deaf stonemason. As a gesture of honour the programme in 1996 was given the title ANKILE, with a specially written song in memory of this versatile man.
Recommended reading: Yearbook for Sørfold, 1996. Article by Marie Zakariassen.