The Midlands has fascinating and long-standing connections to Denmark, and it’s fitting to note that heritage in the wake of events this year celebrating those ties.
One event is an exhibit running Tuesday through Oct. 25 at the UNO Criss Library, featuring photos of Danish-American children growing up in Nebraska and Iowa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The photos are from the extensive collections of the Danish American Archive and Library (DAAL), a local nonprofit whose collections have their origins in the early archives of the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church and Dana College.
The exhibit is part of a partnership between the University of Nebraska at Omaha and DAAL and is fitting, a UNO press release explains, given that Omaha is “the American city that according to the 2010 Census report has the largest percentage of people of Danish descent.”
Midlands connections to Denmark also were evident earlier this year, when a delegation from Denmark’s Parliament and Royal Danish Embassy visited Blair’s collection of facilities that now make up the community’s multi-company biorefinery campus, with the $200 million Danish-owned Novozymes plant the latest addition.
One aim of the visit, the Danish officials said, was to look for good ideas on economic development. “It was obvious we should go to Nebraska,” parliamentarian Eva Kjer Hansen said. The Danes also visited Council Bluffs, home to the Plumrose USA plant, a packaged meat facility owned by a Danish company, Danish Crown.
Omaha is home to locales with Danish-American heritage, such as Vennelyst Park north of Florence. More than a century ago, Omaha was home to Danish churches and a Danish-language newspaper (The Danish Pioneer). Danish immigrants operated dairy farms that ringed the city.
Omaha was the national headquarters of the Danish Brotherhood in America, with roots going back to the 1870s and whose lodges provided insurance services around the country. The group merged in 1995 with the Woodmen of the World.
Dana College, which closed in 2010 but is being acquired by Midland University, was founded by Danish immigrants in 1884. A short drive from Omaha is the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn, Iowa, a respected center for genealogical and historical research and home to some 35,000 artifacts.
It is fitting that the museum’s executive director, John Mark Nielsen of Blair, recently was awarded a high honor from the Danish government, the Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog. Peter Taksøe-Jensen, Denmark’s ambassador, awarded Nielsen the honor at the Danish Embassy. The award, the ambassador said, was intended to salute the museum’s promotion of mutual understanding between our two countries.
If one visits Denmark, on that country’s Jutland peninsula is a site called Rebild National Park. Dedicated to celebrating Danish-American relations, every July 4 it hosts the largest celebration of American independence outside our country.
In 2008, who was the featured American speaker for the celebration? It was Nielsen, the museum director from Blair. One more indicator of the continuing links between Denmark and the Midlands.