Driving to Dagmar
By ROBERT S. HANSEN
I had thought I would begin this essay with a quoted verse from a gospel hymn just as my brother Erik started his story of Danevang, Texas. I soon decided that gospel music fits well in a story of Texas, but not so much in a story of Montana. Therefore, I will begin with a John Denver tune of a young Montana mother imploring Montana to give her newborn a home. The verse goes on:
“Give him a fire in his heart,
Give him a light in his eyes,
Give him the wild wind for a brother
And the wild Montana skies.”
I also realize this account of a trip to Dagmar, MT actually began at Danebod Family Camp in Tyler, MN where Cathy and I visited our granddaughter from Texas during her first-time attending camp.
We drove northwest from Tyler and hit US highway 75 where it passes Diamond Lake Lutheran Church, another AELC church I‘m sure many readers are familiar with. We continued north into the flatness of the Red River Valley. The main crops now changed from corn and beans to sugar beets, wheat and potatoes.
For many years I have studied maps as a hobby and saw this possibility of driving as a “shunpiker” (one who shuns driving the turnpikes and freeways) all the way across North Dakota on a series of state highways and county roads, some of which are gravel-surfaced, and running just two to seven or eight miles south of the Canadian border. The idea of driving across North Dakota inspired the trip to Dagmar because when you make that state crossing and eventually come out at the Montana border, you are just a few miles from Dagmar. We could not help, then, making the visit there the main purpose of the trip. That and my memories of attending Y.P.S. camp at Luck, WI two summers during the early 1960’s. I was impressed that the Dagmar congregations always sent one or two carloads of kids to camp at West Denmark. Just getting there was no small endeavor.
Heading west from the far northwest corner of Minnesota, traveling roughly 1/3 of the way across North Dakota, one comes upon the International Peace Garden. The garden was created in 1932 as a formal garden on the U.S. and Canada border where peace between nations could be celebrated. The conservatory and gardens boast more than 80,000 different species of annuals and flowering perennials highlighted throughout the garden which serves as an informal entrance to the Turtle Mountains. This region of the state, was to me, the biggest surprise of the entire trip. It comprises an area roughly 20 miles north to south by 40 miles east to west and rises to an elevation of 2,000 feet above sea level and about 1,000 feet above the prairie floor. I had never considered that we would find two downhill ski resorts in North Dakota drawing skiers from Fargo and Bismarck, ND to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Descending quickly back to the flat prairie one re-enters the vast farm country settled mostly by Norwegian immigrants. The connection is easily made by the always visible steeples of many now abandoned Lutheran churches. One village named simply Vang, ND was home to one of these churches. As we know from our own communities of Solvang, CA and Danevang, TX, the word Vang means field in Danish and Norwegian. But in this case, it’s a bit of a misnomer. It should have been plural because as far as the eye can see were hundreds of fields of canola, flax and wheat.
We took one short diversion to the south about 20 miles from our Canadian border route to visit the town of Kenmare, ND. Kenmare is located 80-90 miles east of Dagmar, MT and was home to a considerable number of Danish immigrants from the ULC synod. The town was originally named Lignite which is a type of coal that was discovered and mined from underground mines. The coal was shipped on barges down Des Lacs Lake to the Missouri River and points east. Making the connection to the present-day Bakken shale oil field is easy as we know that coal is simply crude oil in solid form. Another interesting feature of Kenmare has the business district designed around a town square, a feature not common in the Midwest but more prolific in southern and western towns. But maybe one must consider this an old west town as the founder of the community, Augustines Rouses, served as postmaster and later was appointed sheriff. On his second day in that capacity, he was killed in a gun fight.
In the center of the square stands the Danish Mill. This mill was originally built in 1902 by a Danish homesteader about 11 miles north of town. It was used by area farmers for grinding grain into livestock feed and flour. It could produce about 200 sacks of flour a day. In 1959 the mill was disassembled and moved to the village square and given a facelift in 1996. On January 13, 2019 the Danish Mill caught fire just after 6:00 AM. The fire, ruled arson, started inside and caused considerable damage to both interior and exterior. The fire struck a nerve in the community and through a donation fund was completely restored by June 2019, shortly before our visit.
Returning to our border route, we passed through the village of Flaxton, ND approximately 75 miles from the Montana border. This town is worth mentioning because the ULC Danish Church there was served by Pastor Henrik Plambeck in the early years of the 20th century. Plambeck, a young pastor just out of Grand View seminary first saw the need for founding a new Danish Evangelical Lutheran settlement farther west. Circumstances prevented him from carrying out his plan but his good friend, E. F. Madsen was very inspired by his idea and went forward with the work and made the colony at Dagmar a reality according to “Century of Memories, Dagmar, Montana 1906-2006.” There was also much help from the “Dansk Folkesamfund” (Danish People’s Society) and the publication “Dannevirke.”
So now we have crossed North Dakota and reached our destination of Dagmar, MT. One might ask the next logical question: What did you find there? First, I’m glad to report that the village itself is alive and hanging on by a thread. There is a newly remodeled and reopened C. J’s Country Store which stocks a few groceries and cooking staples. It also serves burgers and short order meals in a pleasantly decorated and clean restaurant. I asked the owner if she was a Dagmar native? “No, we moved here from Oregon. My husband got a job and works in Plentywood and we wanted to live in the country, so we ended up near Dagmar. We thought this store, which was closed when we came here, might be a business opportunity and we could provide some needed grocery items to area residents.” Next door stands a modern concrete block constructed Post Office which has operated since 1907. There are also a couple of trucking company garages, a cellular phone tower and maybe up to a dozen residences, some of which were obviously unlived in. The former Hiawatha Elementary School is still standing. It had been remodeled into a family home but now stands empty. However, it is still recognizable with the bell tower, playground swing, slide and basketball/tennis court. Most area children attended grade school there and transferred to nearby Antelope for their high school education.
I am most pleased to report that what does still thrive are the two beautiful churches, Nathaneal Lutheran established in 1907, located about two miles west of town, and Volmer Lutheran established in 1911 and located about eight to nine miles southeast of town. In both cases, the church buildings were built several years after the congregations were established. When planning this trip, I had thought the reason there were two churches just a few miles apart must have had something to do with the split between the Grundtvigian-leaning Danes and the Inner Mission-leaning Danes. I was happy to hear from a former Dagmar resident that was not the case. Rather, it had to do with the large number of Danes from already established communities further east that resettled at Dagmar. They were drawn by the promise of homesteading 160 acres of good farming land. Both congregations were Grundtvigian and were served as a two-point parish by one minister. They both feature beautiful sanctuary interiors with pews and altar furnishings carved by Jess Smidt of Luck, WI and Thorvaldsen’s Christ statues as the altar focal point.
Nathaneal Lutheran also built an attached gym hall as did many other Danish congregations. The Viking Gym Team performed gymnastic exhibitions at Dagmar and surrounding communities. Their 1912 flag hangs in Nathaneal Church and is inscribed with their Danish motto which translates as “A healthy soul in a healthy body.” How Grundtvigian is that? Both church basements served as parish halls and featured well equipped kitchens and ample space for socializing and Sunday school classrooms.
The cemeteries at both churches are filled with graves and tombstones bearing very familiar names that could have been in any Danish community. The inscribed dates of birth and death attest to how difficult life for the pioneers must have been in that era. Many people were born in Denmark or other places in the U.S. and perished at a young age from a myriad of causes within a few years of arriving at Dagmar. As was common everywhere in that time period, there were many graves of children.
In conclusion, I would quote E.F. Madsen in his 1906 appeal for settlers and his description of the reason for founding a Danish colony here:
“The colony is planned for Danish young people and those Danes with small means who cannot carry large debts, but who would like to get out of the claws of the employers and away from the city‚‘s clamor and discord. Therefore, we can say about this colony ‘the first in our history where land is distributed free’ as we say about Queen Dagmar:
“She came with burden,
She came with peace,
She came, the small farmer to comfort.”
Photos by Cathy Mahowald
By N.F.S. GRUNDTVIG
(From his Christmas Day Sermon, December 25, 1843 Luke 2: 1-14)
All praise and honor be to You, our God and Father, for the joyful tidings! Indeed, all praise, honor and thanks be to You forever for the Christmas tidings to Your house on high, to more than angel-joy and gladness, to everlasting communion with Your only-begotten Son, the Beloved, in whom You find favor! All praise, honor and thanks be to You from the heart’s core for sending us the joyful tidings with the angel-host that sees Your face, hears with amazement Your magisterial voice, and accomplishes Your commission with joy! And for confirming Your Christmas tidings through Your only-begotten Son, who is in Your embrace, is God with You forever, but became human like us, born of a woman! And for sealing this in Our Lord Jesus’ name in the hearts of all believers through Your Holy Spirit, which searches Your depths, works through Your omnipotence, comforts with Your love, accompanies us with Your Light through the world’s confusion and death’s wilderness to the land of the living, to the home of peace, to the everlasting dwellings of gladness, Your house, our Father! You Who are in heaven!
“And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice.” This is one of the many prophecies in Isaiah which received visible, heavenly fulfillment when God’s Son became human. According to the Gospel of the Day, it was fulfilled literally for the shepherds on the night God’s Son was born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. When they heard the multitude of the heavenly host singing “Glory be to God on high, and peace on earth, good will to all men,” the shepherds actually heard a night song to inaugurate a feast-day whereby a new festival was introduced to the world, the Christmas festival for the child born in Bethlehem…
Christianity is not a new Law but a Gospel, a joyful message from heaven. And this joyful message is that because we are wretched sinners and because the Law cannot quicken us and our righteousness cannot save us, a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord in the City of David, the Child of Bethlehem, the Prince of Christmas! He brings forgiveness of sins, God’s peace, and heavenly joy to all who believe in His name, the name of Jesus. To this name all knees shall bow in Heaven and earth and beneath the earth and all tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the honor of God the Father!
We must remember this with feeling, and have the heart to believe the glad tidings –– to believe in this Son of God and of the Virgin Mary, who was wrapped in cloth and laid in a manger –– and then again was wrapped in cloth and laid in the grave. But He rose in triumph from the dead and sits in glory at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and He will come in His Father’s glory to gather all His people to His Father’s house. If we have the heart to believe this, then we shall also learn that Christmas is still a children’s festival with angel-song and glad hearts, and that this is so for us to a much greater degree than for our forefathers; indeed it can be so for us almost to the same degree as for shepherds, in Bethlehem!
My friends, I am too old to take any pleasure in melodious words with no power or truth. But I know it is true and that God has the overflowing power to prove that what is impossible for humankind is possible, indeed is child’s play, for Him! So I purposely say that precisely here and now our Christmas joy can and will be so great among us as it has never been here or anywhere since the days of the Lord Himself and His Apostles!
This comes about because only now can the great light that was lit in the evening hour, the light of Christmas Eve, truly illuminate our hearts and eyes so that we see what we actually need, and what God has given us in His only begotten Son. He not only suffered and died and rose for us but can and will truly dwell and grow, walk and work, and be glorified and reign, in all His believers! Yes, indeed, only now, and with God’s help and through the Holy Spirit, can this great secret of God’s devotion, God’s revelation in the flesh, in the incarnation of the Son and the Word in the power of the Spirit, be revealed to us, to us and to our believing children. And it can grow all the more, so that our heavenly childlikeness will develop as the angel-song echoes for us and the glad heart is reborn within us.
Yes indeed, my friends, even as from experience we get to know the child’s faith and the child’s hope, the child’s eyes and the child’s heart in ourselves and others, so must we feel and confess that if childlikeness were free of childishness and could be united with youthful courage, adult power, and elderly wisdom, it would be a joy to live, and the glad heart would follow of its own accord. Nowhere else on earth has this feeling been deeper than in our part of the world, so it must still be found far more potently at the bottom of our hearts than anywhere else. This wonder, the union of childlikeness with all things human, which is good and great and to be wished for, this is the very core of the gospel of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Although it is still far from everything that has been granted us in God’s only begotten Son—for we shall one day become as He is so as to see Him as He truly is –– this is the very first step. It is already so great and glad a step as is possible for God Almighty and only achievable through His heavenly Father-love which to His Holy Spirit He instils into our hearts.
So the child of Bethlehem was both God and human. And although it sounds like a fairy-tale, He can and will make all believers both God and human too! Jesus Christ was clearly a human being whose like had never been seen before, and God will make such people of all His believers first and foremost, such people whose childlikeness separated from all things childish, will live in loving communion with youthful courage, adult power, and elderly wisdom. For so it lived in Him to the very last moment when on the cross he prayed for his enemies, comforted His mother, and bowed His head with the child’s words, “Father into Your hands I commend my Spirit!” Doubtless our Lord had no wish to demonstrate His youthful courage like a dare-devil and tempt God by throwing Himself off the top of the Temple, but he showed it far more clearly in His meeting with the Tempter in the wilderness, in following the Devil through the air, in defying all the glory of the world and in believing in the true nourishment of God’s Word for the life of man!
The Lord refused to use His adult power as a king at the head of His people to crush His enemies and throw off the heathen yoke. He showed it far more gloriously by bearing poverty, scorn and slander, by bearing His cross, struggling, suffering and dying and by showing His wisdom, radiating though all His words and putting for shame the old, the learned and the scribes. Amen!
Grundtvig, NF.S., 2019. Human Comes First, the Christian Theology of N.F.S. Grundvig. Translated and edited by Edward Broadbridge, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.
Church and Life December 2019
December 2019 Highlights
Here Inside the Church and Life Christmas heart (on the cover) there is an array of thoughtful gifts beginning with a message from the 1843 Christmas Day sermon by none other than N.F. S. Grundtvig. –– And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice.
Christmas is celebrated with music and song, a melodious celebration from beginning to end. Sisters Sonja Knudsen and Lois Lund have written an essay on “Deljlig er den Himmel blå,” my favorite Christmas hymn! It was the first hymn Grundtvig wrote. He composed this beautiful hymn while recovering at his parents’ home in Udby after experiencing a terrifying night of hallucinations.(1) What a recovery!
We take a trip to Dagmar, Montana with Robert Hansen who was so inspired by his brother Erik’s tale of “Driving to Danevang,” that he wrote “Driving to Dagmar,” ably assisted with several photographs by his wife Cathy Mahaowald. We have a first for Church and Life: –– four Hansen siblings contribute their talents to this special issue! In addition to Bob’s article we have Sonja (Hansen) Walker’s lovely Danish Christmas Heart from one of her paintings; Erik Hansen’s look back at 175 years of Danish history through multi-year anniversary celebrations to see what can be learned from them; and reflections on the “Big Night” (Christmas Eve) by Carla (Hansen) Mortensen.
Continuing with Dagmar, MT, we have a “Home Christmas” story written in 1945 by Valborg Eve about childhood Christmases in Dagmar. The story was submitted by Valborg’s daughter, Marie Sorensen, who also provided a photo of the Dagmar community in 1914.
James Dontje, Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, MN presented two lectures at the Danebod Folk Meeting this August. Jim’s address, “Climate Changed and Changing” focuses on the dynamic complexities of preparing for a constantly changing future.
Erin Thais Riley, of Kansas City, shares an unusual, highly creative story about nisse, where we have a literal Host! Thais is my niece (Karma’s daughter) who works for the US. Department of Agriculture, newly relocated to Kansas City.
Dick Juhl provides us with “The Almond Prize” written by his aunt, Esther Juhl, who recounts memories of Christmas from her long ago Danish American home in Minneapolis.
Hanna Broadbridge of Randers, Denmark, concludes our hymn theme with an inspiring exegesis of a Grundtvigian hymn replete with promises for the future: “Then the Wilderness Shall Bloom.”
In conclusion, we have a delightful biographical introduction from Bridget Jensen, Jr., your new Church and Life interim editor. Welcome Bridget!
Merry Christmas! Ji
1 NEWLY PUBLISHED: The Common Good, N.F.S. Grundtvig as Politician and Contemporary Historian, Edward Broadbridge, translator and editor, Ove Korsgaard editor, Aarhus University Press, 2019, pg.22.
Save the Dates
Danish Lutheran Church and Culture Center, Yorba Linda CA
Saturday December 14th, DAC Christmas Luncheon at the Danish Cultural Center 1 pm.
Tuesday December 24th Juleaften/Christmas Eve 2 pm. Danish Christmas Service (translation of sermon provided) followed by Coffee & Kringle.
Bethania Lutheran Church, Solvang, CA February 21-23. The Solvang Folk School Talks featuring Michael Gungor and Mike McHargue. See fmlectures.org
The Deadline for the January 2020 issue is December 20. Send articles, photographs, obituaries and Save-the-Date notices to the interim editor: Bridget Lois Jensen, Jr., 1920 W. Clay, Houston TX 77019. Phone: 713-524-1290, or (c) 713-417-2056, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Bridget Lois Jensen