Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hidden gems

Who knew that there's an old Danish settlement and active community only a half hour from my home in Lindstrom, Minnesota?

I discovered, well, not on my own but through a friend, the little community of West Denmark, Wisconsin. It is a hidden gem.

Tucked away on beautiful Little Butternut Lake, about a mile and a quarter from Luck, Wisconsin, this small unincorporated community still thrives in the Danish traditions, mostly centered around the Danish Lutheran Church, its historic schoolhouse and town meeting hall.

The church is beautiful and in most respects resembles those country churches I have seen in Denmark. It's actually much like the church my grandfather, Søren Roed, and his family belonged to near Lundby, Denmark.

Danish Lutheran Church, West Denmark, Wisconsin
Many of the parishioners at the West Denmark, Wisconsin church have a long line of history to Danish emigrants here. Many were born here and intend to be buried here. It is a quiet, quaint, close-knit but outgoing community that boasts more activities honoring their heritage than I could have imagined.
Their calendar offers an annual aebliskiver breakfast, for example, and monthly community dinners with Danish food served: medisterpølse  (Danish sausage), rødkal (red cabbage), parsley potatoes, herring, frugt suppe (fruit soup), delectable desserts. Their library contains many texts in Danish, along with Danish songbooks, storybooks and CDs. The parish hall has an extensive exhibit of historical photos from Denmark and the local area.
The upper level of the parish hall is the place for educational offerings and song gatherings. 
The lower level boasts a wonderful dining room leading to an outdoor patio, and a large kitchen.
Each year, the church community hosts a summer family camp. Of course, I registered and counted the days to its start.
I had heard of Danish folks camps in the tradition of N.S.F. Grundtvig, a Danish pastor, author, poet, philosopher, historian, teacher and politician. He was one of the most influential people in Danish history, and his emphasis on continuous learning later evolved into the folk school movement across Europe. In short, Grundtvig's philosophy was to promote a spirit of freedom, poetry and disciplined creativity within the education system. He promoted values such as wisdom, compassion and equality. He opposed all compulsion, including exams, as deadening to the human soul. Only willing hands make light work. Therefore a spirit of freedom, cooperation and discovery was to be kindled in individuals, in science, and in the civil society as a whole. (Source: Wikipedia)
The idea of the Danish folk school is to be residential, and for all ages so families are encouraged to attend together. Typically, the day includes morning singing, a coffee and gathering time, lectures, classes in all forms of art from fiber arts to wood carving to water color, papercutting, music and dance. A hearty Danish lunch is served while dinner is lighter fare. There is a lecture or demonstration in the evening, followed by dancing and singing.
My mother attended a Danish folk camp in Tyler, Minnesota, for many years and was an instructor there in Hardanger embroidery for the last several years she attended. I have a scrapbook of her wonderful memories from the folk camp days.
Although for the camp I attended, I opted to drive home at the end of each day, I enjoyed the best of the day. Those who attended came from far and wide, but many were very local. All were welcoming, easy to get to know, encouragining in learning new things, and many new friends were made.
This year's slogan printed on my T-shirt
Some days later, my husband and I drove to West Denmark to take some photos and learn more about the area. The school house, shown below, had been used for many years as a single room with no bathroom and no basement. It has since been remodeled to include a bathroom, a lower level living quarters, and two upper level rooms for eventual sleeping quarters for guests. During camp, the upper level was used for the wood carvers.
There is a path to the left of the schoolhouse leading to Little Butternut Lake.
(During camp, there was also log rolling and swimming there.)
We learned the area next to the meeting hall was the site of a Lutheran seminary.
We also discovered on our little excursion through the town of Luck, right there on Main Street, a wonderful meat market, Van Meter's Meats. There we found medisterpølse sausage, fresh ground that very day right there at the market. 
Medisterpølse is an almost sweet-tasting Danish sausage made of finely-ground pork, seasoned with clove, allspice, onion, salt and pepper, and packed into casings and formed into round links. I followed the butcher's suggestion to gently boil it in water for a few minutes (about ten), then discard the water and brown it up a bit. They had served it at camp but my husband had not tasted it yet so the next Sunday I served it to him, my son and daughter-in-law, all of whom gave it a hearty thumbs-up.
Continuing on our little day trip, right on Wisconsin State Highway 35, before making the turn to West Denmark, there is a historical marker commemorating the West Denmark creamery and the first buttermaker, a Danish woman, employed there in the late 1800s.
Historical sign on highway
The cooperative was another movement from Denmark that originated as early as the 1300s whereby farmers would join together and share their crops and the proceeds from its harvest using shares. Today in America we see cooperatives used not only in farming, but the dairy industry as well as the gas and electric industry where cooperatives pay dividends from the surplus unused fees charged the user.
It always excites me to uncover hidden gems such as West Denmark, and this one so close to home.  I have another excursion in mind, this time to Ida Grove, Iowa, where my paternal grandmother was raised. That will be a later story.
Until then, let me know what hidden gems you have discovered right in or close to your own back yard!