February 26, 2014

Anna Mikkelsen left her home on Grace Street in Chicago and took the short walk to a neighbor’s home at 836 N. Irving Avenue. The air was brisk on her walk and she noticed the sun peaking out of the overcast sky on this particular March afternoon.  “I hope spring arrives soon,” she thought to herself.  After arriving at her destination she took a seat alongside eleven friends and acquaintances also gathered in the parlor.  They were all glad to see her because they knew that when Anna arrived so did the delicious Danish delicacies, and today was no different.  She had come with bøller, in celebration of the Fastelavn season, as well as her famous wienerbrød (Danish’ pastry) for this special afternoon gathering.

As she took her seat she was glad to see a fire burning to warm her chills, although the weather was not to blame for the majority of her sentiment.  She and the other ladies were eager for what was to come that afternoon, and none were more excited than their gracious host and meeting organizer, Mrs. Emma Thorsen.  For this was to be the day that these twelve philanthropic women would set out to organize a society to care for the elderly Danish citizens of Chicago.  Anna Mikkelsen would be remembered not only for her delectable culinary skills, but also as a Founding member of The Danish Old People’s Home (later renamed The Danish Home of Chicago).

danishfarming4 Anna Jørgensen had been born in a small farming community in Denmark in 1845.  She grew up tending to the home happily alongside her seven siblings.  Her mother and father taught their children how to live off the land and use what was given.  It was here that Anna learned how to keep a beautiful home, bake wonderful breads, pastries and make traditional Danish dishes that became some of Anna’s favorites. Edward Mikkelsen asked for Anna’s hand in marriage and they were married in 1862. Shortly thereafter they traveled to America to tend to Edward’s brother Bjørn, who had fallen ill with Cholera while living in Chicago.  After Bjørn’s miraculous recovery, and now enthralled with America and it’s opportunities, Edward and Anna made the decision to stay and make a life in Chicago.  It was a decision that would change their lives in more way than one.

women in kitchenIn Chicago the Mikkelsen’s eventually expanded their family to include five children. Over the years they made wonderful friends, many of them sharing their Scandinavian heritage, customs, traditions and love for their homeland.  Anna’s talents as a cook became very apparent in the neighborhood, and her Danish breads, pastries and dishes often adorned the tables of church functions, neighbor’s celebrations and some of Chicago’s most wonderful social functions and festivals.  Everyone knew to go to Anna if they wanted delicious authentic Danish food on hand.

women meetingAnna became great friends with another ambitious woman in the neighborhood named Emma Thorsen.  The two of them reminisced often about Denmark.  With the changing times they often considered what life would be like for them as they aged.  Their children were growing up, some attending university and some were moving to places like New York and St. Louis.  They themselves had moved far away from their families and had not been able to care for their own parents, so who would be there to care for them as they got older?  Caring for your parents was rarely done outside of the home in those days (read about the history of long term care here). This thought stayed with Emma and Anna, and over many, many years, they met other women who shared this sentiment as well.  They began to consider a plan for how to care for elderly Danish-Americans in their new home of Chicago, and on the afternoon of March 11th, 1891 Anna walked into Emma’s home to help make the plan a legacy.

There’s more to come about the 123rd Anniversary of this meeting.  Subscribe to The Hope Chest and stay tuned to all that’s to come!