Liam – March 18, 2019

Chicago, like all of America, is a city founded and defined by immigrants. So many of its neighborhoods reflect the traditions of the Old Country, whichever old country that is. One such neighborhood is Norwood Park, home to The Danish Home of Chicago. In fact, Chicago claims to have the largest group of Danish Americans in the U.S., a claim also made by Racine, Wisconsin. And then there’s the U.S. Census of 2000 that named California as the state with the most Danish Americans.

A Danish bakery with a big sign and a wooden viking ship in Racine, Wisconsin.

Like Chicago, Racine, Wisconsin, is home to many Danish Americans.

However, size doesn’t matter. What matters is how Danish Americans have found comfort in the opportunity to maintain and build on their Scandinavian traditions. And in Norwood Park, those traditions have been embraced and continue to be held dear generation after generation at The Danish Home.

Though The Danish Home was founded and exists as a place for seniors to live and thrive, its offerings and benefits are not lost on the younger generations. Or the generations that were once younger.

Take Elaine Jensen. A native Chicagoan, Elaine’s mother was resident of The Danish Home from 1998 until her death in 2002. Elaine and her husband Ole, a Danish immigrant, had been living in Hawaii for 30 years. After retiring from his sausage business—Jensen’s Smoke House in Glenview—they traded the Midwestern life for the island life. When Ole passed away a year ago this month, Elaine made plans to return to the place she knew she’d feel welcome. Now 80, Elaine followed her mother’s footsteps and moved into the Home last October.

An older woman seated in a chair poses with a photo book.

Generations of families have lived at The Danish Home. Like her mother before her, Elaine Jensen is a resident.

Not only was Elaine confident in the care she’ll receive as she continues to age, she looked forward to the activities and adventures residents of the Home enjoy and feeling a strong connection to her own Danish roots and those of her late husband. Granted, millions of retirees head off to warmer locations to bask in the golden warmth of the sun during their golden years, but Elaine had already done that, and she wanted to be closer to home.

Esther Sorensen, whose late husband lived at The Danish Home, met him as a child through their Danish parents’ friendships and the two families’ connections to The Danish Home.“My husband took his very first steps at The Danish Home,” said Esther. “Years later, he took his last there, too.”

As part of its commitment to generational traditions, The Danish Home has relationships with a sizable number of Danish-based organizations, including the Rebild National Park Society and Company, the Danish Sisterhood of America, Dania Society of Chicago, the Danish American Athletic Club, and the Danish American Language Foundation. While each helps The Danish Home residents keep and find connections to their Danish roots, together, they provide a great opportunity to relate with and learn from multiple generations of Midwestern Danes.

And, of course, none of this would be possible without the Women’s Auxiliary of The Danish Home. Founded in 1958, the Auxiliary is a nod to the 12 women who founded The Danish Home back in 1892. Events like their upcoming annual luncheon on March 30 help ensure that the next generation of Danish Americans (and anyone of any ancestry) can enjoy the vibrant lifestyle and traditions the Home provides. Other events like Summerfest in June and Fall Fest in November are great opportunities for grandchildren to visit the Home and build fond memories of family and friendship they’ll recall when they’re older.

If history is any indicator—and it is—The Danish Home of Chicago will be called home to more children of former residents, like Elaine. Even for me; retirement is still a far off and almost impossible thing to imagine, but I may one day move to Norwood Park and make a cozy place for myself at The Danish Home. Me, a descendant of one of its founders, close to two centuries later.