By Emilee Nielsen
Daily News staff writer
FAIRPLAIN TOWNSHIP — Carol Hansen’s great-grandfather, Hans Hansen, came from Denmark to Montcalm County in 1881, when he was 23 years old.
It was here he met the woman who would be his wife, Cena, also an immigrant from Denmark. They hadn’t met prior to both of them relocating to Michigan.
Hans worked hard to build a life in Montcalm County, working on farms in the summer and lumberyards in the winter, all to save money for land. He eventually purchased 160 acres where he raised his family of seven.
Decades later, that farmland remains with the Hansen family. Hans’ great-granddaughter, Carol, lives in a house built on that same land, as do her son and daughter-in-law.
“My mom and dad built a house on the other side of the big house and I built a house on this side, so we all live on the property (my great-grandfather) purchased,” she said.
Carol grew up hearing about the Danish traditions her great-grandparents had when they were living in Denmark. She’s spent her own life upholding those traditions for herself and for her family, her children and her grandchildren.
Carol’s commitment to Danish culture and tradition have led to her being chosen as this year’s Danish Festival grand marshal.
She was nominated by her cousin, Kristine Grunwald, who lives in Negaunee, and her daughter, Nikki Eggleston, who lives in Greenville. Carol was also nominated to be grand marshal last year, but, ultimately, that title was given to sisters Marvel Linnan and Ruth Reed.
“I’m excited and nervous. I wish I could tell my grandma and grandpa,” Carol said. “They would be so happy. They are the ones who made sure we knew that we’re Danish.”
Some of the traditions Carol has carried on with her family include cooking aebelskivers and Danish thin pancakes, braiding heart baskets for Christmas ornaments and fending off pranks from the julenisse — mischievous elves who come during Christmastime.
“They (my grandchildren) know that if something’s missing, probably they didn’t put it back (when they were done with it) and the julenisse came and took it from them,” she said.
Carol’s children and grandchildren are not the only people with whom Carol has shared her love for Danish culture. She was a teacher at Baldwin Heights Elementary School and passed on her favorite Danish traditions to her students.
“I always started the school year out talking about the Danish Festival because it had just ended when school started,” she said. “I would do the julenisse with them, too. Throughout the year, they’d come in and their chairs were turned upside down and their desks were moved…little things like that.”
Over the years, Carol sent her students into the city on homework assignments looking for statues commemorating Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales like “The Little Mermaid” and “The Ugly Duckling.”
“Parents were always very appreciative of that, too, because they didn’t really know about this stuff or where this stuff was, either,” she said. “I was just always willing to promote it however I could.”
She also had students look in the phone book, “when we used phone books,” to find as many Danish names as they could.
In 2013, Carol and Nels Hansen, among others from the Danish Cultural Center of Greenville, worked to establish an annual Danish Youth Camp to pass down the knowledge of culture and history to local youngsters.
“We would have a Danish folk dance, sing Danish songs. I had a friend who knew how to speak Danish, so we’d have some Danish language,” Carol said. “We have Danish food and arts and crafts. We want to promote and expose children in our area as to why we have this.”
Eggleston said it was an easy choice to nominate her mother.
“Being Danish means so much to her,” Eggleston said. “My whole life, we’ve always kept the traditions of my great-grandparents. She feels it’s so important to pass that on, not only to her own kids but her grandkids and the kids she’s taught. It means a lot to her.”
Eggleston fondly remembers aebelskiver dinners, Danish fairy tales and hearing stories “about our own family coming over from Denmark.”
Kristin Jensen, executive director for the Danish Festival, said the letters nominating Carol “went into great detail about her commitment to teaching Danish throughout the community as well as her commitment to Greenville’s rich Danish history.”
Carol’s responsibilities as grand marshal will include appearing the Grand Dansk parade, the Open Air Breakfast and other events.
The Danish Festival is scheduled for Aug. 17-20.