MoDA turns 40

The Museum of Danish America celebrates 40 years of showcasing history

ELK HORN — The Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn is celebrating 40 years of “Danish roots and American dreams”.
 In 1976, more than 300 volunteers rebuilt a Danish windmill in Elk Horn. “This windmill brought tourism to the towns of Elk Horn and Kimballton, and the communities knew a national museum would be a grand addition,” Amelia Juhl, Museum of Danish America (MoDA) Communications Specialist said.
 “It is because of the local communities that the Museum of Danish America came to exist in Elk Horn—it was the towns’ tremendous support and interest in preserving their heritage that the museum came to be.”
The museum itself was founded in 1983, after Norman Bansen and Richard Jorgensen, both faculty members of Dana College, began promoting the idea of a museum to preserve, promote, and celebrate Danish Americans.
“The Danish Villages of Elk Horn and Kimballton, home to the largest rural community of Danish-Americans, garnered local support and rallied together to ensure their towns were considered for the museum’s site,” Juhl stated.
In 1994, the first-phase building, commemorating Danish architecture, was completed and opened in June. It was then called the Danish Immigrant Museum. In October 2013, the museum officially adopted the name Museum of Danish America.
The museum houses over 35,000 artifacts, including family heirlooms, artwork, furniture, tools, handicrafts, Victor  Borge’s first piano and a 1929 Model A Ford.
The museum grounds were donated by the Elk Horn Lutheran Church, and have been transformed into the Jens Jensen Prairie Landscape Park.
 In 2014 the Christensen Curatorial Center was completed. This expansion is located partially underground on the museum’s west side. The space meets the storage needs of an expanding collection and also features an
environmentally-friendly prairie green roof.
In honor of MoDA’s 40th, a ticketed anniversary dinner catered by Main Street Market, Panama will be held Saturday June 24, from 5 – 7 p.m.
Former Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, who was instrumental to the museum’s founding, and Iowa Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg will be in attendance.
Following the dinner, guests are welcome to attend the museum’s annual Sankt Hans Aften Celebration from 7 – 10 p.m. This midsummer event is held on a Saturday near the feast day of Saint John the Baptist.
During this year’s Sankt Hans Aften celebration, local students will perform Hans Christian Andersen’s play “The Ugly Duckling,” and Dwight Lamb and Friends will provide live, traditional Danish music. Guests may bring their own instruments, join in group-sing-a-longs, and dance. Attendees are encouraged to gather around the Hansen Council Ring, play lawn games, view exhibitions, shop at the design store, enjoy s’mores, snobrød, and birthday cake, and continue to celebrate MoDA’s 40th anniversary.
 At sunset, following Danish tradition, a bonfire will be lit to “send the witch to Bloksbjerg.”
 According to their mission statement, the Museum of Danish America “explores the Danish-American experience, the historic and modern influence of Denmark of the U.S., and the continuing story of how a nation of immigrants shape American identity.”
Juhl said recent popular exhibits include “Danish Modern: Design for Living”, “Skål! Scandinavian Spirits”, and “Tattoo: Identity Through Ink”.
“These three exhibitions were effective in connecting Danish culture and history to a theme with a much broader interest,” Juhl said.
“Generally, people are interested in design aesthetics, enjoy alcohol, and find tattoos to be fascinating, but all three topics also have strong Danish connections.”
Upcoming activities
The Danish American Heritage Society’s 7th annual international conference, “Ecologies and Ethnicity,” will be held in and around Elk Horn from June 22 – 24.
The three-day conference features experts from a variety of fields, including ecological and community history, landscape architecture, and prairie restoration. Morten Kabell, the former Mayor of Copenhagen for Mobility, Climate, and Urban Development, will be the conference’s keynote speaker.
In addition to food and entertainment, conference attendees will have the opportunity to visit local historical buildings and sites, and explore the beauty and history that this region has to offer.
An exhibition entitled “Nature-Culture / Natur-Kultur” will also open on June 22 in conjunction with the conference. This exhibition explores historic and contemporary interactions between Danes and Danish Americans and the world around them.
MoDA is also offering several summer camps, including a theater camp from June 19-24; Dane for a Day Camp July 7; and Summer on the Prairie Camp July 31.
 For more information about camps or other offerings at the Museum of Danish America, visit  their website at, call 712-764-7008 or email at




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