Rev. A. M. Andersen
From the Dana Review, Fall 1983 Volume 40, Number 1 Dana College Blair, Nebraska
Pastor A. M. Andersen, founder of Trinity Seminary, Dana College’s mother institution, lived long enough to see the school he established in 1884 reach its 57th year.
Born in Denmark in 1847, Andersen died in California in 1941 when he was 94. One of seven children of a pious farm couple, as a young man Andersen learned the weaver’s trade. After fulfilling his required military service, he decided to become a pastor, a decision his father opposed so strongly that he disinherited his son.
Andersen entered a folk high school in Denmark and took lessons from his home pastor, who, Andersen wrote in his later years, “advised me to go to America to be educated among my countrymen there.”
He arrived in Wisconsin in the spring of 1872, worked on a farm over the summer, and that fall went to Minneapolis to attend Augsburg Theological Seminary, which at that time was supported by Norwegian and Danish Lutheran congregations in this country.
In 1874 Andersen spent the summer in Two Rivers, Minnesota, teaching school and “preaching Danish to the settlers on Sunday,” he wrote.
How did he come to Nebraska? He recalled that “At about the close of that vacation came an urgent wish from Rev. H. Hansen, who had been sent to Nebraska in the spring to survey the mission field among Danes in that state, for help. Officers of the church wrote and asked me to come back to the Seminary to pass examinations for the ministry in view of being ordained and sent to Nebraska as assistant to Rev. Hansen. It was in October, 1874. After visiting families in Omaha and several Danish settlements in eastern Nebraska, we went to Dannebrog, Nebr., where a congregation had been organized. A meeting was called, I preached, and in a business meeting after the service I was called to be its first local pastor. I accepted.
“From Dannebrog we went to Grand Island, where we had a meeting in a private house in the evening. Next day we went to a settlement in Hamilton County. ”
It was on this trip that the farm wagon Hansen and Andersen had hired became stuck in the Platte River. Their driver unhitched the two horses and rode one to a nearby farm for help while the two pastors, stranded in the river, “sat in the wagon, shivering in the strong November northwest gale” until help came – the farmer with a span of oxen and an iron cable. The farmer’s wife “had a good meal ready for us,” Andersen wrote, “and we soon forgot our adversities.”
In Hamilton County they “had a fine meeting in a sod school house,” because there were no churches. Again, he was called to serve “one Sunday a month,” and he accepted.
Eventually, he had three more mission points – three in Howard County, six, eight, and 15 miles from Dannebrog, one in Seward County 100 miles away, and another in Nuckolls County 120 miles from Dannebrog.
Andersen traveled with a horse and buggy. When his mare died, he borrowed a mule from a friend. Because he couldn’t serve all of those places on Sundays, “those farthest off had to be satisfied with weekday services, and that they were.”
In 1875 Andersen married – “No use to say that our means were small,” he recalled. He and his wife eventually had seven children. After about one and one-half years in the Nebraska mission field, he was called by a congregation in Racine, Wisconsin. He stayed there for three and one-half years, and then accepted a call back to Nebraska, this time to the eastern part of the state — to Washington and Burt Counties.
“My work there,” he wrote, “led to the beginning of a mission in Blair. And in 1883 we had a house built and moved there. ”
Andersen served several other congregations as well – including those at Argo, Fremont, and Kennard. In 1884 he journeyed to Denmark on church matters. Then in September that year, at the church in Argo, the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church Association in America was organized, and “that led to the beginning of our school, Trinity Seminary,” he wrote.
“I was elected to start it, and it was begun in our house with a few students. In the course of two years funds were collected and a building erected on the hill west of Blair, that city contributing $3,000 towards it. The cost of it was $7,000. It was dedicated October 21, 1886.”
In 1884 and 1885 students not only attended classes in Andersen’s home, but also lived and ate there. After the central section of what we now call “Old Main” was completed, the Andersens lived in a first-floor apartment in the new building, and the students – all male – lived in dormitory rooms on the third and fourth floors. Mrs. Andersen continued to cook for the students for several years until they formed a boarding club and hired their own kitchen manager.
In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, Andersen continued to serve four congregations. He was also a member of Blair’s first Board of Education.
In 1889 he accepted a call to Hampton, Nebraska, to a congregation he had served earlier. After five years there he returned to Trinity Seminary to teach theology. In 1896 he went to South Dakota to serve congregations at Viborg, Spring Valley, and Gayville. He and his family returned to Blair once more in 1902 when he was named editor of the church publication, Danskeren. From that year to 1909 he was a board member of the school he founded.
The Andersens remained in Blair until 1922, when they moved to Beresford, South Dakota. He served a congregation there, and then in 1935 moved to Glendale, California.
What kind of a man was A. M. Andersen? About his father who had disinherited him, he later said that he thought his father had been sincere in doing what he thought he should, “so I loved him all the same, and I don’t doubt but that he also loved me.”
Dr. William Christensen in his history of Dana, Saga of the Tower (1959), writes that Andersen’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. R. C. Andersen, “recalls that when he arose he always straightened himself up to his full height, pushing his shoulders back.” He was “very temperate in all things, once refusing a second helping of one of his favorite dishes with the words, ‘Surely I could easily eat another plate full, but I believe I have had adequate food for this meal.’ ”
Andersen was a deeply religious person, Christensen writes, who “read widely in different subjects and had a keen interest in politics.”
In his later years his pioneering work among Danish-Americans was recognized by the king of Denmark with the Golden Cross of the Royal Order of the Knights of Dannebrog. And in 1938 Trinity Seminary, the school he had founded 54 years earlier, presented him with an honorary doctorate.
1899 Merger Brought Changes
In 1899 college classes and coeds entered the scene at Trinity Seminary.
Because there were few public high schools, academy classes were introduced when Trinity Seminary moved into Old Main in 1886. A pre-seminary course offered non-theological subjects from the beginning, and special summer classes for women started in 1891.
But it was in 1899-1900, when a co-educational Danish folk high school/college in Elk Hom, Iowa, merged with Trinity Seminary, that a four-year college course became part of the curriculum.
Under the leadership of its president, Pastor Kristian Anker, Elk Horn College enlarged its normal (teacher training) course and business department in 1890. Four years later it added a collegiate (liberal arts) department “to satisfy the urgent needs among our countrymen for a more practical and liberal education. ”
These three departments were transferred to Blair, and Anker came with them as president of the merged institutions.
A three-story dormitory to house women was built close to the northwest corner of Old Main. The third and fourth floors of Old Main continued to be the men’s dormitory.
Finding a name for the school took several years. The 1900-01 catalog calls it “Blair College and Trinity Theological Seminary,” the 1902-03 catalog, “Trinity College and Theological Seminary,” and, finally, the 1903-04 catalog, “Dana College and Trinity Seminary.”
There were eight departments of study: the seminary, a four-year seminary preparatory school, the academy, a Danish “Hojskolen” (high school), music, normal, and commercial departments, and the college. In 1900-01 the entire student body numbered only 96.
Because the school’s faculty was small, professors found themselves teaching in several departments – an English teacher, for example, might teach English and American literature and composition in the college department, business correspondence in the commercial department, and methods of teaching English in the normal department.
What were the early college courses like? According to the 1900-01 catalog (the “Second Annual Catalog” of the school and the first one in the Dana library archives), two courses of study were offered to the liberal arts student: a “Classical Course” and a “Science Course.” There were no electives and no majors as we know them today.
The influence of the European system of higher education at the time, with its emphasis on the classics and languages, was evident in both courses. Freshmen in the classical course, for example, took Latin and Greek literature and history, Danish literary history and composition, German, American literature and composition, mathematics, zoology, church history, and elocution (public speaking). Subheadings under these catalog listings name the works to be read in each course.
Among other required classes were mental science, political economy, ethics, astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, geology, and sociology.
The science course differed only in that Greek was not required, and there was a heavy concentration on mathematics and the various sciences.
Nevertheless, students today looking through this early catalog would be able to identify with much of the course work, because they’re still reading Shakespeare, Milton, Browning, Emerson, and Hawthome, taking Danish and German, learning about Greek and Roman history and reading The Iliad and The Aeneid (but in English translation) in humanities, and studying zoology and English history.
If yesterday’s students could sit in on classes today, however, they’d find that the content of courses with familiar titles had changed – consider, for example, what has happened in the sciences and sociology since the turn of the century. And certainly some courses, such as broadcast journalism and computer science, would astonish them.
The first young Dane from the Inner Mission side that came to Augsburg Seminary to be educated for the ministry among his countrymen in the United States, was A. M. Andersen, now for many years editor of the Danskeren, a weekly Christian newspaper published by the United D. E. L. Church in Blair, Nebraska. Andersen came to this country in 1872 and after having completed his studies at Augsburg, in 1874, he was ordained pastor for a Danish congregation in Damsbray, Nebraska. He joined the Norwegian-Danish Conference aforenamed. Another young Dane, now Rev. H. Hansen, of Fresno, Calif., who came to the United States in 1865, had entered Augsburg Seminary before Andersen and was ordained also in 1874, to work among his countrymen in the state of Nebraska. And, to be brief, from 1872 to 1874, there were in all ten young Danes who studied at Augsburg Seminary and became pastors of Danish Lutheran congregations and joined the Norwegian-Danish Conference. Since 1877 these Danish ministers had their own Danish church paper, edited by Rev. A. M. Andersen, Racine, Wis.
In September, 1884, at a meeting in Argo, Burt county, Nebraska, six ministers and some lay delegates agreed to constitute themselves a Lutheran church body, adopted a Lutheran constitution and took the name of “The Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church Association of America.” The new church body agreed to start a theological seminary at Blair, Nebraska, with Rev. A. M. Andersen as president. At the meeting at Argo one candidate was ordained and two ministers admitted to the church. It should be added that before the meeting at Argo was held the ministers had through their secretary, corresponded with the officers of the Danish church and come to the conclusion that union with that body was out of the question.
It has been stated above that the small church body, organized at Argo, Nebraska, in 1884 took steps to start a school for future ministers. In the fall of 1894 Rev. A. M. Andersen started such a school in his home in Blair with four students. The professor, students, and the professor’s family slept under the same roof, ate at the same table as best they could. Rev. Andersen was on the lookout for a larger home for the school. An offer of $5,000 was given by the citizens of Omaha, on the conditions that the school be moved there and Andersen put up an equal sum. But money was not plentiful in those days, especially not among Danish church people, so Andersen declined the offer.
The city of Blair made an offer of $3,000 on the same conditions. And Andersen mustered up courage to accept it, in hopes that he would be able to collect an equal sum among his church friends. He succeeded, although not without difficulties, and in the fall of 1886 a four story building, erected on the bluffs northwest of the city of Blair, was dedicated as the future home of Trinity Theological Seminary, the first school of its kind among Danish Lutherans in the United States. Before long it was found necessary to start a pro-seminary course, and also a course for those who wished to study English and common school branches in the English language, during the winter months. Still later it was found advisable to open a course for young ladies during three summer months.
Rev. Andersen was president of the school till 1889, when he was succeeded by Rev. G. B. Christiansen, who held that position till 1896, when the school became the property of the United Church. Rev. G. B. Christiansen was elected president of the United Church, an office he still holds.
During Christiansen’s presidency a wing was added to the main building and, later, in 1903, another wing and also a ladies’ dormitory and a gymnasium. Since the school, in 1899, became co-educational and a college department was added, its enrollment increased till about 150-175 a year, all told. It now comprises eight departments with a staff of ten instructors and some assistants. The value of buildings, grounds, and equipment is about $75,000. The school has no endowments of any kind.
About 4,000 young men and women, mostly of Danish descent, have gone out from its halls to their different stations in life and are now spread all over our country. About 100 ministers have graduated from the theological school. About 100 graduates have been fighting on the bloody battle fields of France in the late world war. Some of our theological graduates have worked as camp pastors and one as army chaplain at the front, the Rev. James C. Peterson, a native of Nebraska, born and raised on a farm in Nuckolls county. Our oldest professor, C. X. Hansen, M.A., was one of the first students of the school. He is now principal of Dana College. P. S. Vig is head of the theological seminary, and Rev. L. A. Laursen president of the whole school.
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