Danish Sisterhood inviting public to share 100th anniversary celebration

Brenda Sexton, The Courier-Herald

In 1904, life for many of the Plateau's foreign-born women revolved around a place where they could share a common language, customs, and meet with other families for social gatherings.

For 100 years, many have found that place with the Danish Sisterhood Unity Lodge 75.

The social aspects of the Danish Sisterhood sticks most in Gerta Hergert's 50-plus years worth of membership memories.

"I've made some very good friends. I'm very close to the people," she said.

The Danish Sisterhood Unity Lodge 75 honors its centennial with a public celebration with food, entertainment and activities from 1 to 4 p.m. May 23 at the Danish Lodge on Porter Avenue in Enumclaw.

The Danish Sisterhood of America was organized in 1883 in Negaunee, Mich., to provide social and financial aid to fellow Danish countrymen in the new land.

In Enumclaw, the original charter, which hangs on the wall of the Danish Hall, is dated Jan. 10, 1904, with the names of founding members Anna Jensen, Caroline Winters, Dorthea Christensen, Marie Bruhn, Marie Rasmussen, Ellen Bauhn, Marie Frederiksen, Sine Sinensen, Laura Christensen, Annie Jensen, Sine Christensen and Anna Hurup.

Local Sisterhood historians have found the original minutes, written in Danish.

The Sisterhood's historical account is very complete. In leafing through the historical record, Sandra Nelson has found the Danish Sisterhood is missing the minutes from September 1931 to April 1947.

"It's a shame," she said, but, she suspects they may surface in someone's basement or attic. In that case, the group would love to have them to complete the set.

Pages of scrapbooks and photo albums show the lodge in its heydays. There's a newspaper clipping from 1970 when the lodge-sponsored booth at the fair earned nearly $250 and was an award-winner to boot.

According to Nelson and Rita Chilman, who is co-chairing the celebration with Joan Adams, there are six lodges in the nation that own a hall. Enumclaw is one.

After meeting in the home of Jens Charles Jensen on Porter Street for a number of years, the Enumclaw Brotherhood erected its own building in 1900. The lodge purchased the Birch Store building for $125, took it apart and hired Anton Johansen to haul the sections and lumber by horse and wagon for $20.

Through the years the building was enlarged to add a stage, rest room, kitchen and front porch. In 1988, it underwent a $16,000 face lift, receiving siding to give it the look of Danish half-timbered construction.

In more recent years, the Sisterhood has seen a decline in membership, although still runs strong at close to 50, 15 of whom are 80 years old or older. The Brotherhood disbanded a few years ago.

"There aren't so many Danes as there used to be," said Mary Gunderson, whose parents immigrated to America from Denmark. She joined in 1964 with her mother. Her father was a Brotherhood member.

Members do not have to be Danish to join.

Hergert is one of the groups longest standing members.

"I don't have any Danish," she said. "My parents were German, but we were with the Danish people a lot."

Today's Danish sisterhood has 52 lodges in the United States and Canada. The mission of the Sisterhood is to strengthen, maintain and preserve the Danish heritage and traditions for future generations.

Nelson said the Sisterhood is a great place for anyone to learn about their Danish roots.

"I joined the organization 20 years ago to learn what I didn't learn from my father," Nelson said. Mothers, she explained, pass on culture, cooking, language and customs. Fathers, and hers was Danish, are less likely, she noted.

The Sisterhood's traditions prevail. Each year the Sisterhood gives away a scholarship. The women host a popular harvest bazaar the second Saturday in November with soups, sandwiches, pastries and embroidery. There is also an annual Fourth of July celebration where they serve aebleskiver, Danish pancakes. Denmark, they say, is the only other country to celebrate the United States' independence. Chilman and Nelson say, the Danish people have a special bond with Americans that dates back to World War II.

The centennial celebration will include an address by Mayor John Wise, historical background, a display of the lodge's past and present, a plant dedication, entertainment, a youth camp demonstration and cookbooks available for purchase.

"We're hoping everyone will enjoy the day with us," Chilman said.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at

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