The Start & Early Years
by John Moyell
Back in 1965 when I first came to Houston, I remember there was a fairly active Danish Club, but the membership was basically older Danes or members with some relationship to Denmark. Consul Ray Daugberg’s father was at that time the Honorary Danish Consul.
With no injection of new blood the Club slowly ceased to exist. When we returned to Houston in 1978 there were no Danish activities. On the other hand the Norwegian Community was rapidly expanding and, by early/mid 1980, numbered more than 5,000 – most related to the off-shore, banking and shipping industries. An older Norwegian Seamen’s church soon became too small and when the decision was made to build a new Seamen’s Church, an idea emerged to make the new Church a Nordic or Scandinavian Church. The Danes and Swedes were invited to participate, and Yours Truly became a member of the financial committee set out to raise the necessary funds. Unfortunately, there was no support among the Danish companies and community.
By early 1990 a few us had children nearing the age of confirmation, and we got in touch with The Danish Seamen’s Chaplin in New York, Henrik Fossing, who turned out to be an old friend of my wife’s. Pastor Fossing agreed to put a program together enabling the parents to prepare their children for a Danish Lutheran Confirmation, which then took place in the new Norwegian Seamen’s Church in December 1990 in conjunction with the first Danish Christmas Service in Houston. This became an annual event that already by the following year included a Danish Christmas Dinner; the Christmas Service also became a successful fund raiser for the Danish Seamen’s Church in New York, thus satisfying the Church Council and justifying the Chaplin’s travel to Houston. This was the first time we were able to rally the Danish Community on a regular basis. Other activities took place but all on an ad-hoc basis, generally arranged by just a few of us. Whenever we had discussions about formalizing our activities under a Danish Club, nobody seemed to be interested.
This changed and in 1996 a group of younger families new to Houston started to discuss creating some sort of a club where common interests could be developed. Nearly all the new families were in Houston on a temporary basis, which prohibited the spouses from working. Lisbeth Mogensen was one of the early instigators and together with Niels Kastrup and few others things started to move. Admittedly, when first approached I was somewhat skeptical, basically because of earlier unsuccessful attempts, but Lisbeth’s and Niels’ enthusiasm soon convinced me to proceed and a Danish Club became a reality.
The inaugural meeting took place on October 26, 1997 at 2.00 p.m. in Memorial Park, at which time the first Board of Directors was elected: John Moyell, President; Niels Kastrup, Vice President; Johnny Larsen, Treasurer; and Lisbeth Mogensen, Asst. Secretary. Soon thereafter Mette Miller joined the Board as Secretary, Lisbeth Mogensen became Activity Coordinator and Carl Steffensen joined as Activity Coordinator as well. We now had a Board ready to move ahead!
Already on December 13, 1997 the Club’s very first activity took place – A Danish Christmas party at the Melody Club. Because of many members’ involvement it became a enormous success. 135 people showed up and enjoyed a traditional Danish Christmas buffet catered by the Brobergs. A 14 piece swing band provided the entertainment. Many companies had graciously provided fabulous prices for our raffle: two tickets to Denmark by SAS, two tickets anywhere in the USA by Continental Airlines, a delicious dinner for eight at home catered by Danish Catering, etc. – more than 40 exciting prizes. The very next day, Sunday 14 December, we had our annual Danish Christmas service at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, now under the auspices of The Danish Club. The Rev. Torben Poulsen, Chaplain at The Danish Seamen’s Church in New York, officiated.
The success of our first event enabled us, after less than three months of operation, to post a net result of $2,250.00. For the Club to succeed and expand its activities, it was vital to be financially sound. This was achieved from the very beginning and we could move ahead.
In the meantime the Norwegian Seamen’s Church had another attempt of making their Church a center for the Scandinavian community. I had a few years earlier joined the Church Council as a representative for the Danish Community. Now the Church asked the Swedes and us to each erect a flag pole next to theirs. Club member Louis Møller offered to donate the Danish pole and soon the Danish and Swedish flags were flying alongside the Norwegian flag on Sundays and holidays. Soon we found ourselves participating in more joint activities such as the annual Viking soccer tournament and BBQ.
Already in January 1998 a group of members attended the Billy Budd performance at the Houston Grand Opera, where the Danish baritone singer Bo Skovhus performed in the title role. The Danish Club sponsored a reception for Bo Skovhus at our house. 1998 was also the year of the World Cup soccer tournament and the Club was instrumental in arranging gatherings at a local tavern for Club members to watch some of the qualifying games in which Denmark participated. The activity coordinators were also busy and before long a group started to gather regularly at Cullen Park in Bear Creek for a rollerblade work-out. Hannes Hofer was busy keeping the membership informed of various cultural events taking place, such as Danish movies being shown at Rice University and elsewhere in Houston. Later we had the first annual general meeting and picnic at the Nottingham Forest Club. In the Fall the Elsinore Girls Guard Band – Helsingør Pigegarde – visited Houston; their arrangement in San Antonio had run into trouble and the Club stepped in and salvaged the visit by inviting the Guard to Houston. Thanks to the involvement of many of the Club’s members in the logistical aspect and the financial support by many Danish companies in the Houston area, it was a vast success. In October 1998 the Club also participated in the Norwegian Seamen’s Church’s 40th anniversary. The Club’s 1998 activities culminated with yet another very successful Christmas party followed the next day by the annual Christmas service officiated by the Rev. Torben Poulsen.
1999 began with a Fastelavn’s Party at Challenger Memorial Park in the Museum District where kids of all ages had a grand day. Later in the spring a visit to Rice University was arranged by Hannes Hofer. The Club now had more than 100 families as members. In early February the annual General Meeting of The Danish Immigrant Museum took place in Houston; the Danish Club had offered to co-sponsor the event and hosted a reception at the Four Leaf Towers. Many members joined the Annual Meeting dinner the following evening. In April the Club was invited to Danevang, The Danish Capital of Texas, to participate in The Danish Heritage Preservation Society’s annual Queen’s Birthday party. Several members participated and had a memorable day. On June 6 the annual general meeting and picnic was held at the Nottingham Forest Club - it also marked the 150-year anniversary of the Danish Constitution; a super day with many interesting speeches. In September the Club had the honor of hosting a reception Victor Borge following his concert at Jones Hall. Mr. Borge was celebrating his 70th anniversary as an entertainer. He was a very entertaining guest of honor – an evening I do not think any of the guests will ever forget. In the fall Bo Skovhus returned to Houston and performed in the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Celebrating the event, club member Lotte Optekamp and her company, Aegis Asset Management, hosted a reception for Bo Skovhus who was joined by his wife and daughter and various opera enthusiasts from the Club. The final events of the year, the annual Christmas party and the Church service, were yet additional winners with more than 100 members and guests attending the dinner. This enabled the Club to donate $1,000 to the Lise Le-Sec’s Children’s fund. Lise was a member of the Club and an SAS regional Manager, and a strong supporter of our activities; her tragic and untimely death earlier in the year shocked many of us.
And then on December 31, 1999, due to my transfer to the Bahamas, I resigned as President; Niels Kastrup was appointed as interim President, and then voted in officially as President at the next general meeting of the Club.