A Great Danish American Birthday: Arnold Nielsen Bodtker

  • December 05, 2021
  • December 05, 2023
  • 3 sessions
  • December 05, 2021 (CST)
  • December 05, 2022 (CST)
  • December 05, 2023 (CST)


Arnold Nielsen Bodtker (December 5, 1904 - March 28, 2000) is recognized as the founder of the Danish American Heritage Society.  DAHS was founded in 1977.  He 
was born in Junction City, Oregon to Danish immigrants. He served as the Oregon State Executive Director of the Agricultural Conservation and Stabilization Service (1954-1973). Upon retirement he returned to Junction City, where he founded and seved as the first president of the Danish American Heritage Society. He also served as editor of The Bridge, the journal of the DAHS, for 10 years. 

Photo: Arnold and Edith Bodtker (Courtesy Danish American Heritage Society)

The following excerpts are from "History of the Danish American Heritage Society - The First 25 Years" compiled and edited by James D. Iversen. -

For the first 21 years, from 1977 to 1998, Arnold Bodtker, his son Egon Bodtker, and nephew Gerald Rasmussen were members of the Board of Directors of the Danish American Heritage Society. Arnold’s wife Edith Bodtker and Karen McCumsey (later Nielsen) were also founding members of the Board of Directors and remained so until their deaths in the mid-1990s. Arnold N. Bodtker founded and served as the first president of the Danish American Heritage Society and was also the first editor of The Bridge. Arnold served as president until 1989, and as editor of The Bridge for most of the first 10 years (Donald Watkins edited 5 issues from 1982 to 1984). Egon Bodtker became editor with the first issue in 1988, and continued for 11 years, through 1998. Eva Nielsen was a member of the board through most of the first decade. Gerald Rasmussen replaced Arnold as president in 1989, and served as president until October, 1998. More people served on the board as it enlarged through the second ten years, including George and Elsie Norman, Ove & Edith Kilgren, Victor Nielsen, Inga Kroman, Roelie Goddik, Allan Nyegaard and Kirsten Jensen.

Arnold Bodtker, 1904-2000, In Memoriam, Reprinted from The Bridge, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2000, pp. 13-15

Arnold N. Bodtker died in Junction City, Oregon on March 28, 2000. He was 95 years old.

His parents were Hans Nielsen Bodtker and Susanne Jacobsen Bodtker, from Denmark and the Faeroe Islands, respectively. They were among the very first Danish immigrants to settle in the newly founded Danish colony in Junction City, where Arnold was born on December 5, 1904.

After graduating from high school in Junction City in 1923, he alternated between farming and studying at several colleges and universities. His first college classes commenced in 1923-24 at Oregon Agricultural College (as Oregon State University was

then known). He was back on the family farm in 1924-25, and then studied at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa in 1925-26. For the next five years he farmed in Junction City, worked on farms in the middle west, and studied, when time and money allowed, at The University of Oregon, Oregon Agricultural College, The University of Minnesota, Nebraska State Teacher's College, and Drake University in Des Moines, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Sociology and Biology in 1930.

It was at Grand View College that he met Edith Gravesen from Askov, Minnesota. They married in Junction City, Oregon, in 1932. They taught together for one school year at Nysted Folk High School, joined a cooperative farm in the middle west for one growing season, and then farmed with Arnold's father in Junction City, until a modest stipend became available for Arnold to do graduate work at Oregon Agricultural College (Oregon State University), where he earned a Master's Degree in Agricultural Economics & Soils in 1937. They lived in Corvallis while Arnold studied and worked for the Oregon State Extension Service.

In 1937 Arnold embarked on his lifelong career with The United States Department of Agriculture, eventually serving from 1954-1973 as Oregon State Executive Director of the Agricultural Conservation and Stabilization Service. His experiences assisting in implementing the New Deal agricultural programs in the state were a formative part of his life and acquainted him with large numbers of Oregon's farm leaders and characters. The position of executive director was a political appointment, subject to new appointment when the U.S. presidency changed political parties. But at the insistence of Oregon's farm leaders Arnold retained his position while Democratic and Republican presidents came and went.

While living in Portland, Arnold was active in urban affairs, serving on several committees dealing with metropolitan government, transportation, and downtown issues. He was a longtime member of the Portland City Club. He was also a member of the Oregon State Grange, Portland Foreign Relations Committee, and other agricultural and environmental organizations.

Upon his retirement from the Department of Agriculture in 1973, Arnold and Edith moved from Portland back to his home town of Junction City, where he engaged in a wide variety of activities. He delivered meals for Meals on Wheels, was on the board of the Junction City Scandinavian Festival, and was active in the Junction City Danish Brotherhood Lodge Vestens Stjerne (Star of the West), of which he was a lifelong member.

During this time Arnold founded, and served as first president of, the Danish American Heritage Society. For ten years he also served as editor of the Society's historical journal, The Bridge. While serving as President of DAHS, Arnold encouraged the Board of Directors to appoint a Midwestern committee to examine the establishment of a Danish Immigrant Museum, which ultimately led to the creation of the current museum in Elk Horn, Iowa. He supported research and writing of Danish American history with perceptive advice, generous contributions, unflagging enthusiasm, and a mental alertness which challenged all of his younger colleagues in the enterprise.

DAHS Website

Arnold also took seriously his gradually developing role as family patriarch. He kept track of family and all the descendants, even to maintaining contact with relatives out to the fifth generation who live in the land of his mother's birth, the Faeroe Islands. He carried on a correspondence with some young members of the family in the U.S. who were just learning how to write. He read books he would never otherwise have read just because they were written by one of us. And all his life he visited family members regularly. His correspondence was nothing short of phenomenal, and even extended into the technological age, when at the age of 80 he learned how to operate a computer. Last fall he began to switch to email, a transition which at times frustrated him mightily. A few more weeks and he would have come close to mastering the system.

Arnold's contributions did not go unnoticed, as indicated by the following list of some of his awards, recognitions and appointments:

Appointment to the State Board of Forestry in 1974.
Grand View College Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990.

William Niskanen trophy from the Oregon/Southwest Washington Associates of the Scandinavian American Foundation.

Arnold loved literature and books. He could recite from memory poetry memorized in high school. He was an indefatigable collector of interesting books which no one else had heard about. He gave books liberally to friends and family, each book chosen carefully to fit the interests and characters of the recipients, or occasionally, chosen because Arnold thought the recipient ought to read about that particular topic.

Arnold was a man of ideas, fully engaged in life. When he received the 1990 Distinguished Alumnus Award from Grand View College, he wrote in his acceptance speech: "..it does make a difference as to what we know and believe, and how we live with what we know and believe." He possessed an enduring interest in ideas and activities which might serve to better human beings and the society in which we live.

After Edith's death in 1993, Arnold was engaged in gardening, reading, keeping in touch with friends and family via his voluminous correspondence, and writing his "Remembrances." We can hardly wait to read his own accounting of what was a very long, interesting, and fruitful life.

A memorial service was held on April 15, 2000, at 2pm at Festival Hall in Junction City, Oregon.

National Foundation for Danish America
PO Box 1003
Wilmette, Illinois 60091

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