Gowen’s Danish connection

From the Archives | Sandy Main

When the Greenville Independent focused on Gowen in an article 100 years ago, the writer observed, “At the present time Gowen and vicinity is thickly populated with the Danish people, who started coming to this county in 1856.

“The pioneers in this immigration were Mr. and Mrs. August Rasmussen and Christian Johnson, who all came from the same little village in Denmark. In fact, Mr. Johnson came to Montcalm county in 1853 or 1854.”

Johnson wrote to his brother back in Denmark, “Here are cheap and plenty of good timber land, good wages, earnest people, good government, nice girls; I am going to marry one of them.” This letter was read by another resident of the village, 27-year-old August Rasmussen. He wasn’t interested in the girls — he already had a girl — but the cheap and plentiful land and good wages caught his eye. He married his girl and they immediately left for America. Arriving in Montcalm County, Rasmussen bought 80 acres of land and was so pleased with the situation that he wrote his brother in Denmark, encouraging family and friends to come to America.

The writer of the Independent article went on to say, “Prior to 1857 there were four Danish people at Gowen, Mr. and Mrs. Ramussen, Mr. Johnson and a young man by the name of John Peterson, who was working in the sawmill, at that time called Gregory’s mill and which stood on the present site of the Gowen depot. On the tenth of August, 1857, owing to the representations of Mr. Rasmussen, forty Danes arrived, including Mr. Rasmussen’s aged mother and Mr. Johnson’s aged father. (Note: They were 65 years old.) Thirty-six of this number were relatives and the meeting, after over a year’s separation, seemed like a family reunion.”

“Following the years 1856 and 1857, the Danish people have come to Michigan in trainloads, until there are now several thousand Danes in Montcalm county. In fact, in this county the Danish people are said to hold the balance of power. The Danish-Americans have held township and county offices. They are graduates of high schools, colleges, universities and business colleges. They will be found in every walk of life.

“The descendants of the early Danish settlers may be found in every part of the United States and they number preachers, lawyers, bankers and men of every profession. They are the backbone of Montcalm county and all honor to the last surviving members of those bands of hardy pioneers who carved homes and modest fortunes out of the wilderness.”

One man who was much loved by the Danes in Montcalm County wasn’t even Danish, he was Norwegian. But by 1914 the Rev. Ole Amble had been ministering to the Danes in the area for 40 years. The Greenville Independent reporter who wrote the 1914 article about Gowen devoted a considerable portion of it to the beloved pastor.

“The majority of the Danish people are members of the Lutheran faith, and their spiritual needs are looked after by Rev. Ole Amble, who resides in Gowen, and who preaches in seven different localities — Little Dane Settlement, Big Dane Settlement, Trufant, South Sidney, North Sidney, Kendallville and the Look schoolhouse. Ole Amble is not only pastor but teacher, lawyer, doctor, father and general friend.”

The reporter visited Amble at his Gowen home, a visit he said he will never forget.

“I was invited into the ‘den,’ which consists of an upstairs room devoid of carpets and completely filled with books and newspapers. It is there that this leader of the Danish people manufactures his sermons, it is there he listens to the tales of troubles told him by the members of his congregation.

“Forty years ago the 20th of May, Rev. Amble came to this county, and the fact that today he is stronger entrenched in the hearts of the Danish people than at any time in the past, is but a faint proof of the esteem and veneration in which he is held by his people.

“Everybody knows where his house is. It is a refuge to many. In all, 592 couples have been married by this veteran minister since his coming to Gowen. He is deputy county clerk, a position he has held for years. He issues his own marriage licenses and then marries the couples.

“’In my 40 years of service,’ remarked Rev. Amble, ‘I have had occasion to confirm children, later grant them marriage licenses and marry them, confirm their children and officiate at their funeral.’

“On May 20 there will be held at the Grange hall in Greenville a union meeting of all the members of Rev. Amble’s congregations, who will observe the 40th anniversary of his arrival at Gowen.”

The Greenville Independent reported the event was attended by thousands of Danish-Americans. Rev. Amble was presented with a purse of $500 in gold, “contributed by his host of friends in the county,” the newspaper said, “a testimonial of the affection in which he was held by his parishioners,”

But Rev. Amble remained a modest man as the 1914 article shows: “’Now another thing, I have been written about a number of times and it isn’t necessary to say much about me,’ continued this pioneer preacher. ‘Now be sure and say just as little as you can, for everybody knows me any way.’

“Somehow I found my way out of this wonderful ‘den,’ full of awe and respect for the Grand Old Man of the Danish people, the man who came from far away Norway and has given his whole life to the betterment of the Danish people. A man full of indomitable courage, who could have reached the top rung of the ladder in everything he might have undertaken.”

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