By Raiza Giorgi
Ken Andersen has never missed a Danish Days celebration in his life. He eagerly looks forward to the annual festival, and his family works hard at volunteering and entertaining the crowds with their interactive floats every parade.
“Every year we try to do better than the last and always make something that gets the crowds up and moving during the parade,” Andersen said.
Andersen and his wife Allie will be the grand marshals for this year’s Danish Days parade, which will be held on Saturday, Sept. 21, in downtown Solvang. The Andersens both said that they are honored to have been chosen and are looking forward to the festivities.
Ken Andersen is a descendent of one of the founding families of Solvang. C.V. Nielsen moved to Solvang in 1912 as he wanted to live near other Danes and raise his family. He started Nielsen’s Building Materials in 1932, and Andersen now manages the business while his wife works in administration at Dunn Middle School.
Andersen grew up attending the festival, performing with Viggo Tarnow’s gym class and with the Danish Family Folk Dancers.
“My bedstemor (grandmother in Danish) would always open her house to all the dancers and volunteers,” he said.
Andersen helped Ed Hanson design a Danish Days T-shirt and sell them at the festival each year.
“He worked for Disney for years. He was really talented and he was such a great guy,” Andersen added.
He still has the T-shirts they designed and likes to look at them from time to time to see how things change.
When Andersen and his wife started their family, they made sure all of their four children were just as involved.
“I still wear the dress Ken’s mom made me when we were dating,” Allie Andersen said.
The Andersens decided with their family friends, the Farrises, that they would make a float every year.
“The first one was a map of Denmark, and we thought that was so cool. From that year on, we made the floats a little more unique and interactive. One year we made a giant chicken and our sons operated the wings, and we got everyone in the crowd to do the Funky Chicken dance,” Allie laughed.
An aebleskiver (Danish pancake) float moved the pan up and down. They painted beach balls to look like aebleskiver and threw them into the crowd. Another year they designed a zipline between two trucks. One float had a bottle of akvavit that poured, and for the children’s parade on Sunday they changed the label to Martinelli’s to avoid offending anyone, Ken Andersen laughed.
“I have enjoyed being involved in this celebration. It is a lot of work for the volunteers, but there is a sense of satisfaction and pride that highlights your community,” Andersen said.
From their first outfits, the Andersen children wore costumes that Ken Andersen’s mother Thora made for him and his sister Donna as children.
“Each year the boys were fitted in my old vests and the girls into Donna’s dresses. The only Danish dresses they got was when they were each the Danish Maid,” Andersen said.
Both their daughters, Emma and Mia, were Danish Maids, and it made Andersen proud they both really wanted that role.
“Our kids usually bring their friends from college, who most of them have never seen a parade or festival quite like Danish Days and end up loving being involved,” Allie Andersen said.
The Andersens will be very busy during the parade. The crowd will see them early as the grand marshals, but then they will double back to board their float at the back of the parade.
“We haven’t quite decided what we are building yet, but I know it will be fun,” Andersen said recently.
Danish Days boasts plentiful free entertainment throughout the weekend with three parades, Danish folk dancers and musicians performing all over town, and an afternoon and evening of free concerts on the Midgaard Pavilion Stage in the middle of town, adjacent to the Viking Beer and Wine Garden.
Younger Danish Days fans can enjoy family-friendly pastimes including a “Kid’s Korner” in Solvang Park featuring LEGO and other entertainments.
The weekend’s numerous offerings for all ages include two new events, an axe-throwing arena and a guided Solvang Food and Photo Tour.