Helga Jessen was born in a small house in rural Dawson County near Cozad, Neb., on June 15, 1928. She was the sixth child of Danish immigrants Boy Hindrig and Ane Kirstine (Kragh) Jessen, and the first of their 12 children to be born in the United States.
She first learned to speak English attending kindergarten class in Lexington. Although very shy, Helga loved school and learning, and she was ambitious to get the best grades she could. During her senior year in high school, and being the oldest girl still living at home, Helga was put in charge of caring for her six younger siblings while her parents took a four-month trip to Denmark in the fall of 1946.
Her older brother Nis ran the farm, but Helga took care of the daily cooking, cleaning, laundry and launching for school. It was a responsibility and happy memory that shaped her confidence and self-image for the rest of her life. She graduated from Lexington High School in 1947 and went to Dana College in Blair to receive her two-year teaching certificate for public schools. While at Dana, Helga met Verlan Hanson from Somers, Iowa. During Verlan’s senior year at Dana, they became engaged and were married on July 21, 1951.
In the meantime, Helga had taught second grade in Bellevue for a year and for one year in Fremont. She absolutely loved it. After their honeymoon in Colorado, Helga and Verlan were both teaching — she in Fremont and he in Elkhorn, and then both in Blair for the 1952-53 school year.
In the summer of 1953, Verlan entered the Navy, and for the next several years, Helga adapted to being a Navy wife. She lived in Blair while her husband finished his officers’ training. Their first child, Alan, was born in Fremont in March of 1954, but soon they were off to California, moving from Long Beach, to Compton, to San Francisco, and eventually to Chula Vista, where they bought their first home. A second son, Duane, was born in San Diego in 1956.
When active Navy duty was complete, Verlan and Helga spent a couple years back in Nebraska, where she continued teaching in Ceresco and Verlan completed his Master’s Degree from UNL.
They returned to their Chula Vista home in the fall of 1959. There, as Verlan taught in public school, Helga relished her life as a “stay at home mom” and as an active volunteer in church and PTA. Lisa, their third child, was born in San Diego in February of 1960. Helga made sure her children got to enjoy the many opportunities in southern California: the beaches, Balboa Park, The San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Disneyland, etc. And although far away from her relatives, Helga’s young family made several summer trips back to Nebraska in the 60’s.
They also traveled to historic sites in New York, New England, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Verlan accepted a position at Augustana College in Rock Island in 1967, and Helga took the opportunity as a faculty family member to finish her B.A. Degree in Education.
Now that her own children were all attending school, Helga was anxious to return to teaching. She got her chance as a full-time elementary teacher in Storm Lake, Iowa, for five years, and briefly in North Platt, NE, for a year.
Eventually, Helga and Verlan returned to Blair where he served as Registrar at Dana College, and Helga taught elementary school in Blair for fifteen more years until she retired in 1993. Along the way she earned her master’s degree in Elementary Education from UNO plus 36 post-graduate hours.
Helga was extremely involved in activities outside her classroom. She was an active member of First Lutheran Church, where she served as a Stephen’s Minister. She loved working with the Dana Faculty Women, and helping with the Sights and Sounds of Christmas, as well as serving on the Dana College Alumni Council. She had several very close friends in Blair, enjoyed playing bridge, dining out and being involved with the teaching sorority Alpha Delta Kappa. As grandchildren came along, Helga was especially excited and grateful for time spent with them.
Family responsibility was always a high priority, so Helga was thankful that her mother came to live her last years at the Good Shepherd Home in Blair where she could visit her “Mor” almost every day.
Helga was an energetic and creative woman. She loved cooking, crafts and sewing, learning new things, flowers and birds and animals, and developing her Mary Kay business. Helga also loved to travel: to Denmark in 1982 with sisters Marie and Dagny and their husbands, and niece Elaine; and again to Denmark and Germany with Marie in 1992. Helga and Verlan made a trip to Hawaii in 1996, and another European trip in 2004, as well as numerous trips together to Navy reunions, Mary Kay conventions, and regular family reunions.
In their later years, Helga and Verlan were charter members of Christ Lutheran Church in Blair, and continued their devotion to the church as best they could. They also enjoyed volunteering at the Danish American Archives in Blair. As they reached 90 years of age, they moved from their home in Blair to assisted living at Pacific Springs in Omaha, and soon to long-term care at the Lighthouse at Lakeside. Helga and Verlan celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary at the Lighthouse in 2022.
These were difficult years of loss of loved ones and separation from family due to health concerns. Helga’s struggle with advancing Alzheimer’s disease deprived her of access to recall many names and wonderful memories, but it never took her faith in God or love for family.
Helga died peacefully on Jan. 13, 2024. She was preceded in death by her parents, Boy and Ane Jessen; all of her older siblings and their spouses: Johanna and Gerald Olsen, Dorothea and Clarence Yeutter, Marie and Quentin Johnson, Nis and Irene Jessen, Dagny and Erik Duus; two younger brothers: Henry and his wife Joyce, and Alfred; another sister-in-law, Beverly Jessen; and several nieces and nephews. She was also preceded by her husband, Verlan; her daughter, Lisa Madsen; and her granddaughter, Laura Madsen. She is survived by four younger siblings and their spouses: Arne and Meryl Jessen of Woodbury, MN, Elna and Merle Knuth of Des Moines, IA, Carl and Marilyn Jessen of Sundance, WY, Pete and Connie Jessen of Aurora, CO; as well as many nieces and nephews, and beloved relatives in both Hanson and Jessen families. Helga is survived by two sons and their wives, Alan and Mary of Omaha, and Duane and Shirley of Lockwood, MO. A surviving son-in-law Paul Madsen passed away on January 24 of this year. Helga is also survived by five grandchildren: Maren and Jay Collins of Omaha, Kirstine and Bill Fitzgerald of Bennington, Jeremy and Erin Hanson of Annapolis, MD, and Dane Madsen and Jacob Madsen, both of Omaha. She has five great-grandchildren: Violet Collins, Rowan Fitzgerald, Ariana Fitzgerald, Eliza Hanson, and Julia Hanson.
The funeral for Helga Hanson will be 1 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church on the Dana College campus on Saturday, Feb. 3.
Visitation will be that day from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Campbell-Aman Funeral Home in Blair. Burial will follow the funeral service at Blair Cemetery, and a luncheon will be provided after that, also at Christ Lutheran Church at the Dana campus. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages memorial gifts to Christ Lutheran Church and the Danish American Archives in Blair.