Atterdag embodies aging the Nordic way

Elderhood in the neighborhood

Atterday in Solvang, Calif.

Photo: Ming-yen Hsu / Wikimedia Commons
Solvang, Calif., is well known for its Danish-style buildings.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

Eldercare in the Danish tradition is rooted in hospitality, charm, comfort, and security in a village-type setting, and a “smørgåsbord” of choices for care, style of living, and enriching activities.

These national qualities that frequently rank Danish culture as the “happiest and most inclusive in care” are embodied in Atterdag Village, a retirement facility with a continuum of care in Solvang, Calif.

Solvang is often known as the “capital of Denmark in America” with its transplanted architecture, stylish shops, cafés, bakeries, and more recently wineries and craft breweries. During tourist season, the streets are jammed with busloads of shopping visitors, and crowds are drawn in evenings to the town’s outdoor theater productions and performances from professional touring companies.

Amid this cultural setting, eldercare thrives on a large village campus that serves 161 residents. “The mission of Atterdag Village,” said staff member Suzanne Hollrah, “is to provide residents a quality of life ensuring physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, while offering optimum independence in a safe and caring environment.”

The outdoor amenities include a swimming pool, tennis courts, gardens, and walking paths. Indoors, an executive chef and dietician manage fine dining in an elegant dining room and a cozy café.

A wellness center offers exercise programs, massages, and health checks. The activity director coordinates outings, events, and entertainment or enrichment activities. Outings include visits to a museum or nature preserve, road-trips to nearby Santa Barbara, or local adventures that are steps away in downtown Solvang.


Photo: courtesy of Atterdag
Atterdag residents play bingo.

Nestled a few blocks from Main Street, Atterdag Village reflects the folk-school traditions of the city founders when they established the town in 1911. Early Danish immigrants were drawn to the Santa Ynez Valley by its beauty and location on the central coast of California.

Solvang became a thriving community, built socially on the cornerstones of Bethania Lutheran Church and the Atterdag College, a folk school that attracted young Danish immigrants. The Atterdag College property was eventually donated to make way for building the Solvang Lutheran Home for elders and is now called the Atterdag Village of Solvang.

“Our residents thrive,” said Suzanne, “in a safe community that honors their wisdom and provides a myriad of social, intellectual, and physical activities. Residents often tell me, ‘I feel right at home here… couldn’t be happier… in a place where I have the best care possible.’”

I was privileged to spend two winters in Solvang, when I visited at Atterdag Village several times and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know surrounding places, people with generations of Danish heritage, and events with the storybook enchantment reflecting from the bronze statue of Hans Christian Anderson in the city park along Main Street.

I was in Solvang researching my great grandfather’s Danish background. He owned Hansen Wagon Works in Manitowoc, Wis., and built “prairie schooner” covered wagons that many used in their treks Westward. The immigrants developed seven Danish settlements in the migration of many Danes from Wisconsin, through the Midwest, ending in Solvang.

While in Solvang, I interviewed and recorded the then-aging architect, Earl Pedersen (now deceased) for his story on transforming old buildings into the quaint Danish “provincial” style the town is known for today. His message, anchored in my memory, is summed up in a thought: “The setting that surrounds you counts.”

This article originally appeared in the October 5, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.