Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Organization honors the legacy of mothers and grandmothers

Posted on 23 April 2018 by calvin

Virkelyst, an organization of Danish American women in South Minneapolis, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.

Virke means work, and lyst means willing, when translated from Danish into English. Quoting from an early Virkelyst scrapbook, “This gathering of willing workers began as a club to spread good cheer to the less fortunate, wherever they might be, and to help further good causes.” It was also meant to be a social outlet for women that could fill a need in their lives for greater community and friendship.

Ginny Leppart is a third generation Virkelyst member. “It’s amazing what these women were able to accomplish with limited means in the last years of the Great Depression,” she said. “They met on the first Wednesday of each month, taking turns hosting in each other’s homes. Their children would accompany them, playing together while the women knitted and sewed. Many of the children and grandchildren of the founding members are still close friends.”

Photo right: Club members Ginny Leppart (left) and Kathryn Jensen pored over one of the many Virkelyst scrapbooks. The two women have been friends for decades. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“This was a progressive women’s organization from the start,” Lepart explained. “The first Virkelyst project was making baby clothes for unwed mothers at the former Booth Memorial Hospital in St. Paul. Single parenthood wasn’t something much talked about or addressed in those days. Over time, we’ve raised money and made donations of goods and clothing to so many women’s organizations; we don’t consider anything regarding women’s issues to be taboo.” The current Virkelyst service project is raising donations for a non-profit called Helping Women Period, which provides feminine hygiene products for low income and homeless women.

Kathryn Jensen is a second generation Virkelyst member. She explained, “Of our current 40 or so female members, all are either Danish, married to Danes, or somehow connected to the Danish American Center (DAC), located at 3030 W. River Pkwy. And for the record, it’s not that we discriminate against men; it’s just that none have ever asked to join.”

Members of Virkelyst have compiled several scrapbooks dating back to the formation of their club. In 1938, there were no membership dues—but a contribution of 10 cents per month was suggested to cover the cost of coffee. The pages of these scrapbooks give the reader a considerable glimpse into what life was like back then—in ways both small and large. Most strikingly, the scrapbooks document the changing roles of women in the community and the relationships that have sustained the Virkelyst members for 80 years.

During WWII, members of Virkelyst sent what money they could to the Danish War Relief effort. They also gathered at a work center on Lake St. organized by the National America-Denmark Association to sew and repair clothing. There were shortages of clothing all across Europe at that time. A thank you card that arrived after the end of the war said, “Even though clothing is finally available again in the stores, their cost is out of reach for the average Dane. Your continued gifts of clothing and toys for the children have been received with joy and thankfulness, not only for the material help but for the evidence of love crossing oceans and national boundaries.”

An entry from 1952 spoke to the American Baby Boom Generation and the Korean War. ”We gained six new members this year,” the entry notes, “bringing our membership up to 31. It’s gotten hard to pack everyone into our smaller homes for meetings, as many of our young members are having babies in a trend that hasn’t let up since! This was a year that almost all of our charitable giving was in the form of money. We sent $143 worth of CARE packages to Korea for the American soldiers fighting there.”

Changes in fashion and the introduction of new ideas were referenced in an entry from 1962. “Our program themes this year went from the sublime to the ridiculous. A beauty salon gave a demonstration of modern hairstyles, using some of our own members as models. For one meeting, the topic was fashionable hats and how to wear them.

Later in the year, Reverend Jorgenson gave a talk on ‘What to do when a family member dies,’ and Professor Kazuko Suwa gave a demonstration in modern Japanese flower arranging.”

Through the last eight decades, Virkelyst has been a gathering place for women dedicated to community service. Jensen said, “It has also been a way for us to honor our mothers and grandmothers who started this organization, our heritage, and our friendships with other women. Our Danish tenacity has kept us going through many changing times.”

Virkelyst’s 80th birthday celebration will be held at the DAC on Sat., Sept. 29. Anyone with remembrances or Virkelyst photos can contact Ginny Leppart at

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