From Denmark to Fort Madison – Empty Nest, by Curt Swarm


When Jens (pronounced “Yens”) Carlsen drove down the hill for the first time on Highway 61, past the Iowa State Penitentiary, into Ft. Madison and saw the frozen Mississippi River, he wondered if he had made the right decision. Where were the hockey rinks?
Jens Carlsen at age 17 It wasn’t until he walked into the Faeth Cigar Store and viewed fishing tackle on one side of the store and guns on the other that he decided America might be all right after all. Bill Faeth asked him where he was from. Jens said, “Denmark.” And Bill said, “Oh, sure, Denmark. Fifteen miles up the road.” “No, no,” Jens told him. “The real Denmark.” Bill held out his hand. “Welcome to Ft. Madison, friend. Buy you a beer?”
When friends and family from Denmark visit Jens and his wife Becky, one of the places they like to take them to is the Faeth Cigar Store for a, “real American experience.” Iowa is about three times the size of Denmark, with one-third the population.
Jens is a mechanical engineer from Denmark. When his company in Denmark offered him the opportunity to spend a year at Siemens Energy in Ft. Madison, building wind turbine blades, he jumped at the chance. The year led to a year-and-a-half, and then he met his wife to be, Becky, at a Chamber of Commerce dinner. America was looking pretty attractive. Jens is now head of an engineering team at Siemens.
Jens is also a former world-class hockey player. At the age of 17, Jens played at the highest hockey level in Denmark. Denmark does not have professional athletes, it’s more like a semi-pro amateur league. Jens blushes and admits he holds the record for the most penalty minutes. For example, when Denmark played Latvia, Jens relished in calling the Latvians “Russians” to antagonize them. But he also holds the Golden Puck award for Defenseman of the Year. A quick Google search of Jens Carlsen reveals his stats. He was on the Danish National Team from 1987 – 1993. Many of his friends and friends’ children have been or are now with the NHL. In fact, there are presently 7 players from Denmark that play for the NHL—an unprecedented number for such a small country. At age 51, Jens now plays a lot of golf.
Jens and Becky Carlsen Education as well as healthcare are free in Denmark, although taxes are much higher than in the US. Jens didn’t start out to be a mechanical engineer. He first became a “smith” and welder for 15 years in the shipyards of Denmark before enrolling in engineering. Like a lot of kids, he loved sports, both soccer and ice hockey. After playing both, he had to choose between the two and chose ice hockey. In Denmark, there are no athletic scholarships. You don’t get into college by being a good basketball or football player, it’s academics.
A tour of Jens’ and Becky’s home reveals a lot of Danish artwork, Christmas decorations, and furniture, like Hans Wegner chairs and Kay Bojesen monkeys. A tradition that Jens and Becky are going to adopt is pulling the Christmas tree away from the wall, and walking around it singing Christmas carols before opening presents.
Where does Jens see himself in 20 years?–Right here in America. He considers Ft. Madison his home. He currently has a green card but will eventually have dual citizenship. When they visit Denmark, which they do quite often, Jens is the one who gets homesick and is anxious to return to Ft. Madison.
In addition to taking friends and visitors to the Faeth Cigar Store, another favorite stop in Ft. Madison is the Cottage Cafe. One time when Jens was there with a friend, the sheriff came in. Farmers were there having coffee and breakfast and there was a lot of friendly banter back and forth. “This is the real America,” Jens reports and shakes his head in a knowing manner.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at, or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.

About Chuck Vandenberg 4568 Articles
Pen City Current and are products of Market Street Publishing, LLC, a multi-platform media company delivering hyper-local news, sports and advertising information to Fort Madison, IA and surrounding communities.

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