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Cousins’ Christmas card makes its yearly trip through mail

December 25, 2017

DANNEBROG, Neb. (AP) — In 1941 Lois Margaret Frandsen of Dannebrog sent a Christmas card to her cousin, Janice “Neicie” Hansen, who was living at a military base with her new husband in Spokane, Washington. The card pictured a Scottish man in a kilt. It said, “Merry Christmas to all. That goes double.”

In 1942 Hansen sent the card back to Frandsen. In 1943 Frandsen sent it back to Hansen.

Back and forth it went, year after year. Today it’s still going, the Kearney Hub reported .

“Why did I keep sending it?” Frandsen, 94, who still lives in Dannebrog, said. “We had a heck of a lot of fun together. That card traveled a lot of miles. I would keep it in the china hutch so it wouldn’t get lost.”

The women were both granddaughters of Hans Lemberg. They lived on nearby farms outside of Boelus. Hansen was born in 1915 and Frandsen in 1923, but they were close despite the eight-year age gap because they attended the same one-room schoolhouse, where children of all ages mingled and became friends.

Hansen, a prankster, and the spirited Frandsen had a lot of fun. In 1938 they formed a club called The Modern Maids of Today. Its 13 members were young women in their teens and 20s. Their motto: “To Heck with Men.” Membership cost 10 cents per meeting. The club flower was the “Love Me Not.” The club weed was “Wild Oats.” Anyone committing the penalty of getting married had to give a party.

The club met by the Middle Loup River, where they camped, swam and had picnics. “Neicie was in charge of getting all the bullfrogs ready to eat,” Lois Margaret wrote in a notebook that she still has.

Despite the club’s motto, the cousins got married. In 1941 Lois Margaret, who had married Dennis Frandsen by then, sent a Christmas card to Neicie, who was living on a military base in Spokane with her new bridegroom, Richard Hansen. The card was mailed around the time that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, pulling the United States into World War II.

In 1942 Hansen sent the card back to Frandsen. It kept going as the Hansens moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, while Richard was stationed at Fort Dix and Neicie worked as a draftsman in the submarine design division for General Electric. It followed them back to Nebraska, too.

Just like Christmas, that card always arrived. It never got lost. It was never delayed. “I was so glad,” Frandsen said.

In 2008, at the age of 93, Neicie celebrated her last Christmas. She died the following year, but the Christmas card tradition did not. Frandsen sent the card to Neicie’s daughter Bonnie Leahy, who lives near Marengo, Illinois, about an hour outside of Chicago. The next year Leahy sent it back.

It’s still going. Leahy always mails the card from Union, Illinois, the site of the Illinois Railroad Museum, which has a fully operational Nebraska Zephyr train on its grounds.

The Hansen family called Kearney home for many years. Richard Hansen of Dannebrog graduated from high school at age 15 or 16, Leahy said, and went to college for two years until World War II broke out. He then served in the military. While he was at Fort Dix, Neicie returned to Boelus with her infant son and worked on the family farm. When the war ended, Richard came home to finish his degree at Kearney State Teachers College and began a career in school administration.

Neicie established a wild duck breeding business, following in the footsteps of her father, who was a highly recognized breeder of waterfowl. As Richard’s career in education progressed, he worked in Roseland and Miller and other nearby places, but Neicie’s plentiful bounty of ducks, pens and ponds made moving difficult. Bonnie was born at Good Samaritan Hospital in 1948.

In 1957 Richard was the superintendent of schools in Miller when they decided they would move to Kearney and stay put. Richard taught industrial arts in junior high school and later focused on botany at Kearney High School. One of two biology teachers at the school, he worked in the old atrium in its center.

Neicie set up her wild duck breeder business on what was then Kearney’s outskirts.

Richard died in 1982.

Frandsen had a more settled life. She and Dennis settled on a farm north of Dannebrog and raised two daughters. “I farmed, drove a tractor, all that,” she said. She still lives there today. Four years ago, when she turned 90, she gave a barn dance and danced every dance.

As Christmas approached this month, Frandsen pulled the cherished card from her china hutch and sent it to Leahy. It arrived in Marengo on Dec. 12.

Frandsen said she needs to sit down with her daughters, one in Omaha and the other “45 steps from my house” in Dannebrog, to determine who will send the card after she’s gone. “I already have future plans for it. One of my daughters will send it to Bonnie,” Frandsen said. Leahy will keep sending it back.

“It’s traveled a lot of miles,” Frandsen said. “I’d hate to lose that.”

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