Poul Andersen, a Los Angeles Times printer who published the nation’s only weekly Danish-language newspaper, Bien, for more than a quarter of a century, has died. He was 84.
Andersen, a Danish immigrant and longtime Nichols Canyon resident, died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease May 29 at Sharon Care Center in Los Angeles, said his wife, Judy.
Upon his paper’s 100th anniversary in 1982, Andersen was knighted by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark for his efforts in uniting the Danish American community. To anyone who questioned the success of Bien, which means “bee,” the Burbank-based publisher proudly displayed the iron cross that denoted his knighthood.
“He really was a leader of the Danish community,” said Judy Andersen, who ran the paper with her husband from 1975 to 2001. “The immigrant colony would be lost without Bien.”
Founded by a Norwegian clergyman, Bien is one of only two Danish-language papers still published in the United States. The other is Den Danske Pioneer, a biweekly established in 1872 in Omaha.
“These papers are remnants of a once-thriving European press in America,” said Bryce Nelson, a journalism professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications.
“They played a very important bridge role for migrants to the U.S., helping them transition from the language of their native country to English,” he said.
With Scandinavian immigration at its peak in the late 19th century, almost 100 newspapers and magazines for Danes sprang up in rural communities in the Midwest and in big cities such as New York, Chicago and, in Bien’s case, San Francisco.
As the immigrants assimilated and use of their native language declined in succeeding generations, the publications began dying out. After World War I, the surviving Danish-language papers began covering the broader world less and the immediate community of immigrants more.
When Andersen bought Bien in 1975, he moved the paper from San Francisco to Burbank, close enough for him to drive there after completing his shift at The Times, where he worked from 1950 to 1987.
Otis Chandler, the former publisher of The Times, used to tease Andersen by saying, “Did you make any money yet, Poul?” Andersen’s wife recalled.
The answer, usually, was nary a Danish krone.
“It was basically a labor of love,” Judy Andersen said. “We made a tad.”
At the height of Andersen’s ownership, the paper, which prints a smattering of stories in English, had a circulation of 5,300 in the United States and abroad. Its circulation is now about 3,000.
“He was very active in keeping the traditions alive through the Bien and other organizations,” said Christian Castenskiold, the former head of Scandinavian Airlines in Los Angeles.
Poul Dalby Andersen liked to say that he was born with printers ink in his veins. His grandfather co-founded a daily newspaper in Ringkobing, a small town on Denmark’s west coast, where Andersen was born April 19, 1922. He was the third child of a typesetter who had married the boss’ daughter.
Employed as a printer at the paper, Andersen became a member of the Danish resistance during World War II, relying on traits that befitted a future publisher -- he liked to talk and joke.
“My husband was a chatterbox, and he loved soccer, so he could bicycle down to a neighboring town to play soccer, and the Germans would never think twice about it,” Judy Andersen said. “He would ask the guards, ‘What are they doing in that field there?’ and learn that they were building gun emplacements.”
In 1949, he came to the United States to work at an uncle’s corn farm in Ohio. A friend who had moved to Santa Monica encouraged him to come west, and Andersen landed a printing job at The Times, where he met his wife.
In addition to his wife, Andersen is survived by a daughter from a previous marriage, Anna Huber of Cary, N.C., and two grandchildren.
As a sideline, the soccer fanatic wrote about the sport for Bien, often driving his hard copy to the airport in the 1970s so it could make Sunday night’s airmail.
Once Andersen became publisher, he held on to the printing ways of the past. On deadline days, he could be seen operating a keyboard to set metal type on one of his two Linotype machines.
According to the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., as of 1997 Bien was probably the last newspaper in the state still relying on the machines, which had revolutionized printing more than 110 years before. The paper joined the computer age soon after.