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Pastor Jens Madsen, a Danish immigrant pastor serving a Lutheran congregation in Brush, Colorado in 1903, felt a particular calling to minister to people afflicted with chronic diseases. Throughout his life time, Pastor Madsen had suffered from incidents of tuberculosis as well as typhoid fever. It was the wish of Pastor Madsen and his wife Ane to create a mercy institution for consumptives, those afflicted with tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.
In the summer of 1903 Pastor Madsen visited Danish congregations in several states, soliciting funds to build a tuberculosis sanatorium and a deaconess motherhouse in Colorado. Friends interested in the project met at Bethania Danish Lutheran Church, Denver to organize a corporation to build the institutions. The corporation was named “Lutheran Deaconess Institute and Sanatorium Auxiliary.” The board purchased 35 acres of land near Brush, Colorado, and planned to publish a periodical, Føbe, later called Phoebe.
The first deaconess applicant was Marie Hvidbjerg from Cedar Falls, Iowa. She was sent to the Danish motherhouse in Copenhagen for a course in diaconics and to observe the various types of deaconess work so that she could help train deaconesses at Eben-Ezer. She was consecrated in 1905 in Denmark and returned to Eben-Ezer and served at Eben-Ezer until 1909, when she became ill and returned to the motherhouse in Denmark.
In April 1096, Nazareth, the first permanent building for Eben-Ezer was dedicated. Soon after, Sister Ingeborg Hansen arrived from Boston to be a deaconess. She went on to serve faithfully as a deaconess for fifty years, having been consecrated in 1913 along with Sister Sena Frandsen. They were the first two Danish American deaconesses.
In 1907, Bethesda, the new sanatorium for tubercular patients, was dedicated. At that time, the name of the corporation changed from “Lutheran Deaconess Institute and Sanatorium Auxiliary” to “The Eben-Ezer Mercy Institute.” By 1910, most of the patients were tubercular, but Nazareth had become a home for old people and a fledgling hospital, including a small operating room. Deacons and deaconesses were trained at Immanuel Deaconess Institute, Omaha and at the motherhouse in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In the early 1950s, the board of trustees realized that there were problems at Eben-Ezer. In 1952, they asked the Division of Welfare, National Lutheran Council, to make a study of the institution and make recommendations for change. Among the report’s recommendations was that the home and hospital separate administratively and the emphasis of the institution be on the home, with residents limited to “chronically ill aged.”
The diaconate at Eben-Ezer was always small, with only eight sisters consecrated, and most did not stay in Colorado. They did wear their deaconess garb at all times and spiritual life was emphasized with communal worship and private prayer and meditation. The last deaconess, Sister Anna Poulson, retired in 1974 but continued to live and work as she could at Eben-Ezer. Several members of the Deaconess Community of the LCA came to work at Eben-Ezer after Sister Anna’s retirement. In 1994, additions were made at Eben-Ezer, including a new activities center named for Sister Anna. Sister Anna died in 1995 and the Eben-Ezer diaconate came to an end.
Adapted in 2008 from the administrative history compiled by Sister Marilyn Stauffer, Archivist Intern, April 2007.