Niels Ingwersen, whose classes on Scandinavian literature, especially the tales of fellow Dane Hans Christian Andersen, were perennial favorites of UW-Madison students, died of cancer Saturday at the HospiceCare Center in Fitchburg. He was 74.
Ingwersen came to the university in 1965, and served several terms as chairman of the Department of Scandinavian Studies. By the time he retired, in 2003, he had been knighted by the Queen of Denmark, earned numerous teaching awards and taught generations of future parents the basics of storytelling.
Such was the lure of his class, according to colleague Prof. Sue Brantly, that in 1988, the department neglected to place an enrollment limit on his popular Hans Christian Andersen course. "A total of 873 students signed up," she wrote in his retirement announcement, "forming what is probably the largest class ever taught on a Scandinavian topic."
It probably helped that Ingwersen looked a lot like some of the magic folk he talked about. Elfin, with twinkling eyes, wavy light brown hair and a soft voice, he could be charming and sly at once.
Carol "Orange" Schroeder, a friend since her graduate student days under Ingwersen's guidance in the early 1970s, said a key to his popularity was "he loved the literature he was teaching, he presented it as brand new material, as exciting today as when it was written. He was passionate about it. And because he was a great storyteller, it was a delight to be in his classes.
Ingwersen studied Scandinavian literature at the University of Copenhagen, Stockholm University, and the University of Oslo, where he met his wife, Faith, an American student from Wyoming. He became an American citizen in time to cast his first presidential vote in 2008.
A memorial service will be Dec. 5, at 1:30 p.m. at First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive.