Section "A" includes Henry's reasons for writing memoirs and covers his childhood, education and marriage, all preludes to his first service in a parish.
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Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of A. Henry Hetland. All rights reserved.
This is how I saw it all back in about November of 1968, writing a valedictory for publication in COMMENT, monthly house organ of NATIONAL LUTHERAN CAMPUS MINISTRY, the agency of which I had been Executive Director since January, 1959.
The memoirs that I don’t intend to write some day but which persist in taking recallable shape in my thoughts, now that I am about to leave campus ministry, could probably have a Part II (1944-68) under the theme, From Chancel to Nave, or, From Pulpit to Pew.
My on-campus years were in a pattern of ministry that offered no regular performance in vestments, only guest appearances – Assistant Pastor in Wisconsin churches! – and PR speaking. Then five years as a peripatetic regional secretary moved me yet more into the pews. Finally the ten years as executive, with almost exclusive attention to polities, policies, and portfolios. And yet more nave-side reflections both here and abroad in other lands while connected with World Student Christian Federation.
Recounting the experiences ironically, I might say they trace a personal transformation from Defender of God to Defender of Man. Indeed, from some perspectives a defender of man over against God-defenders.
Such were the years not for me alone but for much of Christendom. It was dramatically the case in the past quarter century that the ecclesiastical center of gravity shifted, accompanied by an acceleration of movement by clergy themselves into the pews – and out to courtyards.
Some would speak of the Age of the Laity. Or the Rise of Secularism. For my part it was an era in which crucial issues of faith became an internal problem, a chancel/nave dialogue, even altercation. And all authority broke loose!
Absorbingly interesting years they were!
Part III (1969- ) is a long ways from being projected in my thoughts. I don’t even have a lead paragraph now. What I shall do after January 1 is a subject that has been contemplated out loud only in my wife’s presence thus far. (This is written early in November.)
But wherever I may be, I suspect I have become a confirmed nave man so far as perspective and sympathy are concerned. And a confirmed campus-watcher...because of the hunch that nave/chancel differences are now really academic and the search for religious faith is henceforth a non-sponsored activity.
Resignation from NLCM became effective December 31, 1968. The following April 1st I entered Civil Service, employed in the Chicago Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Also:
As of that date I resigned from the clergy roster of The American Lutheran Church; and only a few weeks later we two, Phelva and I, resigned from membership in Edison Park Lutheran Church of Chicago; we did not then nor since join any other church or religious organization.
I was with HUD until February 28, 1977; and followed retirement from that position with signing up for Social Security, because on April 25 I turned 65. I became a Retiree.
Now, having come into my octogenarian decade and often reconsidered that intention of not writing memoirs, I have decided that I not only have an odyssey of interest for my family (and descendants?); I feel I have some explaining to do – for them, perhaps others, or whoever may press for reasons why I left the ministry and the church.
But is that the core issue in my life?
In a word, yes. For I sense that virtually all my adult life, its weal and its woe, was centrifugally related to and in great measure assessed by reference to that cultural phenomenon, the clergy profession. Why, I could organize my memoirs within these vox populi categories:
I He’s going to be a minister
II He is a minister
III He used to be a minister
Each has a baggage of expectations, valid or stereotyped, that both I and populi reckoned to be criteria for professional and personal evaluation. They go with the territory.
However, it is not my intention in the course of recollecting to probe for and expose Freudian connections or explanations. I only want to tell my story; but if there occur discernments of sources and origins of what has been ticking within me I will welcome and acknowledge them. And I welcome any reader to the sport of looking for the reason why I did this or that in the course of my Declarations of Independence. It’s fair game.
It invites on my part a discreet movement among memories in which I delight and those I squirm to recall; but on balance mine is an odyssey I recall with pleasure, also in wonderment, never at all comprehending the good fortune of having lived in interesting times and circumstances, among so many who were themselves interesting for differing reasons and in differing ways, while also engaging in activities which, fairly assessed, had some good effects. And all in the context of a loving and joyful family.
Both my parents were 43 years old when I was born, had been married 19 years, had had before me 13 children of whom 3 had died in infancy. One more came after me. So then we were the Norwegian farm family of twelve who grew to adulthood, nine boys and three girls. All eventually married, ten of us to spouses of Norwegian and/or Swedish descent (from immigrant parents or grand parents), and had a total of 35 children. There occurred among us only one second marriage, a consequence of death.
It all began, this family, on a tenant farm in southern Minnesota, near LeRoy, where the first five children were born, four boys, then a girl who died in infancy. As there had been an “America Fever” in Norway there came now a kind of Dakota fever and my father, also some near relatives, loaded family and possessions on a Chicago-Northwestern train and, around the turn of the Century, moved to South Dakota where they purchased farmland, most of it previously occupied but all of pioneer character. The nearest town, Montrose, was ten miles away. Corporately, it was scarcely two decades old; the state, a decade into the Union.
They comprised a cluster of five Norwegian families, all with immigrant parents; the other four were less than a mile from my home. There were similar clusters not far away, and all or most of them found one another in St. Peter’s Norwegian Lutheran Church, about 8 miles northeast and slightly less than half the distance to Madison (where, at its south edge, my father almost made his farm purchase. Had that happened – tantalizing thought for us country kids – we could have been “Town People”!).
There were also some miles west of us a cluster or two of Swedish families, similarly of immigrant origin, and among them not only a Lutheran Church but also a Mission Covenant congregation (from a “free church” movement in Sweden). And nearer, but northeast, a Baptist church whose members came from those clusters out west and from less clustered families in the area. Those churches were all less than eight miles from my home.
Southeast, on scattered rural farmsteads and clustered in the village of Montrose, were Catholics, mostly of Irish descent; theirs, in town, was by all odds the largest and most elaborate church. We had play-fellow association with some nearby Catholic families but it was relatively limited; there was virtually none at all in town, at any rate for me until after entering its high school. There were of course many other nationalities, and in Montrose, in my youth, also a Methodist and a Baptist church.
All in my family were confirmed in our country church, the first eight in Norwegian, the last one of those a ‘victim’ of pressure from other Norwegian families. When my brother Oscar’s turn came, I, next in line, was then so big (also, having skipped one, in the same school grade), it was deemed acceptable for me also to “read for the minister” in that class, though a more probable reason was that it was no longer possible to buy for me a suit with knickers. Confirmation would permit long pants!
Not until after we all had grown up did our little rural church have a Sunday School. (It was given initial impetus by my older brother, Conrad.) But we had summer Bible School, actually Norwegian School, in which were taught Luther’s Catechism, Bible History, hymns – all (or partly) in the Norwegian language, plus rudiments of reading and writing the language. It was of course paid for by the families whose children attended, but held rent free in nearby rural school houses. It seemed always possible to find properly trained teachers for phe three or four week terms. But in my time the Norse teaching disintegrated, finally also the Vacation School idea itself. Mine was virtually the last generation of bi-lingual children in our community.
But we were, up to my teen years, primarily a Norse-speaking household, all of us really learning to speak English only after starting school. Mother struggled valiantly and gamely with the English language but never got the hang of it, was in fact rather intimidated by it, especially when she had to answer phone calls; but also a pretty good sport about her deficiencies in that area of her immensely busy life. (She would respond genially to my impish younger brother’s devices to get her to pronounce certain consonant-loaded words and smile indulgently at his delighted laughter when she did so.)
Father did better, became quite active in the community, had in his time a record length of service on the township school board, served also on the board of directors of a Montrose bank. And of course in the church he was quite regularly a member of official boards, in earlier days was one of those who personally solicited member families for contributions to pay the pastor’s salary. (Such moneys, plus gifts in kind, were the sole support of pastors who would also serve two or more other parishes.)
Moreover, he was clearly a better than average farm manager, generally ahead of others in innovative improvements, e.g. the first to install a rural type electric plant, with wiring to all the farm’s buildings. (Rural Electrification, REA, came twenty years later.) Also, in the house, a running water system – and a bathroom! Those installations I remember clearly; not so the family’s first car, a Reo, which came when I was about three, i.e. only about l5 years into the ‘automobile age’. But I give credit also to older brothers for the farm’s management.
My parents came, of course, from Norway. Mother was born in Stavanger, in 1869, the only child of her ship-carpenter father’s first marriage. The second marriage, after her mother’s death, gave her a new home in Sandnes, a step mother of uncertain affection, four step siblings, later, two half brothers and a half sister. All came eventually to Brooklyn, NY, and mother to Minnesota in her early twenties. (To my deep and persistent regret I learned almost nothing from my mother about her childhood; she was in fact reticent in talking about it; it was a step brother who intimated that it was tragically unhappy.)
Father’s genealogical background is rather well set forth in the book, Espelands in America, by Evelyn Ostraat Wierenga. He is indeed entitled to be there: he was born on the Espeland farm (or estate) near Stavanger, a fact which in his youth he ‘documented’ by having tattooed on the back of his left hand the initials LME. It witnessed also his success in having then become Luther Martin instead of Martin Luther, the name given him in Baptism but which too frequently got from young friends the additional appellation, Doktor.
His father, Martin Ludwig, came to Espeland from ‘Hetland’ when he married one of three offspring who had inherited the farm which had been passed from generation to generation through two and a half centuries. He lived there in one of the main house’s three apartments long enough to have his first three children, then moved his family back to his birthplace. Thus they all then became Hetlands instead of Espelands! My father, though, as eldest son could have chosen Martinson as surname. It was the custom of the times. But the Hetland name was retained when they moved later into Stavanger. It also remained with the farm and when we visited there in 1980 it was a dot on the map of Norway we purchased for our travels. (But it also appeared in at least two other places on that table-size map!)
Luther, the boy, had schooling up to an equivalent of about sixth grade, part of it while living temporarily with an uncle. He emigrated to America when twenty years old, worked as a farm laborer near LeRoy, Minnesota, until his marriage – to the Maria Olsen he had learned to know well enough in Norway to excite his anticipations when she came to be housekeeper in the bachelor home of two step brothers in the near-by village of Rose Creek. They had been confirmed in different congregations but by the same pastor, and in the same year. (In the parish records which I saw in Stavanger’s genealogical center my father has a final evaluation of godt; mother’s is meget godt, i.e. very good.)
Needless to say, the privations they likely had as pioneers were somewhat in the past, perhaps remembered only dimly, by the time of my birth, the last in ‘the old house’ whose replacement soon thereafter was invariably recalled in a context of delights enjoyed by my siblings in those weeks they all lived in out-buildings while the new house was under construction.
But, as if a family of ten children, all under twenty years, was not enough in that small house of my birth there came also to live with them – first in the house, then in the granaries and barn – yet another immigrant from Norway, the eighteen year old Martha Østebo, Father’s first cousin once removed, and later in life the aunt of the author of Espelands in America.
She moved with the family into the new house, stayed on until after my second birthday, a nursemaid for me, and much else, becoming a legend of love in family lore. And me, at age twelve when she returned for a visit, she still cherished as min gut [my boy]. It is my earliest and much cherished memory of her.
We all went to country school, but not all came through the eight grades. Graduation was not required, was perhaps not altogether customary for farm folk; in any case my oldest brother and oldest sister (to her considerable bitterness in later life!), after sixth grade, were needed at home; it ended their education.
In my own case I seem to have been specially privileged – or consigned to something other than farming: I was the first to go directly to high school from eighth grade graduation. It is a part of family lore that I was “smart”, a book reader who even in summer months would go to the always-unlocked school house and take books home to read, had a favorite place up in the cotton-wood tree by our house where I could be found reading, would take a pocket dictionary with me for reading while riding on some farm implement which required attention only when turning the horses around at each end of a row or furrow. Oscar had the best remembered explanation for assumptions about my future: “He can never be a farmer – he can’t even remember the names of the horses!”
But I was not the only one who went beyond eighth grade! John and Conrad, after stints in the army (WWI), returned with determination to get further education, and both went to the State College at Brookings which had a prep program specifically designed as an “Ag Course”. But John, completing that in three years, went on into college work and completed also that four-year course in three years, in another year got a Master’s Degree in Animal Husbandry. (But he became a landscape gardener!)
Emma was past twenty when she hied off to Sioux Falls, and to Augustana Academy, subsequently transferred to Montrose High School where there occurred in 1925 a small invasion of Hetlands: she, Cora, Leonard, and I all became students, all riding to town by bus which now was made available. Leonard stayed at Clara’s farm home and drove a bus. (I in my senior year was also given a bus-driving job.) We three who started together also graduated together, Leonard the valedictorian, I the salutatorian, and Cora ranked number 3. Oscar and Clarence came along afterwards, with Oscar first going to Salem High School, then transferring to Montrose. They went no further. Leonard, Cora, and I went on to Augustana College; Cora later transferred to a business college.
Thus passed the transition from Pioneer Days. And from that family of twelve children came six owner-operators of farms, two farmer-wives, one business man’s wife, a landscape gardener, a wholesale-house middle manager, and one minister.
And the farm? Notwithstanding the severe drought in the thirties and ‘The Depression’ which caused numerous foreclosures, it alone among dozens of farms all around it remained unchanged in family ownership from the beginning of the century and into its last decade. The house built right after my birth – it too is there as that decade begins. The barn is also there; but it’s a mighty long haul since it had horses in its four double stalls. Even so, I do, I do remember some of those names!
In the meantime, while that Dakota farm family was doing its evolving, (i.e. from 1893 to about 1929) so also were America and the world, – indeed, so to say, the universe: as Buckminster Fuller observed, “Our knowledge of humans in Universe has been extended [subsequent to his birth in 1895] from 50,000 years of existence to over three and one-half million. Our knowledge of the number of galaxies has increased from two to over two billion.”
Albert Einstein, in 1905, proposed the “special theory of relativity,” gave E=MC2 to the world. Astronomer Edwin Hubble who, in 1924, discerned “conclusive proof that there are other galaxies besides our own,” in 1929 proposed the concept of The Expanding Universe.
But such esoteric stuff was hardly the sort in those days to impress ‘ordinary’ rural folk or even come to their attention. Not so with such exciting developments as the following:
Henry Ford, in 1893, built his first successful gasoline motor, in 1903 organized Ford Motor Company for mass production of cars; in that year also there occurred the first auto trip across the USA (in 52 days): The Automobile Age was on its way.
In 1895 Marconi invented wireless telegraphy; the Wright brothers did their Kitty Hawk act in 1903, and in 1909 a French aviator, Louis Blériot, flew a plane across the English Channel. In 1911, the first cross-country flight; in 82 hours.
I was about 12 years old when I and several others that day as we were threshing oats saw for the first time an ‘airship’ in the sky, noted that for birds also it was a novelty: they came from several directions to follow, at great distance, this very strange sight. It soon enough became a more common but always exciting sight when such biplanes flaw over us, one of them actually landing in a neighbor’s pasture. We saw it disappear beyond a grove of trees, drove there in our car to see it on the ground. We were nearly ready for the Air Age by the time Lindbergh made his non-stop flight to Paris in 1927.
Came the day, in the early-twenties, when “Central”, the operator at Montrose’s telephone switch board, via the series of staccato bursts of ringing used generally to issue weather reports, invited all to their telephones to hear for a few minutes what a young chap in town was getting on a radio! Eventually, after entering high school, I experimented with my own ‘crystal set’; the family got a 3-dial Atwater Kent; it had a speaker: all could hear when “the Hetland brothers, Oscar and Henry,” gave a half hour program over garage-based KGDA in Dell Rapids.
Elsewhere and otherwise there were developments also in the world of religion. For it too was a kind of Expanding Universe, and not less so in that 1893-1929 period of our family’s transition from Pioneer Days. It all could have had resounding effects, might have had some, on that Dakota family (and on others like ours); but we were relatively untouched and generally at ease about what we were “supposed to believe”.
If at all threatened, one danger was – Evolution! But it could be vanquished with staunch declarations about not being evolved from monkeys: we had descended in biblically assured order from Adam and Eve! Derision towards Science, with ad hominem denunciations, was a common stance for effective combat against that ‘horrible doctrine.’(vide the “Scopes Trial” in 1925.)
Also at issue was the earth’s age. Bibles in use had, in margins, Usher’s computation that placed the time of the earth’s six-day creation at 4,004 B.C. It was so represented and reflected, explicitly or implicitly, in preaching; and we had no Sunday School nor teachers at our little country school, indeed at most public schools, which might have made efforts to reconcile the conflict with contrary evidence in geography texts.
Such issues were unresolved, at most in uneasy dispute, for me, for most companions, older siblings, other adults, into and to some extent beyond my years in high school.
Our Church, i.e. midwest Lutheranism, was comfortably “Fundamentalist” before that word acquired pejorative connotations or even popular usage. It was fairly well unfazed by Protestantism’s turbulences over Liberalism, Social Gospel, Higher Criticism, generally so also vis-à'-vis new religious groups and splintering among mainline denominations.
It was a lively era for popular and populist religions. As Dr. Jerald C. Brauer wrote in Protestantism in America (p.229-30), “On all sides the Church, creeds, and beliefs were under serious attack during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Not only scientific thought and historical scholarship but also peculiar cults and leaders pressed the criticism.”
But there was liveliness of a sort also for Lutherans, by this time trying to come to terms with their origins and histories as almost exclusively ethnic conclaves. As of about 1915 there were 24 Lutheran Church bodies generally identifiable as Danish, Finnish, German, Norwegian (six!) Slovak, Swedish – or English! By 1920 they were down to 18, with nine collaborating within a common agency called National Lutheran Council, four others similarly together in the Lutheran Synodical Conference.
Reflections in subsequent years on all such matters have conjured visions of genuinely stark challenges in those days that only barely affected life where I came from. Living decently and intelligently was doubtless difficult, but for reasons quite less esoteric than what became most of my professional preoccupations.
A field representative from Augustana College, in Sioux Falls, SD, came to our farm in the summer of 1929, expecting to make a sales pitch for his college; but we three who had just finished high school were already headed for Augustana. It must have delighted him; soliciting students was urgent work for that little college; its enrollment was too far under five hundred.
But there were some preliminaries to which he gave attention: Cora would be assisted in finding a home where she could work for room and board. Leonard and I were assured of part time jobs to be found by the college; he and I would rent a bedroom in a home near the campus. What financial arrangements were made for tuition and other college costs, if any at all, I have easily forgotten, remembering only that those initial plans lasted only briefly. The entire ensuing year remains in memory fairly free of clear recollection as to how I made out financially.
Meantime, on the farm that summer, there were also these unscheduled ‘preliminaries’: both Leonard and I had appendectomies. (Dad paid for them, of course.) I was first and early enough to be quite recovered in time for college; Leonard was only days out of the hospital when the two of us came with our steamer trunks and stuff to our “first home away from home”. It was with a fine couple, new enough in marriage to have but one small child. They had also just bought a new car, in anticipation of income from their two college students to help pay for it.
My part-time job (Saturdays) was at a shoe store, about as ill-begotten an assignment as I have ever had. What could I, so newly removed from the farm, know about shoe styles - or feminine tastes? A few rebuffs from those I had insulted with my offered samples erased all concerns about my need for money; I quit after three weeks of that torture. Leonard had a good job at a restaurant, liked it, but because of deficient pizzazz was fired after a few weeks. Cora likewise had a dissatisfactory arrangement in her room-and-board job and she sought relief.
So in just a few weeks after our apparently auspicious entrance to college life we three moved to two rooms on the second floor of a house across the street from the campus; we had “light house keeping” privileges in Cora’s room. Our departure nearly broke the hearts of that nice couple with the little baby and the new car though they were entirely decent about it. And though we received some money from home Leonard and I in that year depended in large part on odd jobs procured by a trio of enterprising brothers who also were students and good friends. They lined up jobs, then hired us and other students to work for them.
Were we affected by the October 29 Stock Market Crash? In my case, perhaps not much that year; Leonard, older than I and more committed to self-sufficiency, was doubtless more concerned. It was easy for me in those days to be casual about wherewithal. But it is discomforting to contemplate my insensitivity to The Depression’s effects on my father; as a trustee of a Montrose bank that eventually failed his losses were extra heavy.
More discomfiting are memories of my unpreparedness for college. It was pathetic; and that freshman year nearly an academic disaster. That “smart’ member of my family, so easily successful in high school, brought with him virtually no study habits of any worth. Unprepared for the system of class lectures, he did not soon enough learn how to take notes, indeed how to study. But dilatoriness was doubtless the chief thief from his acumen. And delighted though naive interest in extra-curricular activities was a nearly satisfying diversion.
An early choice of activity was a men’s society, the college’s surrogate for fraternity. There were three for men, each paired with a comparable society for women. I was invited – ”rushed”? – in the first or second week; and naively felt myself, in its social activities, really getting into College Life. In the college symphony orchestra I played (that year) a tuba; and in a student-organized “pep band” I not only played that big horn but in special public entertainments, when we effected jazz, I also had my tenor banjo. And my guitar. I failed my try-out for the A Choir; at that stage in life I had not yet learned about do-re-me, and did not understand what was meant when asked to find fa from the do note played on the piano. Other musical capacities I thought I had did not get tested. (Doc Youngdahl obviously had not heard about my brother Oscar and me!)
In accordance with the Christian purpose for which this college was founded (quoted from THE EDDA, Yearbook) Augustana sponsors several religious organizations. The oldest and one of the most general is the Luther League. Its aim and purpose is to develop, promote, and elevate the spiritual life of the students and train them for active work and leadership in the church.
There was also a Mission Union first organized for a few students who wished a more extensive study of missions...really a foundation in missionary work for those who are interested in this wonderful field of Christian activity. It sought returned missionaries as speakers. Members occasionally presented programs in churches and hospitals.
My participation in those activities was congenial, fairly regular, but casual.
Here it may now be noted that I had come to college with, at best, an inchoate plan to prepare either for civil engineering (about which I knew very little) or music teaching. Realization that I was not doing well plus awareness of the many who were far better students – and musicians! – brought about a minor crisis and a rethinking of career ambitions. Often enough there came to mind what the acting pastor of my home church, Dr. Seth Eastvold, had said to my father: couldn’t one of your sons – ”maybe Henry, here” – prepare for the ministry? Few, if any, knew of my inner stresses; enjoyment of College Life went on unabated. But there came then probably, a decision to aim for the ministry, though it, too, was inchoate. The reality was that of a troubled teenager grasping at envisioned prospects of self-respect. Or status.
But there is also this to remember: an excursion-rate train trip in February to Minneapolis for a weekend visit with my brother Conrad who was attending the Winter Course at the Lutheran Bible Institute. That was the ostensible reason; but it was actually a fairly impulsive idea. Others also were going; it was a popular thing to do in those days.
Also, there was a ‘step-cousin’ (a son of mother’s step brother) attending Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul; I would also visit him and see the seminary which had begun to have some place in my projections.
It was in each direction an overnight trip, leaving Sioux Falls Friday evening, arriving next morning at the Minneapolis depot, returning Sunday night from that depot, back in Sioux Falls Monday morning. Thus, one night and two days in Minneapolis, two nights on the train’s day coach.
I think no other comparable period of days had ever been more portentous up to that point in my life. For what began as a kind of lark became the occasion for a “religious experience” with deeply emotional content. It came near the very end of a busy weekend of activities and visits, much of it associated with the seminary and with Conrad’s friends at the LBI.
I had gone with my brother that Sunday night to hear preaching by the LBI’s very popular dean, Samuel Miller. I was tired, actually very sleepy, as the service got underway, and perhaps not altogether happy to be there; but it was clearly an event my devout brother wanted me to attend because I had indicated an interest in the ministry. But in his lights that could not be a proper decision since I had not been “converted.” He had told me so, gently but firmly.
The sermon’s actual contents registered not at all in my sleepy head, but as it went on with increasing fervor my attention was arrested, my troubled spirit stirred; so when there came a climactic sob in the man’s voice, I too – sobbed! Wept tears, with a terrible sense of wretchedness!
But there was a relief of sorts in the experience, a feeling that I was indeed being “converted” and that very willingly, and blubbery certainty that thenceforth I would be a real Christian. At the end of the service I, with my brother, were in the line of people wanting to speak with the Dean who, incidentally, I knew was scheduled to come to Augustana College for the Religious Emphasis Week a few weeks hence.
Introducing myself and my college connection, I asked him when at Augustana to preach the sermon I had just heard. His solicitous inquiry, “Do you love the Lord?” got from me a quavery affirmative that I was to remember throughout the night’s return trip on the train. Second thoughts, perhaps? Anyway, when he did come to Augustana I did not at any of his speaking occasions hear anything familiar. Nor a dramatic sob.
Augie for any moderately developed ‘fish’ was a comfortably small pool. It was relatively easy even for a freshman to make splashes: My kind of college! One such splash for me came in a stage production by the Pep Band. Shaped as a minstrel show (it was OK in those days!) in a radio studio, it was emceed by one Ed Paul, glib and witty as any pro. He ad-libbed the show to high hilarity; and we who were participants were washed in the aura of his brilliance, I with bass horn for the band music, and, for various novelty numbers, tenor banjo, guitar, harmonica, and piano. And though less splashy, there came other occasions for exploiting my reputation – at least among some. To illustrate:
In May, came our Annuals, THE 1930 EDDA (Published by the Student Association), and in those charming days remembered so nostalgically in afteryears, we got into our copies as many as possible of autographs and notes, those end-of-the-year greetings so traditionally extravagant in praise of friendship and shared memories.
Mine are a nicely generous assemblage of, well, nicely generous farewell greetings that provide some commentary on who and what I was – and was not – in that Frosh year. I certainly seem not to have become a stereotypical image of somebody planning to prepare for The Ministry. (There were those on campus.) Adapting Samuel Johnson’s phrase (explaining why he couldn’t be a philosopher), cheerfulness had been breaking through. One decently sensible student predicted for me a future career as an entertainer!
Almost dominating the nearly eighty entries were attributions to me of versatility and musicianship, as if there had been no betrayal of the reality I knew so well then and much better as the years went by: I was indeed a jack of several instruments but master of none. But I must have forged ahead, undeterred as yet by the diffidence that was to come with more maturing. Items:
Well, well, Henry; Is there anything that you can’t
do?...you are a real addition to the Freshman class
...with your talents & high ideals life should hold
much of success and happiness...
...you’re one of the most versatile men I have had
the pleasure of knowing...
...I have certainly admired your musical ability. You
seem to be able to play any instrument you get hold of.
Those were written by three men, the first a senior who went on to a seminary and became a pastor; the second, a junior, and the director of our Pep Band, became a music teacher in a large high school; the third, sophomore, became a music teacher in a state college. The last two constituted the highly artistic and semi-professional AUGUSTANA MARIMBA PLAYERS. It is yet a pleasant memory to have had them as good friends.
Indeed, there developed many good friendships that year.
But for all that, I was hitting a stride of sorts. Early in the first semester I had this experience: Asked to be there, I played my banjo in the local movie theatre, but entirely out of sight, concealed behind its organ’s pipes. Jack Malerich, billed as the “Buster Keaton of the Organ”, and popular for organ playing that included Sing-Alongs and novelty numbers with lyrics on the movie screen, had called the college and asked if there was a banjo player among the students. To some one in the college’s PR department I was it. I reported to his office.
On the man’s program for a couple of nights and one matinee was a routine based on then-popular Piccolo Pete. Beginning with “Did you ever hear Pete/ Go tweet-tweet-tweet on his piccolo”, he introduced various instruments, had clever lines to follow each introductory question and organ stops to demonstrate the sounds. There came then also the question, “Did you ever hear Frank/Go plank-plank-plank/On his old banjo?” But the organ had no stops for that sound so I was to provide the plank-plank-plank plus a few bars of ‘solo’ in a wind-up medley of all the instruments.
I couldn’t play what his score required but he devised an adaptation I could handle. I played twice each night and for the matinee; and for all the audience knew, it all came from a versatile organ and its artist. In interims between shows I was in his office, amidst some evil smelling foreign cigarette smoke but in conversation with a fascinating personality who, he said, had had his training on a church organ. That was mentioned in the context of my intimations of interest in becoming a clergyman; he thought I would eventually abandon that idea like he had departed from church organs. (I was paid five dollars for my stint.)
As that ‘Buster Keaton’ he was as dead-panned and comedic as his namesake, and, towards me very kindly. Soon thereafter the new “Talkies” made his kind of entertainment obsolete; he went to Minneapolis where I often thereafter, when a seminary student in St. Paul, read accounts about his highly rated dance band at the Nicollet Hotel.
But also early in the first semester I had this experience: difficulty being at ease with my physical condition. There were probably some raw memories from my appendectomy (along with an horrendous abdominal scar!), likely also a vestigial memory from that mysterious ‘spell’ I had that summer when I was fifteen. I went to see a doctor for what I feared was an asthmatic condition because I had occasions when breathing seemed hindered.
The doctor, a fatherly gentleman, after both examining me and getting my medical history, gently encouraged me to acknowledge that it was all in my imagination in consequence of stress from those earlier experiences. But I could suspect the stress had a more immediate cause, my diffidence as a college student among so many others more talented and intelligent than I. I was not as care-free as it seemed. The experience did not cure me; but not infrequently I have recalled, with benefit, that gentle introduction to the mysterious reality of hypochondria.
The summer months after that Freshman year became, probably with subconscious intentionality, a watershed period, at the end of which I went – not back to Augustana but to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis!
In consequence of that ‘conversion’ back in February?
It was certainly in and out of my thoughts; because I was wanting relief from my Summer of Discontent. LBI might do it. For despite some profitable and interesting employment, therewith also stuff of some good memories, those months are now perceived to have been a time when I was trying, so to say, to pull weeds, i.e. liberate my good intentions and aspirations from the choking effects of frustrated sexuality, of pretensions and hypocrisies, of guilt from a bad year in college, and more. I had good days, bad days, good moments, bad moments. There was a short but very ardent romance in competition with the “steady” I had had (more or less) since high school. (Happily, both are well remembered.)
As it turned out, it was my last summer in that farm home, indeed in some sense my last residence there and therefore viewed in later years as the climax of my laborious extrication from adolescence, a circumstance that may have contributed to if not accounted entirely for gloomy memories. But the ‘weed-pulling’ was real enough. And too often futile.
Actually, I was not at home constantly. My first job was painting the outsides of buildings on the farm rented by Emma and her husband, Oliver Swanson; and I stayed there during all of the many days the job required. The landlord who hired me was long-time neighbor to the north of our farm, John Feerick. Himself a bachelor (until late in life), he was ever a good friend of our family. I think he liked me because once I, then a debater in high school, had been teamed with him for a debate at one of the programs of that Literary Society in our country school. An odd couple then indeed! But now a considerate employer and his grateful employee. And as always, Emma and Oliver were nice!
Then when up on my ladder one day there came to the farm a Mr. Anderson, known as owner of several farms in the area but a resident of California, who came to a farm place in South Dakota only in summer months. I did not know him at all though he knew our family well enough to offer me another painting job when my current one was ended. I was to share the painting activity with his son, Lyman, on vacation from a college he attended in California, also, I soon learned, an excellent trumpet player.
I stayed in their home, learned to know also his younger sister, a very fine pianist. Together they produced exciting jazz. I also had chances to accompany Lyman with my brand of rag-time. When finished with the project at their residence we did another about forty miles away where Lyman and I had their open truck for sleeping quarters but meals with the tenant’s family. In toto, the association with Lyman and with his family in their home was a very special delight in that checkered summer.
At home that summer I was for my last time a farm laborer, now remembering best the threshing season, a cooperative activity among neighbors. The threshing machine was owned jointly but tractors for the belt power generally belonged to farmsteads individually because they had multiple uses. The crops were oats or barley. (In my childhood there were one-year wheat fields on newly broken prairie land previously used as cattle pasture.)
An agreed-upon schedule loosely based on ‘turns’ determined with reference to prior years was followed; and though it was very hard work, threshing was a social activity. All who ever participated in it invariably remember the magnificent dinners at noon, the morning and afternoon ‘lunches’ brought to the field, and the bantering and good cheer so integrally associated with all of it.
On some farms that summer I pitched bundles (brought to the threshing machine in hayracks from shocks set up when the grain was cut and tied by a ‘binder’.) On one farm I drove a truck and hauled the threshed grain to a Montrose market. Each stint is remembered also because by that time I was trying to act the role of one planning to go into the ministry; I carried a “Pocket Testament”, readily talked about religion as if well informed.
The decision to go to LBI, though, had not yet been made at that time; in any case there had been no specific planning. That came after Conrad and I had gone to LBI’s summer camp on a lake near Maple Plain, a short distance west of Minneapolis. That week had no special dramatics or evangelistic fervor, was in fact entirely relaxed. I even had a gentle friendship with an attractive lady of my age who, as we went on walks, talked easily about being a Christian. That was for me a new experience. We also went to an amusement park at nearby Lake Minnetonka. By the end of the week my anticipations of going to LBI were bright; and from my summer’s turbulences there came reassuring relief.
Back home I summoned the necessary courage to tell my Dad about my desire to go to LBI. But special courage was not needed. He readily approved – consented, it must be said: for it was, in my recollection, the first time ever of actually talking with him about my educational interests and desires, much less asking for his consent. In my ‘favored’ state in the family, going first to high school, then to college were taken for granted. And this new idea accorded very well with his simple piety. Eg ska betale for deg, he assured me. (I will pay for you.) It was no light offer because by that time the Depression was beginning to have troubling effects. I suspect my newly fortified Faith accepted his generosity with little thought about real costs. That year I was totally supported by money from home.
It is dutiful to recall and note that some years later, when an older sibling had complained to Dad about how much more money than others I had been getting from him, he told me that in going through records he had discovered that I had indeed been favored, in any case with respect to pre-adulthood ‘spending money.’
The letter from THE LUTHERAN BIBLE INSTITUTE, dated September 20, 1930, was typical; and a foretaste of things to come:
Dear Mr. Hetland:
We have received and placed on file your application blank
and other necessary papers required for your admission as
a student of the Lutheran Bible Institute for the coming
I want to take this means of extending a most heartfelt
welcome to you, thereby letting you know that you have been
accepted as a student.
We are looking forward to rich experiences in the study of
the Word of God. If we come expecting much from Him, He will
not disappoint us. Let us all be praying that both teachers
and students may have ever renewed visions of our Lord Jesus
Christ as He appears in the Word of God, and that seeing Him
there, we may also experience the power of His death and
resurrection in our lives.
We earnestly covet your prayers, even now, that the work of
the coming year may be prepared by much intercession at the
throne of grace to which we may come boldly for Jesus’ sake.
Yours in Him
The Lutheran Bible Institute
(Signed: Samuel Miller) Dean
The LBI had been in existence about a dozen years. Located first in St. Paul, in buildings belonging to a relocated Lutheran Seminary, it was now in its own year-old building on Portland Avenue in Minneapolis. Its founder was Samuel Miller, a young and handsome pastor of the Augustana Lutheran Synod (Swedish origin), whose attractive and effective charisma got him so strongly associated with the institution he founded that for many years it was more than colloquially called the Miller Bible School.
Bible Schools and Institutes were essentially fruits of determined opposition to such perceived threats as Darwinism, Historical Criticism, Social Gospel, Modernism. Best known and the largest, quite probably a model for others that followed, was the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. They were also well within the traditions of 19th Century evangelical and revival movements. But LBI was the first that was initiated and successfully developed as a distinctly Lutheran institution.
While not so vigorously so, it was basically representative also
of the movement which gave rise to the term Fundamentalism; in its ‘spirit’ it was quite pietistic, but, for all that, cheerful.
By the time I came it had grown to a size, in its winter quarter, of nearly 200 students (3/4ths of them women), and a fulltime faculty of six pastors. The charismatic Dean was unquestionably the moving spirit who had well stamped the school with his “Jesus Only” emphasis, also composed a “School Song” with that title (and its recurring phrase).
The others were a fair distribution of somewhat differing emphases as well as representation from the two major church bodies from whose members support might be forthcoming. From The Norwegian Lutheran Church in America: Odd Gornitzka, “A Polish nobleman, born in Norway, pastor in America” (it was said of him); quite the opposite of the dean in demeanor, he reflected quiet dignity and friendly concern. (I felt somehow pleased when I once smelled cigar smoke from him as he got out of his car.)
Also from the NLCA: A. B. Anderson, short of stature, energetic in speech, somewhat boisterously good-humored, obviously enjoyed his turns as chapel speaker. And, H. J. Stolee, almost stodgy in contrast to the Dean, but reflecting sturdy competence in his main role as the school’s business manager as well as part time bible teacher.
From the Augustana Synod: H. George Randolph, dapper, well-dressed, a bit ‘easternish’ in a midwestern milieu, he fancied himself an authority on eschatology, said to me once, in conversation, that he did not expect his children would reach adulthood before Jesus’ Return. In contrast, there was one really scholarly faculty member, C. J. Sodergren, Ph.D., a true gentleman who, regardless of what had to be theological differences, displayed unfailing respect for his colleagues and even especially for the Dean. Dr. Clifford Nelson, in Lutheranism in North America, 1914-1970, (pp 11 & 84) referred to Sodergren as an “independent and unconventional thinker” who “...sought to keep [his] church out of the clutches of fundamentalism”, and who, as early as in 1914, had expressed views that favored Darwin’s Evolution.
It was verily an interesting aggregation of teachers, and, for me in these memories, notable because they did indeed give me a wide-ranging knowledge (if not adequate understanding) of the bible. Nothing ever after could match the concentration of biblical studies such as was given at that institution.
But neither was it ever matched in its special parochialism and, however graciously assessed, spiritual pride. In fairness, it should be acknowledged that much of its hot-house spirituality
was endemic in that type of school and in many who came wanting it so. Perhaps the Dean was entirely pleased to have it so; but even if he were not it was a genie that could not be bottled. Nor did it dwindle or disappear after he, in midyear, left to serve a parish pastorate in up-state New York.
But financially the school did not thrive after his departure, even with Gornitzka as the successor; nor did Miller fare well as a parish pastor. He returned, not many months later .
To this institution, then, I came one mid-morning in October of 1930 to be a student, weary, I suppose, from my all-night trip in a train’s day coach. That part I do not recall; but do recall standing for a while in the line of people getting registered, and directly behind a chap of about my age whose acquaintanceship I frankly did not desire or initiate. He was not for me a pleasing foretaste of friendships to come. And when he, as all of us did, gave his answer to the question about future plans, saying he wanted to be a minister, I suspect my reaction was a trifle snobbish, so dull did he seem to me. I had to think myself a better representative of potential preachers when I gave my answer.
In point of fact there was little in those first hours to excite my anticipations. But, resisting impulses to regret my decision, when I was in my assigned room (in a nearby private home) that night I wrote to my mother and said nice things about my arrival, that all had gone well, that my prayers for a good trip had been answered with a sense of well-being and safety. She had shed tears when we said our goodbyes, a touching experience for me because it was actually novel. In my memory, only in that fainting episode when I was fifteen had there been tears for me. But neither had there been such a significant parting. This was also the very beginning of writing letters home. In view of all that had preceded my momentous transition and all that was in prospect, now so far from home and from that strange summer, plus the perceived demands of my spiritual commitment, there were strong emotions in me as I wrote that first letter.
Though residing in a room away from it, I had my meals in the LBI’s one building. The dining hall was in the basement; on the main floor were offices, class rooms, the chapel. There were a rery few bed rooms for men on that floor; dormitory rooms on two upper floors were for women only. But as indicated by my own situation, a substantial number of students, and nearly all the men, had rooms in nearby residences. But all had their meals in the spacious dining hall. (There were Minneapolis residents in school who lived at home.)
Not surprisingly, with a student body that small and nearly all of us coming together for all meals, for chapel, and easy informality in hallways between classes, there soon enough developed characteristics of the Family that we were presumed to be.
Moreover, there was from the beginning the opportunity to sing in a choir under the direction of one Ruth Nelson that was genuinely exciting. Tall, thin, and angular she was wonderfully saved from unattractiveness by a genuinely charming smile and, even more, by a quality of conducting that was delighting. And within that choir came not only several good friendships but for me my participation as the tenor in a mixed quartet; and therewith the beginning of one of the finest friendships in my life, with Eldon Christeson, the quartet’s bass. Very near in age, we were both – great discovery! – guitar players. And we had similar abilities in piano playing by ear, although in that respect I was a bit the better.
Almost at the very outset of our acquaintanceship we began singing together, sometimes with both of us playing our guitars, but very soon we were singing in public and I then provided our accompaniment. His very melodious baritone voice was superior to mine, but with him carrying the melodies, me on the improvised tenor, we did make good harmony that was well suited for the gospel hymns that were our forte. (Years later, after he had been at St. Olaf College and sung in its famous choir under F. Melius Christiansen, he was for some time the solo vocalist of a weekly radio program of Lutheran hymns on the college’s WCAL).
Our quartet also came into considerable demands for public performances and for participation in deputations to hospitals and Rescue Missions, an extensive activity for many students. Eldon and I, somewhat more than the quartet, had many demands for singing in hospital corridors and churches. Those were heady experiences and they are very pleasantly remembered. As will be noted below, our singing went on through the ensuing summer as members of The LBI Gospel Team, annually designated by the school but otherwise independent.
The two women of our quartet were somewhat older than Eldon and me, but it was no deterrence to camaraderie. Clara Jones, the soprano, had aspirations to be a missionary and did eventually serve on a Lutheran Mission field in Taiwan where her responsibilities included work among university students. Not so oriented was our alto, Alta Engelby, who some years later was said, sadly by Clara, to have “gone back to the world.” I don’t think I would even then have so assessed her transition; and I have often wished I might have kept in touch with her. For there are very fond memories of our associations in that quartet.
Memories also, there are, of ‘temptations to pride’ in consequence of the considerable adulation that came our way when we sang, especially for Eldon and me. It was in the nature of such a school that consciousness of temptations and sins was ever the counter-weight for the happiness that was represented as a virtual guarantee for the True Christian. So there were “Prayer and Praise Services” from time to time on which occasions there would be voluntary participation with testimonies, prayers, confessions of sins of omission and commission. And, before going on special ‘missions’, e.g. to a Rescue Mission, groups would spend time in a classroom, kneeling in prayer. Kneeling was important!
There is now no wonderment that I had that year another Deep Religious Experience but it differed significantly from the one on my Minneapolis excursion. For one thing, it occurred in the privacy of my room. The causal background was important but will seem trivial in a telling of it: it happened to me because I had yielded to a long-nurtured wish to have a piano accordion (remember my letter to Lawrence Welk?), and bought one. It was really low-cost but I very soon began feeling that money from my dad should have better use. The final devastation of pleasure came when showing it off in Ruth Nelson’s presence and she walked impatiently away when I played a silly ditty as demonstration.
Back in my room, I was soon on my knees, and, as some were wont to express it, I wrestled mightily in prayer, actually in a profound agony of remorse. Eventually I did what I knew I had to do: In a compulsive act of relenting, I promised to get rid of that accordion, next day if at all possible. Whereupon there surged in on me, into my entire being in waves of intensity, such thoroughgoing and continuing thrills that it nearly frightened me. I can liken it only to bubbling in a shaken bottle of soda. The accordion did actually get sold, but I told no one about the experience. And I fully recovered, in the sense that it laid no special obligations on me in days to come. I remained as cheerful as I believe had been my mode; I continued to enjoy life there.
(It became natural enough in later years to seek psychological insights to what happened that night; but I had no doubt then that I had had a special visitation of the Holy Spirit. On one other occasion many years later and in very different circumstances I had a similar experience, but with less consequential certainty of a divine origin, though it did come as inner release from agony after intensive praying about a difficult problem.)
On the whole, that entire year at LBI was pleasant, if not in all respects for reasons satisfactory to that institution. And some fine friendships developed, including with persons who might at the outset have seemed unlikely as good friends. Some bores and pious misanthropes there were, perhaps more than actually affected me. But Eldon and I, almost a novelty as a pair of comparatively young and attractive men, had no difficulty in drawing friendly attention. The good Dean might not have been as charmed by us as some others: one time in a Prayer and Praise Service he remarked that college students were most likely to be disturbing elements to the LBI spirit, but it did not trouble me as one of the very few of that genre. I did not aspire to be an annoyance. Really, quite the contrary!
There were in that student body a fair number of interestingly lively and congenial men and women. We had a nice variety of extra-curricular activities such as ice skating, small group picnics in charming caves along the Mississippi River (notably Shadow Falls!), concerts (I heard the St. Olaf Choir for the first time that year), Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (when affordable), art institutes, and – yes, of course! – occasions when I would in the lounge ramble along on piano improvisations and folk songs, some of them inviting sing-alongs – but not ragtime! (LBI was even smaller for this ‘fish’ than Augustana!)
Not to be forgotten or unappreciated were genuinely significant benefits both at the time and in years to come. For one who had sights on a life of religious service such as I, and did get there, there were inestimable values that remained effective even in later maturity when much of what I had ‘learned’ underwent re-learning and re-evaluating. Eventually I sort of re-met it all in deeper appreciation of what that fine man, Dr. Sodergren, was doing there: He was honoring varieties of religious experience with level-headed intelligence.
But, in terms of “benefits both at the time and in years to come” nothing comes up to what ensued and developed from this incident one evening in the first week of the second term (in January): before returning to my room, while in casual conversation with Alta Engelby at the head of the stairway leading down to the Exit, a short distance away there came out from a door a young woman I had not seen. She walked the short way to a corridor and disappeared. “ Who is that?”, I asked.
“She’s a new student”, Alta said. “Her name is Phelva Jerlow; and she’s a very fine girl.”
I determined then and there to learn that for myself. For something had already developed that could, for a romantic person such as I, go on ... and on, into the future. Well, actually, nothing like that emotion had happened in the months I had been at LBI, notwithstanding the number of entirely attractive women there. Perhaps I still had loyal love for the high school girl friend back in South Dakota? I had seen her again when home for the Christmas vacation. This was different. Was there some special “Guidance” in it? I suppose I came to believe that and did so for some time to come. But including in a divine scenario all that had led up to separate decisions to come to LBI became absurd theologizing; it suffices to say that my heart leaped.
All stages of the development of my determination to ‘find out for myself’ about that ‘very fine girl’ need not be recalled. They did include contrivances to sit at her side in the dining hall; ice skating parties and partnership in practicing our individually limited skating abilities; lighthearted conversations in the student lounge; eventually a facetiously dropped comment, “You would be a perfect boy friend if you weren’t so young!” But it was not an Exit Line.
There were long walks with her to the residence where she lived with a quilt-making widow, doing some work for her room. Eventually, and to all appearances very early in our flourishing friendship, there came firm cause for me, with Phelva at my side, to tell a few friends at a night-time picnic at – where else? – Shadow Falls that we had decided to walk together along the road that Eldon and I had just sung about in a gospel hymn about taking up our cross “to follow Him.” The picnic was a party for me, for my birthday, my nineteenth. Now, at last, old enough to be her fully qualified boy friend? In any case, that ‘boy friend’ status remained intact, unblemished, through the next five plus years of our engagement before marriage.
Our engagement did run into turbulence before we parted for the summer. Phelva had come to LBI to recover spiritually from an unpleasant love and foundered engagement. It brought her into intensive counseling with a faculty member and therefore I met with them also. We two then confronted the perceived problems, confronted whatever emotional hindrances there could be to a good future in our marriage. It was doubtless to our considerable benefit that we learned then about loving unconditionally.
Came, then, the summer with The LBI Gospel Team. As said, it was an annual project, with some faculty person or persons choosing the membership. Quite likely Ruth Nelson at least participated in the selection.
But after the selection we were left to our own resources. In addition to Eldon and me, there was Harold Olson, who after college and seminary became an NLCA missionary in Columbia, South America. And Kenneth Peterson, a college graduate who thereafter entered a seminary and became a pastor of the Augustana Synod. Eldon after that summer entered Waldorf Junior College in Iowa, later came to Augustana where we were room mates the first semester of my senior year. He was out of college for a while, then finished at St. Olaf.
It became my job to serve as manager, to plan and arrange an itinerary, and to write the letters to pastors of churches where we hoped to visit. As it turned out, it also became my task to arrange and effect the purchase of a car. From the school’s janitor we bought a Model T Ford, a really old thing that had a then-modern “California Top” – no sedan, that! The janitor gave us, he assured me, a good price because it was to be for the Lord’s work. I should have had other assurances as to the car’s worth because we had many rather serious problems with it, a not unusual experience with such cars – in those days.
What we were to do as the LBI’s representatives was quite simply conceived, actually too much so for some publics to which we would give our programs. Four men ought to have comprised a singing quartet; we didn’t, a disappointment to some, we sensed, and a surprise to many despite our poster that showed Eldon and me standing up, a guitar in my hands, and the other two fellows appearing in separate bust pictures. Eldon and I were to provide the music, but all of us, within some variations, were speakers: one for opening devotions, another about LBI, a third to give the “message”, i.e. a devotional talk.
Here’s how we were awaited in Fergus Falls, MN, according to this item in a local newspaper:
The male quartet of the Miller Bible School in Minneapolis
will give a song service and sermonette at the First English
Lutheran church Sunday evening at 8 o’clock.
It was not characteristic, but suggestive of how our publicity and my prior correspondence may have failed to dispel common assumptions that ours would be a male quartet giving a full-scale concert. That was what had represented LBI in previous summers; and Lutheran colleges had a history of such ‘deputations’. We crossed paths that summer with such a quartet from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.
On the whole, though, we were given warm cordiality and enough comments of approval to nurture pious chutzpah and confidence in our declared purpose of Serving Our Lord.
Between our selection in mid-February as LBI’s Gospel Team and the end of the Spring term we made three out of town trips. Our first appointment after school was on May 17 but then only a short distance from Minneapolis. We returned that evening – and had on the way our first break-down. Fortunately, we had yet some days remaining for preparations which now included taking apart the transmission of our “Hetson” (our name for it) and repairing it: Model T’s of that vintage were a very simple car!
Our actual departure, the point of no return, was May 22; we went to Litchfield, MN, where we stayed three nights, presented two programs, made visits with sick folk. Our last program was on September 1, at Eldon’s home church in Eagle Grove, Iowa.
In that time span, according to my little diary, we presented just under one hundred programs, made unnumbered special visits in homes, hospitals, and special institutions, had temporary addresses in sixty towns and villages, most of them in the northern half of Minnesota, the others in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa. And far too many car problems! But only one appointment was missed entirely, a day when a violent rain storm
combined with not one but two car problems and we had to be towed into the next village and obliged to stay in a small hotel instead of arriving where scheduled.
But advance planning had also arranged some extended stays in homes of families or friends with rest and recreation combined with appointments within easy driving distance. They included Harold’s home in Cottonwood, MN, Eldon’s, and mine. Other R & R stays were with LBI friends. One such visit was in Pelican Rapids in northern Minnesota where we not only had a long July 4th weekend with friends; I had arranged for Phelva also to come there by bus and train from her home in Albert Lea. I met her at the Fergus Falls train station. She stayed at the local pastor’s home.
From a place near the border we made a long Saturday’s excursion to Winnipeg, Canada; from Duluth we drove to Hibbings to see the open pit mines. And to this country boy from South Dakota came a small excitement on the shore of Lake Mille Lacs of seeing for the first time a body of water so large the opposite side was invisible. Also well remembered, a night in northern Minnesota when a heavy rainstorm after our program in a rural church required a change in hospitality plans; Eldon and I were assigned to a farm home, heard there repeated assurances from the father that theirs was, despite incredible disorder and dirt, “a home”. And in our bedroom, on top of a chest of drawers, saw in our dim lantern light a can of bedbug powder!
Far more nostalgically remembered about northern Minnesota, I must add, were the incredible delights of wandering among tall ferns in deep woods and along shores of some of the state’s “ten thousand lakes”; beaver dams; large blue berries on bushes and in pies; Northern Lights; poignant moonlit nights. In a letter to Phelva I said I hoped our first parish could be up in that area.
Only once, in my recollections – or most clearly remembered! – were angry words spoken in our group. And I spoke them. To Harold. The oldest of us four, he was our most pious member although not really unpleasantly so. Except one Sunday morning enroute to the church where we were booked for the entire service.
At the wheel, and full of cheer on that beautiful day, I began singing exuberantly a non-sacred song. But from the back seat came Harold’s then-lugubriously toned question, “Henry, do you think that kind of singing is the right way to prepare for this morning’s service?” I let fly my angry words; and we drove on in silence. But what I said mattered less, later, than my sudden anger; so in church, sitting by Harold’s side in the front pew, I whispered my apologies, asked for his prayers. He whispered his forgiveness, assuring me in the same breath that he was praying for me. (At a 50th anniversary reunion of our Team Harold asked me, amusedly, if I still could sing Come Along With Me Lucile, in my Merry Oldsmobile. I think he was remembering...)
But Harold’s demeanor, so connotative of sincerity, made him a good speaker, undoubtedly the best one of us in our kind of programs and for most of our audiences. On one occasion, in a small rural church in northern Minnesota, his ‘gift’ rose to full flower in a “Message” on the theme, My son, give me thine heart, which deeply affected many in the church, especially a number of young girls sitting near the front who began to weep. Eldon and I, following with a touching gospel song, contributed to the very impressive occasion. Later that night, under bright stars, we were very solemn, in wonderment at what had happened; and Harold, not surprisingly, wondered aloud about a possible ‘calling’ to be an evangelist.
By this time, incidentally, we no longer had Kenneth with us; he left us on July 25 in order to report early to his seminary for prerequisite studies in Greek. We remaining three missed him very much. He was ‘the quiet one’ among us, always levelheaded and, when speaking in our programs, earnestly honest. It was saddening in later years when I learned that he had died, much too early in his career as a pastor. This among several of his interesting qualities I recall within heartfelt memories: at LBI, simply because he wanted to do so, he memorized in its entirety the Gospel of St. John.
At summer’s end, at his home, Eldon’s mother recalled our first trip back on May 17; she and Eldon’s father had come for that occasion and also to bid their son farewell. (They and we four, also some other friends, had a picnic after the service where we had presented our program.) She, a wonderfully charming lady, now commented lovingly on that performance and on some she had attended after we came to that area, said we were all like young ministers, attributes that obviously pleased her.
Perhaps it was indeed The Way We Were. Certain it was that we had been and were genuinely good comrades who had enjoyed what we were doing, doing it all confidently, – In Faith.
So, at the end of that summer, so different from the one immediately preceding it, I came back to my farm home, and still driving our California-top Model T Ford, by then a somewhat poignant symbol of that really amazing Gospel Team era of my life, indeed of the entire LBI experience. How it happened that I retained the car has dropped from memory, but it probably was rationalized by the fact that I had been its chief maintainer, most regularly its pilot, and finally as its last occupant took a kind of squatter’s right to it. Had I sold it there would have been but a pittance for each of us. I kept it one year.
And – back to Sioux Falls, to Augustana College, but with much more than that Ford’s symbolism in my consciousness. For I was returning to Augie with a feeling that I had a new persona and wanting it to be recognized – favorably! Frosh year class mates and others did give me cordial welcome-back greetings; so also did some faculty persons. It was good to be back.
Registering, I signed up for voice lessons, for Harmony Theory, and for courses aiming at a sociology Major and a Minor in psychology; the college Registrar on his own initiative gave me credits because of the year at LBI, enough plus those from my freshman year for the intended Minor in Religion. My aim, of course, was preparation for the ministry.
Once again an office at the college found for me a place for part-time work, this time at the town’s leading men’s clothing store. I purchased a new suit (using my discount privilege), was there on Saturdays and some evenings, liked my job and associates, was there until and through the Christmas season.
But somehow along the way I got next to the instrument repair man at Williams Piano Company and into part time employment as his assistant. It is yet a very fond memory I have of that talented Swede, Axel Fredrickson, assured that I had his and his wife’s genuine affection as a friend. There is also this amusing memory: When I expressed a wish to buy a used 3-row button style accordion that had come to his shop in a trade-in, it became mine when he said, in his unforgettable accent, “Yust pik it oop and git de hel oud av heerch.” (Another accordion incident in my life to remember!)
I had even more responsibilities at that piano store in my junior year, but more about that later. And once again I became one of the occasional employees of the Svanoe brothers for odd jobs that supplemented my meager supply of pin money.
Later in that sophomore year I earned meals working at a small cafe near the campus. It had become the recourse for a lady whose husband, a respected bank employee, had embezzled thousands from his bank and was imprisoned at Leavenworth. The lady, very prominent in a local Methodist church, was herself a splendid but deeply saddened wife and mother. One of their two teen-age sons had a lively interest in learning from me how to play the piano by ear. I enjoyed a very fine relationship with that family.
Meantime, up on campus, this new persona was forging his new image but not wanting entirely to distance himself from who and what he was as a freshman. I was back in the symphony orchestra under Richard Guderyahn, this time on a sousaphone; but not that year or thereafter in Cadets, the pep band of my Freshman year. Getting into the A Cappella Choir was easy: Doc Youngdahl now knew me, he had heard of my summer’s activity with a Gospel Team, so the tryout was casual and brief, my placement in the second tenor section entirely satisfying. (After that first year I was section leader.)
There was also Websterian Society, my ‘quasi fraternity’, but for me this new twist: in all social events shared with our sister society I had as my ‘dates’ women who also were engaged. As a matter of fact I soon enough there and otherwise established my status with an elsewhere fiancée though I acquired a number of other good friendships with women on campus, for some of whom (I see in yearbook autographs) I was a big brother. As time went on and she came for visits, the name and person of Phelva became known to several friends. She would stay, incidentally, at my brother John’s home. My commitment to her was never in jeopardy.
As could be expected – and anticipated – it was in religious orrganizations and activities that I made the strongest pitch for recognition and acceptance of my new persona. Viewed retrospectively, both later then and now, it was really an overly splashy reentry in that small ‘pond’ by this ‘fish’ with an over-blown spiritual ego. To be sure, some of the attention given me could scarcely be avoided because for the general run of participants in such activities, my LBI experience gave an exalted status. But I accepted it as a kind of divine right.
At the very outset I became the teacher of a bible class of college students that met Sunday mornings in Old Main, and one of the teachers of a Sunday School operated there as a branch of the downtown First Lutheran Church, for children in the college’s area. At first the branch’s assistant superintendent, I became superintendent when the other student left school (leaving long overdue bills at Augsburg Publishing House to clear up).
(At the church itself the Sunday School superintendent over many years was a distinguished juvenile judge, Lewis Larson, the father of Arthur, a Rhodes Scholar who became Under Secretary of Labor in the Eisenhower administration, a speech writer for the president, later the author of a biography of Dwight Eisenhower, and ultimately professor at Duke University and director of its school for studies in The Rule of Law. He was a junior in my freshman year and in a casual way a friend, perhaps chiefly because his sister, Marguerite, had taught one year in Montrose High School and become my all-time favorite teacher.)
There were “Luther League”, and “Mission Union”, in each of which I became active and held offices, “deputations” and programs in area churches in which I participated, and in that year of my return, so also did my more-or-less-faithful Ford.
At the outset of that second year I rented a single room in a house only minutes from campus, the home of a young couple and a charming little chap two or three years old who, when I had obtained my accordion, would occasionally knock at my door and ask me to play the “music thing”. Never overstaying his welcome, he would withdraw as shyly as when he came. His parents I scarcely ever saw at all, in any case not the husband, and the wife not much more than on the occasions when I paid the rent. I scarcely ever diverged from the short route between my room and the exit.
It was therefore a strange and painful surprise when on one such occasion the wife announced, with obvious discomfort, that I would have to leave, that I could no longer have the room. Trying to respond to my puzzled questions as to any reason, she finally said, with apologies, that her husband was jealous.
I was soon gone! But now temporarily homeless. Fortunately it became possible for me also to share a spacious second floor where my brother Leonard was living, he and others, including Harvey Moen, one of the two who comprised The Augustana Marimba Players that had become my friends in my freshman year. (Eilef Saetveit, the other Player, had graduated.) There we all had good camaraderie, a piano for our use, genuine comfort, and for me complete satisfaction through the remainder of that year.
While still renting alone there came to the campus, a la custom, a special speaker for a kind of Religious Emphasis Week, this time another man from LBI. It was H. G. Randolph, that dapper man with firm eschatological convictions. He accepted the invitation a couple times to rest in my room; and we conversed, I a bit shy in a sense that it had to be religious things we should talk about; so, with sophomoric certainty, I did some berating of the downtown First Lutheran Church where he was scheduled to preach the next Sunday morning. My comments were boorish, baseless, and suspicious, a common enough recourse when not well acquainted with the membership of a large and prosperous parish.
But Pastor Randolph bought it all; and on Sunday, from the pulpit – let ‘em have it! Strident and merciless, certain of “straight to hell” for many, it was an incredible performance.
A few evenings later, at a Luther League meeting, the kindly pastor, Dr. H. J. Glenn, felt obliged to comment on that sermon. His state of agitation was sharply visible as he paced the floor from one side of his lectern to the other, his comments sorrowful. And there sat I, with a sense of shame and regret almost to the point of bursting into a confession of what I suspected was all my fault. I am now, for the very first time, making that confession, but with some sense that it could very well have been for Randolph a typical sermon. I had never before heard him at a Sunday worship service. And...he was..in, with, and under LBI.
In that experience, and in more to come, were ingredients that I had to ingest intellectually after the LBI experience, but not all of them as difficult as that one to swallow.
Actually, an account of the Return of this Native to his alma mater and what followed in the ensuing three academic years, if viewed wryly, is adumbrated by two elections to student body offices (elections were held at mid-year but for 2-semester terms): when a sophomore – to the Religion Board; in his junior year – the Social Board (its duties: “..to take charge of the various all-school parties..”).
Cheerfulness, of a sort, had broken through again as it did in his freshman year after that ‘conversion’ in Minneapolis; and under his picture in the senior class section of the 1934 EDDA he was given this as his attribute: A man’s task is always lighter if his heart is light.
Indeed, too light. For there was little improvement over the freshman year in scholastic achievements, doubtless because academic tasks were treated too lightly. Or pushed aside by other activities sufficiently numerous and varied to provide both justifications and rationalizations for failure to attain any Laude attached to his final B.A. degree.
Image-building for special attention did subside, a steady seepage from spiritual self-importance. But I believe I made no conscious effort to reduce participation in religious activities; I only added others, usually related to music and low-key entertainment, not much of it of high sophistication; nor did I, in any determined way try to be a ‘different’ kind of pre-seminary student though that seems to have been an outcome. Wrote one fellow in my EDDA, “I have developed a vast amount of respect for you in the years I have known you and I wish there were more like you going to the ‘Sem’ instead of some of those that are there.”
Of course there were also political activities on and off campus in those very turbulent years I was in college, what with the Great Depression, the land-slide election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and, following that, the New Deal, that great water-shed in our nation’s political and social history.
Says the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The 99-day session of the 73rd Congress which began March 9, 1933, witnessed the most daring Presidential leadership in American history.....When Congress adjourned June 16, after heeding all his principal recommendations, the nation had been placed squarely upon a new path.”
My memories of actual and emotional involvement in the stunning developments are thin for the simple reason that so also was my dedication to understand them. Moreover, I suspect a ‘received Republican faith’ predisposed me to some concurrence with the disdain shown by substantial portions of society for “that man in Washington.” Had I by that time (November, 1932) attained my majority I would have cast my first vote for Hoover.
The president of Augustana when I enrolled in 1929 was one of several in Norwegian Lutheran Church history with the distinguished name of Preus, in this instance, Ove Jacob Hjort, but of course better known as O. J. H. Preus. The name’s initial distinction came with the immigration in 1851 of Herman Amberg Preus from Norway, one of two or three men of aristocratic origins and stature who had come with dedication to the intent of perpetuating among burgeoning communities of immigrants in Wisconsin the rites and traditions of Norway’s State Church and counterchecking the influence of free-wheeling Haugeaners already there.
That name of fame got also into politics: Jacob Aal Otteson Preus (J.A.O., of course), brother of O.J.H., was a governor of Minnesota. And his son, also “political” some would say, was a highly visible president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
Dr. Preus left in the year of my return, going to the sister college, Luther, in Decorah, Iowa, to be its president. I have but little memory of him, only that he was teacher of the religion course I was taking; and he sang a magnificent baritone solo in a cantata I sang in at First Lutheran Church. But I never had any conversation with him.
He was succeeded by Clemens Granskou, here given special attention and deliberately juxtaposed with the reference to Preus, to contrast my memories of the two men.
Granskou came from another sister school, Waldorf Junior College in Forest City, Iowa, where he had first come to teach but had become its president. He came thence from missionary service in China; prior to that, right after college but before seminary, he had been an air pilot in the US Navy. (Augustana ‘trained’ him for St. Olaf College! He went there in 1943.)
Dr. Granskou evoked in me a special appreciation, first in any case as a friend – which he was for perhaps most of the students – but also because in ways indefinable I believe he contributed significantly to my metamorphosis from self-conscious ‘LBI-ism’ to relaxed studentship. He was, I can suppose, a type of role model I needed in those years; I respected and admired his unpretentious wisdom, professionalism, and cordiality.
Of course I was and am pleased to have had, apparently, his approval of me as the right person for three or four referrals that served me well. The first of those occurred in my Year of Return, giving me a position for the summer of 1932 as a vacation bible school teacher and also as pinch-hitter for the church’s pastor while he was on a four-week vacation.
So, I was in Nebraska that summer, based in the tiny village of Maskell, and serving a three-point parish that included also the near-by towns of Wynot and Obert, all a short distance from the Missouri River and the southeast corner of South Dakota. I lived in the parsonage, except on the school days of three weeks in Wynot. And of course alone during the pastor’s absence.
That summer in Nebraska was wonderful! First of all, because I found myself thoroughly enjoying the new experience of being a teacher of children, actually feeling steadily that I could be and was effective. I certainly had splendid responses from virtually all of them. For them I could play the piano for singing which they did exuberantly – and lots of it; my teaching was entirely sincere, their obvious affection heart-warming.
I retained no personal records of those three schools, unfortunately, but recall that there were about twenty children in each, all within the basic elementary range, i.e., none of either kindergarten or high school age. We had a 9 to 3 daily schedule, Monday through Friday. At each we had at term’s end an evening program. Also well remembered was, at least for the most part, a good rapport with parents. I felt very nicely appreciated.
An interesting historical item: two or three children of one family were great grandchildren of and on the farm occupied by a man known widely in his day for this experience: finding his wife and several children brutally murdered by Indians he swore that he would thereafter shoot to kill any Indian he would ever encounter. His intent was known and Indians were careful to avoid him. The children in the Maskell school were descendants from his second marriage.
And there was the new experience of being, in effect, the acting pastor for about four weeks. The pastor, Robert Falk, and his family of small children were gone when I arrived; so he had left some written instructions for various procedures such as the worship services I would conduct – but none of that prepared me for what happened on my first Sunday in the Maskell church:
I was in the sacristy, trying prayerfully to compose myself while a prelude was being played, when there occurred a crash and screams inside the church – with good reason: a large slab of ceiling plaster had fallen directly on pews and on people seated there. Fortunately there were no serious injuries. We had only to sweep up the debris; the prelude and my reverie were resumed.
Finally entering the chancel, and following the rubric of the liturgy, I knelt before the altar and was about to begin reading the opening prayer when from behind my back came a male voice reading that very prayer. Fortunately, I had a dim recollection of having once heard about a custom from Norway that had the opening prayer always read by a klokker. The word means bell ringer or sexton but the official role was greater than that: it was chiefly a symbolic representation from the laity.
In any case, I was not entirely discombobulated, except that I had no recollection of what else such a person might do in the service – I waited for the other shoe to drop! I think his last act was the closing prayer but for that I was prepared because he came in sight before I turned to the altar. Understandably, that first service of mine was thereafter a frequent conversation subject, a good introduction for that good summer.
And it is recalled often, that initiation to the pastoral role, occasionally when I find myself absent-mindedly humming an insipidly sentimental song that has these opening lines:
In that little old church in the valley,
Where I first learned of sorrow and joy...
It’s certainly a silly overstatement if literally associated with the Maskell experience. And yet there are remembered a number of bits and pieces that in reveries, serious and otherwise, may be exalted to a status of ‘apertures to life’ (or self) and that were at least interesting if they did not, then or later, significantly contribute to more sobered assessments of myself and what I was professing and representing. Among them, these:
Item: The half-a-block row of buildings on its west side and the only buildings of Maskell’s ‘Main Street’, among them the shop that combined the community’s post office and the town’s one cafe, with three tables. It was where I would sit down to read my mail, which one day included the startling announcement of my sister Cora’s marriage to Bob Odell whom I did not then like but now remember lovingly after years of growing respect and affection. I changed; and now, since his death, miss him sorely.
Item: “Chicken every Sunday”? No; rabbit! At the Martin Lund home where I had many Sunday dinners, and much affection and respect from the gently cordial parents of equally gentle and genuinely nice upper-teenaged Mildred who obviously but not at all offensively wished for my love. My good-bye to her on a lastnight walk, telling her of my engagement, her trembling acceptance of that reality...the memory is guilt-free but strangely empathic. (Rabbit raising, by the way, was a household hobby.)
Item: The Ladies’ Aid where in one program turns were taken for reading Scripture passages, each after its reading identified as to book, chapter, and verse; and one of those fine women ending her reading, obviously from an abbreviated Genesis reference, citing it, devotionally, as verses from “Gentiles”. (I often, in varying moods, ponder piety sans perspicacity.)
Item: That fine man who had a mentally retarded nephew, in the pastor’s office one evening, puzzled and troubled by that ancient w h y of God’s ways with man, talking with me, that young ‘acting pastor’ who thereafter had another cause for squirming, recalling his presumption of understanding those “ways.”
Item: A sermon in which I fancied myself especially persuasive and effective, later telling an older pastor about it and catching from him a hint about the perils of homiletic hubris.
Item: The delightful middle-aged ‘character’, riding with me in my Ford on a rough gravel road who, when I said with facetious irony that my car “sure takes those bumps well, doesn’t it?” responded slyly, “Yeah – it hits all of ‘em.” He did, later, buy the car for twenty dollars. (There went my Gospel Team symbol.)
Once again, home on the farm for some days, then back to Sioux Falls and to my junior year at Augustana; but now there would be a life-style change for me in ‘working my way through college.’ There was this in the background:
Two miles north of our home farm was one always called the Williams farm, so named because the owner was the man who owned the Williams Piano Company in Sioux Falls. My last name at least was well known by Frank Williams himself (“F.T.”) and personally also by his son, Curtis, and daughter, Myna, who worked at the store. Moreover, I was viewed favorably because F.T. liked my father. And, I had been working for Axel. So I had an inside track for what was offered at the end of my sophomore year.
F.T. himself was seldom in the store, being very busy with other businesses, e.g. farms, real estate. The very large office building in which the piano store was located had also several other enterprises. Those included the offices of the city’s Board of Education, a funeral home’s embalming activity, a parking garage, and more. Among some business concerns – in those depression years – were uncollected accounts receivable, one of them a debt owed by a Coney Island cafe. For that one F.T. had this ingenious idea: I would be hired to work part-time for the piano store but compensated with meals at that cafe, the costs of which would be applied to debt retirement.
But also: since my chief responsibility would be the night-time ‘care and feeding’ of that office building’s huge furnace, I must live – and did then live – in a small cubicle right next to the furnace room, in order at required times to refill the hopper from which by means of an automatically operated screw coal was fed into the furnace. I also did janitorial work, and much more, all without any prescribed work schedule or hours. I would say I worked very hard for room & board that year!
But neither were there limits set on how much I could eat at the cafe, nor was there ever any follow-up information or question about what I was buying; and that, in that year, led me to start smoking cigarettes which I included with meal orders. Any rationale? Well, there had to be some interesting variety added to the menus available in a place that specialized in hot-dogs and chili con carne. But maybe there had been a submerged urge for some time – even before LBI? – that now was ... liberated.
It was not without pleasures or variety, that janitor job. Primarily, I liked my associates, excepting at times the chief executive officer who was not a member of the Williams family and could be a bit of a martinet. Two or three office and sales women to whose beck & call I was responsible were never ungracious; Myna was unfailingly kind, also Curtis though he shared with F.T. their other business responsibilities and was often absent. There was good friend Axel whom I would assist occasionally. Even the lewdly sensual chief laborer was at all times cheerfully interesting; I would occasionally help him in delivering or picking up pianos as well as in miscellaneous janitorial jobs.
Pianos accepted as trade-ins would usually require repair and tuning before resale, and I would often have the job of first disemboweling and cleaning them. An oldish pipe-smoking part-time tuner was often there at night and was always an interesting conversationalist. A young radio mechanic also worked some nights and there developed a friendship that brought me to his home for card-playing. Some Saturdays I scrubbed floors in offices of the Board of Education and there heard bantering of teachers who came in for special tasks. Into Axel’s shop would come band masters from area high schools. Yes, a variety of differently interesting people was a fine part of my....secular ambiance that year.
When I went with the college choir on its annual tour my brother Leonard took my place as the furnace’s care-taker and he was quite impressed by the difficulties of keeping clean, what with the dirty work and the basement toilet room that had only a wash basin for bathing. That and related messinesses I came to know very well, yet somehow came through the year without awareness of personality scars; and certainly with no improvement in my scholastic pursuits. I suppose I was naively philosophical about the gross incompatibility between the demands made upon me and my compensation; but I was really enjoying it all.
Perhaps I was similarly philosophical about the actual good fortune of having the job at all. The depression was by that time deep and life was plainly tough for many at the college, students and faculty alike. The kindly, perhaps a bit eccentric Business Manager, G.H. Gilbertson, actually became something of a legendary character for his incredible accommodations to impecunious students; and I was one myself who almost shamelessly took advantage of his readiness to defer tuition obligations (and in my last semester, the rental of a dormitory room).
This item was perhaps illustrative of the times: Augustana’s long-time piano teacher and music head, J. Earl Lee, in 1931, had taken a salary reduction when he left a high school teaching job to accept the college position, but before his first pay check there was announced salary reductions for the entire faculty. It was recalled for a college news story in the summer of 1991 when he and his wife were honored for a combined 99 years of service to Augustana Cohlege.
But perhaps as consequentially profitable for me as anything that year was my thrust into that world where workmen can be and do get barked at for poor performance of assigned responsibilities. It was, genuinely, a new experience for which I had not been – should I say – conditioned in any of my experiences up to that point in my life. And barked at I was, on two or three occasions, each time deservedly though not so appreciated within my notions at that time of higher obligations preventing me from proper attention to assigned tasks.
I did get nicely thanked, though, on the several mornings I drove the chief’s car from the store’s garage to his home and he then, enroute to work, would drop me off at the college.
There was no EDDA published in my Junior year. The reason was simple: not enough advertising revenue from business concerns, and certainly not enough financial support from either the students or the college. Not only was there an economic depression; all up and down the midwestern states there was drought, not least in South Dakota. They were plainly Hard Times those early thirties; we were all in an economic and climatological Dust Bowl.
But for all that – and in some sense – I think my year as an Augie Junior was a very good year. At any rate it seems good to me now in hindsight that there was underway most decisively that year the metamorphoses I intimated was epitomized by election in the middle of my Sophomore year to the Religion Board, and at the end of that term, to the Social Board.
Was I “back-sliding”, as LBI-ites et al might put it? One student did say so, curtly, as we passed each other one day in a library doorway, a woman I did not know at all well; nor could I then and there follow up with any conversation because she kept on walking. But of course I had to reflect then and thereafter on the experience. I had no reason to deem her a mere crank but perhaps reason enough at that moment to suspect I deserved the charge. I now add to that memory this post script: enough reasoning power to assess contextually such charges came later in life. Very much later. But never easily.
I did not play in the symphony orchestra that year, but do not recall why. Too busy at the piano store? Quite as likely I had tired of playing the sousaphone on which I never became comfortably proficient. I did, though, do ad hoc singing in male quartets, leading to my initiation of one that became designated official, i.e. we were called the Augustana College Male Quartet which then made a concert tour in the summer of 1933.
The first tenor initially – interestingly remembered in subsequent years – was the James Berdahl who in the fifties and sixties was the band director at the University of California in Berkeley. But when offered a place in a big dance band of our day, Jimmy Joy’s, he chose to go with them instead, to the great dismay of his father, the college’s registrar, who came to me and asked that I try to persuade his Jimmy to stay with the quartet. Jimmy was a genuinely versatile musician and particularly competent as a violinist. In the pleasant circumstance of my years as Western Regional Secretary for campus ministry, our residence in Oakland afforded a renewal of our college-days friendship.
So, in addition to all else that competed with scholastic pursuit that year, I took on the responsibility of planning an itinerary for our summer’s concert tour and doing the essential correspondence. It was a daunting challenge, not to say a foolhardy idea to plan a concert tour anywhere at all that year of dust storms, and – The Depression. Not anticipated was also the invasion in South Dakota that summer of grasshoppers, said at times to have caused slippery conditions on some highways!
The members of our quartet, besides myself as second tenor, were Earlan Erickson, first tenor; George Evenson, first bass, and Ingval Hatlen, second bass. George was pianist for the occasional solos Earlan and I sang. A classmate, he became my classmate also at Luther Seminary. From seminary he went to a parish in Canada, later to teaching at a Lutheran college and a theological seminary where he eventually became president. Having his entire career there, he early on became a Canadian citizen. We have remained friends, in annual communication, and have met at several reunions of college and seminary classmates.
Earlan, musically talented and witty, after a stint in the army of WW2, was employed, I learned somehow, on a Lake Michigan car ferry, later died, but I never learned any details about it. Once in Sioux Falls he went on stage at a local theatre’s Amateur Night as a stand-up comedian and did quite well. He might have done OK if he had pursued that role professionally but his spirit was too restless for consistent discipline. My last communication directly from him came when I was a pastor in Michigan. It was a letter written at a military base to tell me he was then a chaplain’s assistant. I remember it with poignant nostalgia.
Ingval also met death much too early, the consequence of injuries sustained when in his car and driving by night he hit a cow that came into his path. “Ing” was a specially good friend and my room mate on the tour. He owned the car in which we traveled, also the trailor for our luggage, was our treasurer who handled all expenses and ‘doled’ out what remained as profit if any at all. I had said I wanted him as my best man when I married but by that time he was gone. Another poignant memory!
Our concert tour was nearly in its entirety within South Dakota; the exceptions were just beyond the border inside North Dakota and just across the south border into – why, of course, Maskell, in Nebraska. There we met the counterpart quartet from Waldorf College one of whose members had lived there. It also had in its membership my Gospel Team friend, Eldon Christeson.
Now, as said above, South Dakota that summer was not only in the throes of a drought; hordes of grasshoppers were attacking what was not totally devastated by drought. The Sunshine State, as it is indeed called, ...noted for its cloudless skies..no Northern state has more days of sunshine... was having far too much of it that summer!
But we had a delightful tour, good reception and cordiality always, and interesting sightseeing. Our concerts, with one notable exception, were in churches where we also were given free-will offerings. The exception was in the Black Hills, at the annual 3-day (including July 4th) Belle Fourche Roundup, a rodeo. We sang for a huge bleacher crowd over the public address system.
My Senior year began in the pleasing room-mate association with Eldon Christeson who had come to Augustana – as many did after their two years at the Waldorf Junior College. We set up a light housekeeping arrangement in a room on the second floor of a private residence.
All went very well through the first semester; but why we ended that arrangement I simply cannot recall. It very likely was my own financial deficiency. In any case I moved to the college’s men’s dormitory where I could have the rent deferred, but also (what I had much wanted) a semester of dormitory experience. There certainly had been no diminution of friendship with Eldon. We had great times preparing meals and we had a camaraderie that
felt no need or obligation to renew or replicate any of the ol’ LBI spirit. That friendship had been good; this was no less so.
But the paucity in my remembrance of why I relocated is of a piece with what has to be embarrassingly large gaps in my recollections of just how I managed financial affairs throughout most of my college career. There undoubtedly were occasional checks from home, supplementing the hit-and-miss earnings from odd jobs found for me by the Svanoe brothers or otherwise obtained. But my lasting impression is that I was in considerable measure selfsupporting, that I did on my own do some scrounging for odd jobs, once, for example, did yard work to pay for dental services; and obtained some small personal loans. I eventually repaid them and my debt to the college, but shamefully long after graduation.
Up on campus, in addition to familiar routines, – and getting on with party-planning by the Social Board! – I came back into the symphony orchestra, but now I was to play its two kettle drums, and was perhaps a tad proud that Mr. Guderyahn had asked me to do so. My qualification, since I had no experience whatsoever, had to be my presumed ability to tune and retune the drums in cursu, so to say. That was its chief challenge; using the mallets was rather easily learned.
The drums had no quick-change mechanism; tuning before the beginning of a piece of music or for key changes within the music had to be acomplished by tightening or loosening several handles around the rims, all the while holding one ear down close to the vellum and with a mallet in the other hand tapping it very softly while attaining the desired note. The trickiest part was moving expeditiously from one note to the other despite full orchestral sounds all around me and without dependence on a pitch pipe.
Kettle drums were not required steadily in any orchestration and in some pieces not at all, so I had the additional assignment of occasionally playing also the large upright chimes. But I had many long ‘rests’. In those periods I could observe and attend to what was being played in the individual sections of that 65-piece orchestra, also watch – and envy! – the conductor. It was my finest experience thus far in life in a musical aggregation, excepting only the A Cappella choir. I probably had there my first intimations of a genuine desire to be a music conductor.
But now, in that Senior year, there began in me the business of a course-correction, with anticipations of a career in traditional parish ministry dimmming in favor of some type of social work. Initially there was an inchoate vision of welfare agencies that came with my studies in Sociology, especially in a course with Social Work as its title. Professor Albert Tollevs, our one and only sociologist, in doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, had observed the pioneer work of Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr with the then-famous Hull House; his accounts of it became one facet of my developing vision.
Class visits to the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls and the insane asylum in Yankton gave additional stimulation to my growing social concerns. But stimulation of a different sort came when I did a term paper project which included a day spent at an ‘orphanage’ near Beresford. By that time in life I had had not only that summer of vacation bible school teaching in Nebraska but lots of jolly times with nephews and nieces for whom I had become a well-admired entertainer with my self-accompanied singing of fun songs. So, in the Home’s dining room, when the children were eating their evening meal, I went into my act, got the children so excited that the director, with my consent, announced a special program by me after supper.
And there, in a word, I was a smash hit. But in my heart I felt that I was given enormous love out of love-starved hearts. For they were, after all, orphans, undoubtedly aware, probably painfully so, of their parentless lives. To see and sense their response to me while also laughing at my foolishness and singing the songs I taught them was one of the most moving experiences I had had in a public act of any kind. There developed in me an urge to consider for a profession the kind of work I had been observing that day. In any event Social Work – of some kind.
But not without the more-or-less-planned-on seminary attendance. There could be, I was thinking: Seminary – Ordination – some parish experience, then – Social Work – with children – if possible. It was indeed inchoate dreaming.
And became no less so as I approached the year’s second and my last semester in college, because there was...The Depression, by then a serious threat to my dream of entering the seminary in the foreseeable future.
Then occurred another idea that seemed to offer relief from my bleak prospects: I could seek and secure for a year or two a teaching job in a high school, earn enough to afford a later entrance to Luther Seminary where the costs were relatively low. But to qualify for high school teaching I would need Education courses that I had not taken, indeed more than I could get in one semester. I would have to go to summer school.
I made the plunge, loaded my second semester curriculum with all I could get of Education theory without jeopardizing Major and Minor requisites, added a teaching job to my bag of hopes.
Qualifications I might offer to a high school in a resume took no form nor did it become necessary; the college’s Placement Office apparently had no supply of vacancy notices; neither did I have any word or inkling of job prospects.
I made an attempt then to break into the state’s burgeoning welfare services, writing to a gentleman I understood was a politically appointed regional director; he had been the owner and operator of my home town’s leading general store but had been forced out of business by the depression. He knew my family, perhaps would also remember me and give personal attention to my application for a position. I got no response whatsoever.
How desperate or how threatened by despair I was as my last semester wore on is now comfortably veiled in obscure recollections, or perhaps by selected recollections, especially this one: one day less than a month before Commencement word came to me that President Granskou wanted to see me. I went to his office immediately.
There with him was a pastor I had seen at one or two Luther League conventions but did not know personally. And the purpose of my summons? He, pastor Henrik Belgum, had asked for someone he could employ for a summer of bible school teaching in the three congregations of his parish at Flandreau, SD. I was offered the job.
Now, there was a quandary! But of very brief duration: I then and there accepted the offer, deliberately abandoning the summer school plan, therewith also the idea of securing a high school teaching position or other fulltime job; and therewith also (I knew somewhere within me) I was deciding to apply that summer for admission to the seminary. And did so.
It was, I became assured increasingly, a significant and good cross-road decision. As we were wont to say in those days, it gave me peace. And another nice memory of having once again been honored by a Granskou recommendation. He knew I was aiming for the seminary but not, I think, that I was intending to defer my entrance. Much less did he – or I – envision how much I would come to appreciate what gave me two good summers in Flandreau and one of the finest of friendships: with “Dutch” Belgum. A “good decision”? It was most simply a lucky break!
Actually, in that Senior year I was to some extent more in training for the ministry than for either high school teaching or welfare work; for remarkably, not to say absurdly, I was one of a very few pre-sem students who would occasionally deliver homilies or meditations for a daily half-hour radio program allowed to the college by a local station and produced by remote control in an upper room of the Ad Building. It was ‘live’ and unsupervised. To be sure, the homilies were not exclusively by students; but we were indubitably beneficiaries of what my friend Axel at Williams Piano Company wryly observed about much radio programming: “All you need to get on the radio these days is a lot of nerve.”
So then, in that summer of 1934, I went to my second stint as a Vacation Bible School teacher, this time nearer home. It led to a repeat the following year.
Flandreau was about 35 miles northeast of my home. With a population of just under 2,000 it was of South Dakota’s towns eighth in size. At its northern edge was located one of the state’s three tax-supported Indian Schools; and scattered in the community were a few families of American Indian connections.
I had in my school in Flandreau a 12-year old girl from one such family. She was for several years afterwards remembered because of her wondrous charm and beauty; but she is now remembered also with deeply pained sorrow because more years later I learned that as she matured she met head-on a culture clash and racial discrimination that had an impact so devastating she – at the last word then – had fled into prostitution.
Except for that sorrow I have retained really nothing but good memories from those two summers, chiefly, quite likely, because of the good friendship with Belgum.
Just five years older than I, and three years out of the seminary, he was in his first parish. And yet unmarried; but in my second summer there he had begun courting the woman he later married, Helen Glenn, daughter of the highly respected pastor of First Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls.
From him I had my first and only genuine instructions in golf; but also genuine stimulation in thoughtful reflection. For he was a man of both physical and mental greatness, a graduate of Luther College at Decorah, Iowa, where he had been an excellent student as well as a 4-Letter athlete in baseball, football, and basketball. But quietly modest to the point of shyness.
Residing yet in the parish’s parsonage was the venerable Johan Anton Blilie who until his retirement prior to Belgum’s coming had been the local pastor – since 1880! He had never served elsewhere. An immigrant from Norway at age 15, he also had never become genuinely accomplished in English though he had been using it in worship services. It can be well imagined what a contrast it was for that three-point parish to have a man of Dutch Belgum’s stature as its pastor. And I in my two summers there shared the delight of young people in having him and that young college graduate in their associations with church activity.
The parsonage was my regular residence while teaching in Flandreau, also on weekends when teaching in the rural congregations where otherwise I was ‘farmed out’ to various homes. At the parsonage was also the equally venerable wife of Pastor Blilie plus their only offspring, a maiden daughter who was then retired from a career as county school superintendent. Belgum himself had only a rented room in a private home where he also had some meals prepared for him by a gentle elderly widow. Also in that home was an apparently dissolute middle aged son whom I saw but rarely.
Pastor Blilie died within the week of my return in the summer of 1935. It was my first experience in the presence of a dying person, and a moving experience to be there when Belgum in genuine loving concern placed his hand on the old man’s brow and pronounced the Aaronic benediction. The man had tried to speak to those of us at his side but gave up with a sighed Aa yah. For his funeral I was asked by Katherine not only to sing a Norwegian solo but to sit with her and her mother. We were the only ‘family’.
They were indeed two splendid summers that I had in Flandreau. For again, as in Maskell, Nebraska, I found myself having fine rapport with children, also with their families, and especially, I daresay, with teen-age young people.
That self-assessment seemed warranted in my second summer when I became a participant, indeed a bit of a leader, for a Bible Camp, the first for the “Circuit” of parishes to which the Flandreau parish belonged. I had a way with that bunch of teenagers that Belgum one time called Henry’s satellites when I and my guitar did get literally followed in a spontaneous and jubilant parade from somewhere to somewhere else. And one midnight, drenched in a rugged thunderstorm, I was the only adult for a while with the task of calming about thirty girls huddling under the large tent I had to keep fastened to its moorings.
That second summer, at the end of school, I was given as a farewell gift a weeks-old puppy dog which got its permanent home on our family’s farm. It was not from any aggregation of people, only from that dear Indian girl, Naomi, and two of her friends.
And in the summer of 1936, when I was employed elsewhere but had an opportunity to stop for a visit with Dutch Belgum, he took me along to visit mutual friends in the jewelry store which they operated. While I was otherwise engaged in the shop Dutch conversed with the owners, then came to me with a dainty glass ash tray and asked if I liked it well enough to have it as a present for my wedding that had then been scheduled.
It was of course a ruse, but not at all a clue for what followed: when I left the next day I had in my car a parcel which when opened after our marriage revealed a twelve-person set of Fostoria glassware. I had to infer that the store operators gave him a substantial discount; for it was the most elaborate of our wedding presents. But in that Depression Era, even after a clergy discount, it had to be a far more costly present than that good Dutch Belgum could really afford.
He and Helen were married in 1937 and also in that year they moved to Spokane, WA, to the parish where Belgum served the rest of his life. In later travels as campus ministry executive I visited in his home, sensed that His last years were troubled by a failing heart, but as much as anything by the fact that he never again received a ‘Call’ to another parish. He was not the kind to blow his own horn, much less to beg a bishop for a change.
Meantime, in that summer of 1934, I entered into correspondence that got this initial response, dated June 13, 1934, from the president of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul:
The one problem presented in your letter – a social service course at the University, coupled with a theological course – would have to go to the Faculty for a final decision...The Faculty has been rather strict in the interpretation of this rule...
As to an opening among the choirs of the Twin Cities I cannot say. There are many musical boys and usually the upperclassmen have priority in securing positions as directors. Do not let this discourage you, however....
With kind greetings,
T. F. Gullixson, President
My ambition exceeded my grasp of course, and the denial was no surprise. Nor unfortunate. I could call my idea ill-advised, and perhaps so; I had consulted no one else.
The Faculty’s decision did hold open the possibility of later study at the university in lieu of the year of internship that would normally follow the second year of study. Internship, incidentally, i.e. a year of supervised service in an assigned parish, was a newly adopted requirement: my class would be only the second one to come under it. But as will come into later accounts, by that time I most certainly had other designs.
My admission to the seminary was announced in a letter dated August 2; and it included these routine stipulations:
The Junior year is a year of testing. Definite matriculation comes at the end of a successfully completed firstyear...Under this arrangement and by stress of financial conditions, loans from the Student Aid Funds are not available to Juniors...the former arrangement whereby certain tuition moneys paid at our colleges would be refunded year by year at the Seminary is still in abeyance...
And also this:
With our “Welcome to the Seminary” which goes out to you we would spread no illusions as to conditions. Thirty members of the three last graduating classes are still without permanent calls. We say this not to turn you back but that you may go forward, knowing that the future looks a bit different than the past in our Church has been.
So what? Well, maybe “he knew what it meant – but he went.”
There were six of us in my class at Augustana who entered the seminary in the fall of 1934: Edward Bersagle, George O. Evenson, J. David Larsen, Raymond M. Olson, M. Harold Rye, and I. (All completed the course, received ‘calls’, and after graduating entered parish ministry.)
Three or four of us, just prior to departure from Sioux Falls (we were all to ride to St. Paul in Ray Olson’s car) had a visit with always-good-friend, Rev. O. G. Malmin, pastor then at the East Side Lutheran Church. All of us had found him ever ready to lean back in his chair for good conversation. I in particular had his interest, a special interest when he learned that I was engaged to marry the girl he often praised as the brightest of the students he had taught at Luther Academy in Albert Lea, Minnesota. (There is much more to come in these memoirs about him – and of course about that bright student!)
On this occasion he expressed concern for how well fortified financially we were for seminary attendance. He often recalled thereafter, amusedly, that I in response took from my bill fold what appeared to be only a packet of receipts for payments made; there was only a very small amount of cash. Nor could I report savings at a bank. But apparently I could be light hearted about it, as was perhaps too often the case in those days.
At any rate the future seemed not too daunting. Moreover, I had hope for part-time employment at Augsburg Publishing House in Minneapolis. President Granskou had encouraged me and – again! assured me of his recommendation. I may have pinned some hope also on the fact that in my role as superintendant of the branch Sunday School on the Augustana campus I had been a steady customer of Augsburg; even better, the one who had finally cleared up the debts accumulated by my predecessor in that role. Somebody up there might know me. But I think nobody did.
This is how it turned out. Presenting myself to Augsburg’s manager, Randolph Haugan, and telling him of Dr. Granskou’s encouragement, I got this nice welcome: “If Clem Granskou recommends you, you must be all right.” So I became a part-time employee for Saturdays and occasional afternoons, also some evenings in the Christmas rush season, plus a couple of evenings for massive relocation of books. Unfortunately the job ended after Christmas; but it did get me comfortably started as a sem student; and even paid for a very-much previously owned Model T Ford coupe.
Anent those five classmates who with me entered parish ministry after graduation: Ed Bersagle remained a parish pastor but died at a relatively early age. George Evenson, as reported previously (a fellow member of the Augustana Male quartet), became a Canadian citizen and the president of a Lutheran seminary. Dave Larson was parish pastor in all but 4 years as military chaplain and two as hospital chaplain. Ray Olson became Stewardship Secretary for the church body, thereafter president of California Lutheran college. Harold Rye, parish pastor, rather early became afflicted with a muscular ailment and confined to a wheel chair.
Luther Seminary in my day was the one and only theological seminary of The Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, i.e., that church’s school for training pastors. But as will be recounted in a later story, the ethnic appellation was eliminated in 1946 with a change of name to The Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC). Then in 1960 its roots became entwined with those of other nation-wide but ethnically oriented church bodies – Danish, German, Swedish that merged to become The American Lutheran Church. Another and far greater merger occurred after my resignation from the clergy office; that too will be recounted later.
My seminary was of course an all-male institution, with nearly all the students living in its dormitory, actually the 2nd and 3rd floors of our only building. Only married students lived elsewhere, a nearly endangered species in those days. They were generally older men who were married before applying for admission or did so in their senior year. Marriage while a student had to have the president’s approval. It was not encouraged.
Actually, except for faculty residences, the seminary’s entire enterprise was housed in that building, a stately Romanesque structure with traditional Doric columns accenting its broad front entrance, all in graceful view at the top of a gentle hill and at the end of a long sidewalk that came up from Como Avenue.
No more than that building was required because the NLCA, as also those with which it merged later, was a small church body. The photo of the entire seminary ‘family’ in my first year had 93 students and 8 faculty. Even so, in the 30’s decade it was the second largest of the nearly thirty Lutheran theological seminaries in North America. All of them at that time, it may be added, were having straitened financial problems but resisting cost-saving mergers because of traditional reluctance to disengage from perceived obligations to respective histories.
For us at Luther Seminary ours was a genuinely fine communal life. Ray Olson was my roommate in our first year, but all fellow students were good friends. Camaraderie in our student-managed boarding club, for exammple, was jolly, at times raucous, but at evening meals quietly reverent for informal vespers. All singing was always splendid, there or at daily chapel worship services. Those were occasions for sensing the actuality of what might, in the lofty language of liturgy, be denoted a “goodly fellowship.” There may not have been anything in all my later years that was qualitatively comparable in fraternal association.
But a ‘saintly’ fellowship it was not, in any case not as that term is popularly construed. Nor were all the men of the same stripe. Paraphrasing 1984’s line, all were equally pious (also a term with flexible connotations) but some were more equal than others. Or less! Some there were who displayed evangelical concern about impiety perceived in others; and then of course those at a sort of opposite pole. Yet a goodly fellowship did indeed prevail. For me, with memories of an LBI-spirit meaning of spirituality, it was, well, different. But that was Okay.
True to its official identity (and history), the seminary was effectively bi-lingual, with a considerable number of the students able to use Norwegian in varying degrees; most of the students had it in their ancestry. Those able to speak it were all but required to take the ‘bi-lingual’ course of study which included enrollment in Norse Homiletics for assistance in using the language in pastoral care, and practice in Norwegian preaching if that were at all possible. I was one of those; and therewith made progress from my home-spun, colloquial dialect to the more refined bog sprog (book language).
Our three-year course had one other bifurcation: one route, known as the Practical Course, led to a Candidate of Theology degree; the other, called the Degree Course, gave the academic degree of Bachelor of Theology which would be acceptable in other institutions offering advanced degrees.
To earn that academic degree there had to be a three-year B average and, in the senior year, submission and acceptance of an approved thesis. If a thesis were not submitted prior to graduation the degree would be the CTh; but it could be submitted later, which I did. The courses were really the same for all.
Basically, the seminary course of study was classical, its origins and roots in European Scholasticism modified by post-Reformation theology; and, within its theological and historical perspective, rigidly logical. At its core was posited a divinely revealed ordo salutis (i.e. the way of salvation) which was thematically elaborated in dogmata (i.e. dogmas) that were shown to be ujder-written and substantiated in the Bible. The Bible was indisputably The Word of God but in human language and imagery , therefore most definitively understood when studied minutely in the manner that is called Exegesis.
But exegesis, a Latin term meaning to dig out, was held to be limited as a study of Scripture if not proceeding from an understanding of the original Greek or Hebrew texts. Now, in practical reality few students could improve on what professional biblical scholars had already accomplished, therefore the use of one’s translating proficiency, such as might have been attained while at the seminary, likely had greatest attraction for the delight of coming to concurrence with what had already been done for them. Some, of course, after graduation went to university-associated divinity schools for advanced degrees and there found a sterner challenge for their proficiencies.
Nearly all in my class had had some Greek study in college; but none had studied Hebrew. Therefore all enrolled in an afternoon faculty-taught Hebrew class (classes otherwise were in forenoons only). Elementary Greek was taught by an upperclass student. In reality there were but few who acquired competence in Hebrew, and certainly not I. It became my fair certainty that only a tiny number of those who entered parish ministry ever used Hebrew in their exegesis of Old Testament texts; New Testamant Greek had a better chance because of a more inherent attraction.
It can be understood that a theological seminary, certainly if Lutheran and in America, exists to train pastors. It was why nearly all the Lutheran ones were founded in the earliest stages of the immigrations that produced their constituencies.
That intent was never much diminished. In that sense they were and they are ‘trade schools’.
But Lutheranism, as is so often asserted with pride, was “born in a university” and, generously viewed, has not been hesitant in observing goals of serious scholarship as basic to proper preparation for the clergy profession. Their seminaries therefore, by earliest intent and design, sought to be academically respectable institutions of scholarly pursuit.
That tradition was operative in my seminary’s two-path curriculum, calling one The Practical Course, the other The Degree Course, notwithstanding the reality that there was but little difference between the two. The distinction was in those two important special requirements for a Bachelor of Theology degree: a superior academic grade point, and documented demonstration of competence in scholarly research and literary expression.
But as also implied, contentment with the ‘lesser’ degree – if that were so in any student – could not be construed to permit a lesser emphasis on academic dilligence. The seminary’s two-fold raison d’etre was realized not in two differing emphases but in a single emphasis of the view that the ministerial ‘calling’ required professional competence, especially in the pulpit but also in the full range of pastoral care. Evangelical zeal could not by itself alone suffice for such competence.
It is to say that though the seminary to which I was admitted as a student in 1934 was quite primarily in the business of preparing men for parish ministry, it was yet well within the tradition of pursuing scholarly excellence. Even the courses of ‘how-to’ substance, such as Homiletics, i.e. Art of Preaching, it might be said, demanded more of research than of actual practical exercise (though in my Senior year we did have a visiting speech professor for a few afternoon sessions).
It was incumbent in the Freshman year (the other years were Middler and Senior) that students be associated with a Twin Cities church, there to participate in a general way in parish activities under its pastor’s direction; but selection of the parish was informal, by invitation either from the pastor or, as in my own case, from an upperclass fellow student.
Finally, upgrading the institution’s Practical intent, there was initiated in 1933 the Internship to follow the Middler Year. Here there was virtually no choice to be made by the student; nor exceptions to the rule unless not enough parishes became available. Exceptions might also, in rare instances, be made for older men whose prior experience was accepted as adequate fulfillment of the internship’s purpose.
In my first year there was yet one professor who lectured in the Norwegian language, but then only to members of the senior class. He, Marcus O. Bøchman, had also been president of Luther Seminary and of its predecessor seminary from 1917 to 1930, and was now 85 years old. He had remained on the faculty, but with diminishing responsibility not only because of his age but because he could use only that one language. But in all respects he was a man of great dignity and of scholarship worthy of the high esteem given him.
He was born in Norway, of course. But so also were five others of the faculty though none of them was lecturing in Norwegian in my time, indeed quite the contrary with respect to two or three of them who were remarkably articulate and free from accent. Notable in that respect was Carl M. Weswig, D.D. (b.1873), professor of Church History, and doubtless the man most often imitated by students and graduates, so colorful was he in voice, style, and forceful delivery. But he was inimitable.
Not so inimitable was the core of his History, with its genesis in Creation, its traceable movement in The Preparation of the World for Christ, and thereafter fulfillment in Christ’s Body, The Church. For example, all that was concurrent with Old Testament accounts, such as – and perhaps particularly – Greek civilization, wera for him preparatory intimations of the coming Incarnation in Christ. It was all standard orthodoxy but in Weswig’s scenario the B.C. era was dramatically miraculous. So also, I suppose, was his perception of A.D. history but my recollections of those lectures are dim in comparison.
Also exceptionally articulate in English though born in Norway (in 1879) was Gustav Marius Bruce – BS, CT, BA, MA, BD, STD, PhD, DD! He listed them all, and much more, in the Vita he submitted for the 1952 edition of ELC’s Biographical Directory of Pastors: one entire page in a volume which on all other pages had four or five vitae. His encyclopedic mind was awesome, his personality a mixture of churlishness and stubborn pride that was held in check by a quite well-modulated patience with students. It was clearly peers, colleagues, and ecclesiastical authorities that stirred the paranoiac impatience for which he was notorious. His teaching field was New Testament, of which he probably could recite large portions from memory. In Greek!
Nearly as articulate but not as memorably effective were the other three foreign-born teachers: M.J. Stolee DD (b.1871); Jacob Tanner STD (b.1865); and Mons Wee CT (b.1871). Stolee, former foreign missionary, had Missions and Norse Homiletics as teaching area; Tanner was professor of Dogmatics and Christian Education; Wee taught Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis. Tanner and Wee were prolific writers of books and monographs, Tanner in English, Wee mostly in Norwegian. Though none attained a university doctorate, each actually undertook impressive amounts of advanced studies in both foreign and American universities after appointment to the seminary professorship. So also did Weswig.
In 1936 (when I was on internship) there came to the faculty Dr. Herman Amberg Preus, a cultured patrician and scion of one of Norway’s ‘blue-blood’ pioneers who had come to Wisconsin as missionaries from the state church – as it seemed – to counteract reputed excesses of Haugeaner missionaries who were organizing congregations for the burgeoning communities of Norse immigrants.
Herman’s grandfather (and namesake), before emigrating in 1851, had been a teacher in an elite Latin School and military academy for officers, was himself a son of that school’s president, thus well slated for a distinguised career in Norway’s capitol city, then Christiania, later Oslo. In Wisconsin, inter alia, he was one of seven who, in 1853, organized the ‘synod’ that was the beginning of Norwegian Lutheranism’s most theologically conservative church body in America.
His descendants ‘followed in his train’, generally in church service but also in political and educational affairs. Or both. Items: His son, Christian Keyser, became a president of Luther College. And he in turn sired yet another president of that college, OJH, who was first at Augustana; sired also JAO, a governor of Minnesota; and JCK, long-time Education Secretary of the NLCA; and Herman, the youngest. A son of the governor, another JAO, became president of the Missouri Synod while concurrently OJH’s son was president of The American Lutheran Church and a daughter was the wife of the then-president of the seminary. What a family!
So, I had Herman Preus as teacher in my Senior year. He had come with a PhD from Edinburgh University, had also studied at universities in Oslo, Leipzig, and Paris; preceding all that, he had attained a Law Degree from the University of Minnesota. And immediately prior to his seminary appointment he had served eight years as pastor of a distinguished church in Minneapolis. He was Professor of New Testament Exegesis, Symbolics (i.e. the study of creeds), and Liturgics.
Not surprisingly, it was in his class, as I recall, that we had the first real introduction to theological emphases initiated by European theologians who were breaking new ground in biblical studies and research, e.g. “Historical Criticism”. It was not intended that we be favorably influenced but that we be forewarned of their impact. “Liberalism” was, in all our religious speech, calculated to be a pejorative term. But Dr. Preus was ever a gentleman as well as a theologically conservative scholar. It is pleasant to remember that he, the youngest of my seminary teachers, remained a cordial personal friend in ensuing years.
Heading the faculty and seminary was the very Lincolnesque gentleman, Thaddeus Franke Gullixson, born in 1882, president since 1930. Notwithstanding an austere appearance and manner, associations with him in a class room or in his office left no doubt in my mind about a warmth of spirit and of courtesy that made him for me the most highly esteemed seminary personality. His rhetoric and voice, in magnificent combination, matched his appearance and served well a clear and conservative mind*
But there was more to our lives as seminarians, much more for some of us, than the delights and disciplines of theological study. In my own case there was, centrally, The Luther Seminary Male Choir, comprised of about thirty students, managed and directed by persons elected from among and by its members.
One brochure noted that all were carefully selected from the student body (the try-outs were comprehensive) and that “Nearly all...have had several years of training with college singing organizations such as the St. Olaf College Choir, the Schola Cantorum of Luther College, the Augustana College Choir, and the Concordia College Choir.” In short, it was good! Within the choir there was also a quartet for purposes that were mostly informal and for incidental entertainment. I was second tenor with the quartet in my Senior year.
In addition to occasional concerts in the Twin Cities area and from a local radio station there was one tour of about ten days duration each year, in my time no farther away than Chicago and generally in midwest churches. In my second year I was its manager with responsibility for planning the itinerary, transportation by chartered bus, and in cooperation with host churches our accommodations enroute. Free will offerings covered costs. Traveling with the choir on such tours would be a member of the faculty who would deliver a homily in an intermission. In my management year we had Dr. Gullixson with us.
Also, for my musical interests: in my first year, at the church where I was doing my assigned participation, I was allowed to organize and direct a small choir of teen-age girls as an adjunct of the choir directed by the seminary student who invited me there, Julius Quello. It was my very first experience in directing a choral group; it went well, and of course I enjoyed it.
Of incidental interest for my ‘varieties of church experiences’, this church, St. Paul’s Lutheran, was decidedly Haugeaner in origin and emphasis, its pastor, C. K. Solberg, a staunch proponent of all that that movement represented in history.
Another illustrative extra-curricular musical activity: with two other seminary friends in that first year I participated in a local church choir’s preparation and presentation of an Easter Cantata, of itself of no special significance except that we were invited to some nice parties and met interesting friends.
In my second year I became the employed director of the choir at (what was then called) an Augustana Synod church, meaning that it had a Swedish origin, ergo, was not officially connected with my seminary. Its name was Bethany, its pastor, Carl J. Okerbloom. That too went very well and I was well regarded. Moreover, I attained additional affection when, on my own initiative and without additional compensation, I organized a choir of housewives. The results were memorable only in the women’s enjoyment. (I still have the suitcase given me as a fare-well gift from the two choirs though it long ago ended its usefulness except as a memento from my real beginning in choir directing.)
Good fortune came my way yet more in the Middler year for I had been chosen by Augsburg Publishing House to be its sales representative at the seminary, meaning that I set up a modest book store in an anteroom of my seminary quarters. In point of fact – or if hazy memory serves me well – the appointment really followed a recommendation from our student body officers who had nominal administrative authority for distributing appointments to in-house positions. That occurred at the end of my first year.
I would earn commissions from sales of text books as well as a variety of other literature stocked in my ‘shop’, and of course transport all from the Minneapolis store. For that I was prepared with that much-used Model T Ford coupe I had purchased with money earned earlier at Augsburg.
I had bought it from a fellow student and was my very first car purchase (other than the cooperatively owned car of the LBI Cospel Team). It too has a store of memories, one of which may as well be told here as an addendum to extra-curriculars in my sem days. It has an oft-recalled-and-retold post script.
Freed for vacation right after our Christmas concert at Bethany, I drove my Ford to Albert Lea, thence with my fiancee Phelva now as passenger, went on towards South Dakota where we were to celebrate Christmas with my family. The night was frigid, my coupe’s heater inadequate, but worse: there was engine trouble which had to get repaired – and was, by a kindly mechanic in a small town in southern Minnesota, sometime near midnight.
It was near daybreak, Christmas Day, when we arrived in my parental home. We were expected; but there was no reception committee and we went immediately to our assigned bedrooms. But our arrival had not been unnoticed, as we learned later. Oscar and Edna, already there, had heard us. And Edna, Oscar told later, had said so pityingly: “Too bad – they have to go and sleep in separate beds.”
At the Middler year’s end, another good turn by President Granskou: a summer job as college repesentative to find and visit prospective students. But in this instance there was an assist from Ray Olson who had been given the position of director of student solicitation, having had such work the previous summer. He encouraged me to apply. For that also I would need a car, and clearly one better than my weakening Ford which I then got rid of, though how I do not recall.
So then with yet another used car, a Chevrolet ‘sport model’ coupe I had purchased from a seminary student, I spent the summer in eastern and northeastern South Dakota following up leads to high school graduates who could be prospective Augie students. Was I successful? Probably not notably; nor did I have any report or evaluation of results. Recalled only is a very dry summer in South Dakota, the deep Depression, and most prospects indicating need for financial assistance in order to attend college. It was nice work but left in me no sense of pride of accomplishment.
Here now I tell about a truly curious pair of experiences while a seminary student: First, in my Freshman year, in the week of my return from Christmas vacation I became ill with Mumps. And next year, in exactly the corresponding week, I came down with Scarlet Fever.
In each case I was shipped off to St. Paul’s Ancker Hospital and its contagious diseases section, it being contrary to the city’s health regulations to remain in a dormitory. My sem room was fumigated after each departure; a vehicle from the hospital had come for me, but at whose orders I did not know though I presume the doctor who diagnosed my illness had initiated the actions. (He had made the House Calls.) Nor did I know then or afterwards what procedures had been involved in having the costs covered by the Ramsey County in which the seminary was located.
In neither illness was I really sick; but with the Mumps I apparently without awareness of it had the condition referred to as “went down” and became in that teaching hospital a subject for instruction to classes of medical students. I had felt no testicular discomfort nor did I have any ill consequences, only memories of a rather relaxed interim.
It was so also in my second Ancker Hospital ‘visit’. A sem friend had brought to me my table top radio; a nurse had been persuaded to sneak in some cigarettes; and comfort was enhanced by the additional coincidence that during most of my two weeks there the Twin Cities had a record-breaking cold spell in which the temperature hovered near 30 degrees below zero every day!
Thus came my occasional humor line about When I Was A Seminary Student: in my first year I got Mumps, in my second year, Scarlet Fever; and in my third year I got married!
But that now leads to the finest break of all in my Middler year. There came the afternoon in April when all of us in that class hung around in the library because it was across the hall from the door of the president’s office. We were waiting for the faculty to emerge from a meeting to make internship assignments.
They finally came out and dispersed, leaving only President Gullixson among us, with a list in his hands. We were not many so the situation was very informal. He gave to this or that one his assignment but I, a bit shy, had held back from asking for mine. Worried? Perhaps so. In any case I had no expectation at all. Anything could happen.
But jolted and staggered was I when he turned to me and said “And you will go to Central Lutheran in Minneapolis.”
“Central Lutheran”! It was – I think all would have agreed – the grand prize of intern assignments in any year. But for me it was more than a splendid assignment. For that evening I would make a Long Distance Call, a bit of a rarity in those days, to say to Phelva, Now we can get married!
But about that time Phelva’s father was ill, and as it turned out, in the final stages of bowel cancer, though that condition was determined only in the autopsy after his death on June 23 at University Hospital in Minneapolis.
He had been brought to that hospital on May 16 for observation and I visited him there. It was my last conversation with him, and memorable not only because of his death so soon thereafter (he had gone home, then returned to the hospital) but because he tried then to indicate to me his joy in the very new knowledge that Phelva and I were now planning our marriage.
Yes, tried. For Arthur Jerlow, my prospective father-in-law, for all his sometimes blustery optimism and hearty cheer, was towards me sort of shy in the manner so common among respectful church laity in the presence of ministers; and to have one as his son-in-law was probably for him a near-awesome prospect. It was perhaps not altogether strange that despite the five years of my relationship to his family he and I did not know each other very well. And my visits there were fairly infrequent and brief.
As a matter of fact, and in my way, I was perhaps about as shy as he. (And as other prospective sons-in-law I came later to know very well!) So our conversation at his hospital bedside was rather stilted; but I knew then, and later cherished that sense, that he was very pleased that day that I was to marry Phelva.
That more-or-less uneasy ‘layman’ had become impressed also by his daughter’s LBI-inspired spirituality to the extent that he had undertaken under her persuasive suggestion the Head-of-Family propriety of reading lessons at breakfast time for what was highly touted in the churches as Family Altar.
It was not a relaxed experience when – and perhaps because – I was there at the table but it was with an earnestness that I in subsequent years occasionally recalled as illustrative of efforts by some church members to Do what was presumed to be right acts and signs of religious devotion. I came to be not at all amused, only retrospectively compassionate for him and for his kind, when observing mispronunciations and hesitations of sincere church members amidst determined efforts to make their devotions sound, well....devout. (But also, I would add, I could be pleasantly impressed by those who do it....ease-ly.)
At school’s end, soon after that hospital visit, I went on to my new job as a field representative for Augustana College, not at all aware of Mr. Jerlow’s condition which deteriorated rapidly into bowel obstruction. Of course I went to Albert Lea for the funeral, sang two solos at the church service.
That, I note now with a continuing sense of the tragedy, was only about a year after I had also been there, for the funeral of the eldest son, Arvid, an unwitting victim of diabetes which in all innocence he and the family had thought to be the flu. He was twenty one, and at the outset of a career in commercial art.
Our wedding date was set: August 23, 1936. That was on a Sunday, so chosen chiefly because of the prior decision to have but a very modest ceremony, therefore little more than the exchange of vows at the altar after the 11:00 a.m. Worship Service in Albert Lea’s First Lutheran Church. There was added a vocal duet by Phelva’s sister and brother-in-law, Ardis and Ernie Egertson, a heartfelt recognition of Ardis’s gorgeous contralto, memories of hearing them sing together while out with them on car rides in the country, and numerous other associations. Our only attendants were Phelva’s sister Clarice and my brother Leonard.
There were two compelling reasons for modesty in the wedding plans: the recent death of Mr. Jerlow, and – so sorely felt those days – the consequences of The Depression. Therefore, also, there was no elaborate reception, only luncheon at the home then shared by the Jerlows and the Egertsons and served to only immediate family members. Three or four carloads of Hetland folk came that morning from South Dakota and returned that same day, a distance of about 185 miles each way.
Our only ‘extravagance’ (anyway, mine) was paying – too frugally, I long remembered – to bring to Albert Lea to officiate our mutually good friend, indeed a mentor for each of us in differing circumstances, Rev. O. G. Malmin, by that time the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. (He had come there some months after I entered the seminary and our friendship had deepened.)
And our honeymoon? Therewith hangs this occasionally tellable tale: I went to Albert Lea on Saturday, driving the family’s Essex because I also brought my parents. It was to be for them the first chance to meet any of Phelva’s family. But enroute I drove down into Iowa’s Lake Okoboji area and reserved a cottage for our wedding night. Fine enough.
But when we came there Sunday night it was dark and I could not find the place where I made the reservation, so took what was available in some other complex. Comes now the tellable part: in the dawn’s early light next morning we saw over the door of our cottage this..’Indian’ name: WEEGOWILD!
From there, on Tuesday, to South Dakota: Two days with family, and... a charivari! A night also in a very modest hotel in Dell Rapids where, next day, we had a picnic in The Dells (a recreation area) and, as planned and prepared for that Moment, read a few, then burned all the letters we had written to each other over the years. It was a genuinely ceremonial act, perhaps our really first solemn celebration of the end of so long a time of Waiting for Each Other. Now it was Farewell to All That!
The next Saturday we were apartment-hunting in Minneapolis, found an adequately “furnished” one-plus room within our means and near Central Lutheran Church, so we moved in. Being what the church preferred, a married couple, we would get what it provided in lieu of the seminary-stipulated “$25 per month plus room and board”,i.e. just $50 per month. We felt ready for that.
Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis was colloquially called the Cathedral of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America where every one of its biennial conventions was held, (also numerous other events and concerts). It was the 2nd or 3rd largest of NLCA congregations in membership, with an edifice that was certain to command respect and admiration for its appearance to passersby and awe for its interior gothic grandeur.
Its pastor was Dr. J.A.O.Stub. Recognize the initials? They stood for Jacob Aal Otteson, just as they also did for that Preus who was a Minnesota governor and for his son who was a president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Were they related? Recollections from Dr. Stub’s accounts and inference from biographical ‘vitae’ says they were simply good friends.
In any event, he too was a patrician and scion of one of those blue-blood progenitors in Wisconsin of Norway’s State Church Lutheranism. His initials represented the name of his maternal grandfather, one of the three young aristocrats named here who came to that enclave of immigrants near Muskego and were among the seven who organized the Norwegian Synod in 1853.
Each came in the year of his marriage, and in this order: Hans Andreas Stub, 1848; Herman Amberg Preus, 1851; Jacob Aal Otteson, 1852. Near in age, they had been fellow students at the Christiania University; their young wives were clearly of noble character and perhaps equally aristocratic. Their ‘honeymoons’ and life in Wisconsin are incredible stories of courage amidst really inane conditions, but also proud determination to transplant what they believed to be Norway’s true culture.
That meant also struggles with those of Haugeaner persuasion who were equally determined to plant a faith in the new land that would be free of what was perceived to be high-church snobbery with a subordinated laity dominated by autocratic clergy.
It was after one particularly bitter clash and some compromising settlement of disputes that a Call was sent to Hans Stub, obviously a fortunate choice. Upon arrival, his first contact in the Muskego community had to be with the lay leader of the Haugean faction because he had the only ‘hotel’, actually what had been built to be a barn. His greeting was anything but cordial.
But, recorded his son (JAO’s father) in memoirs, “Before the young pastor and his wife went to rest that first night in Muskego they had a long visit with Even Heg [his name]. His ill humor vanished. He became their friend and showed himself as such from that hour.” Dr. Gullixson, in a commemorative book, adds this comment: “Thus this kind soul began his shepherding of the somewhat harassed flock in Racine and Milwaukee Counties, Wisconsin.” (In Norsemen Found a Church p.15. Augsburg Publishing House.)
And thuswise – I may add – in an ambiance not of an harassed flock but of historic grandeur, did this newly married intern and bride begin, at Central, their ministerial career. It was heady!
But not much of the genealogical history from which I extracted the foregoing personal data was known to me when I began working and learning under Dr. Stub. It was not needed for either my initial or my life-long appreciation of that extraordinary man! I did understand that I had come into a highly privileged experience; and that understanding only deepened in what turned out to be nearly two years of close association.
To explain: before my intern year ended we, as had my predecessor, “Steve” Syverud and his wife Genevieve, were invited to live in Dr. Stub’s home through the ensuing academic year, in effect to be caretakers of his home. For he was a widower, and his four children, all adults, were married or in college. To state it more accurately if a bit facetiously, Phelva that year worked for our room and board! So our association went from my on-the-job activities in the church to remarkable home-like life in the church parsonage from July 1, 1937, to June 15, 1938, with Phelva in all respects the parsonage’s actual hostess.
I had had a conference with Dr. Stub soon after my assignment at which time it was made quite clear that I would be given much freedom but also actual responsibility in several areas. Chief among those was “Junior Church”, the actual Sunday morning worship services for children held in the ‘Old Church’ that stood next and connected to the magnificent edifice that was built after Dr. Stub became its pastor.
But it developed that greater than expected responsibility came to me because he who was and had been for some years the church’s Assistant Pastor, Boral Biorn, had resigned when I started and left soon thereafter; a succcessor in that position did not come until nearly the end of my term. It gave me what had to be somewhat unsupervised and undefined responsibility in some important areas such as Sunday School and ‘Youth Work’ in the sense that had the Assistant Pastor remained he would have been fully active there and the pastoral leader.
On my first Sunday on the job, September 6, 1936, his name was on the church bulletin’s masthead; but on October 4 it had been replaced by A. H. Hetland, Student Assistant. That was the day of my official installation and also Rally Day of The Sunday School. The bulletin carried three paragraphs about my background
and, elsewhere, this item:
Today we welcome our Sunday School, with all its officers, teachers and pupils to our eleven o’clock service. As Mr. Hetland is to be particularly associated with the young people of Sunday School age, it is particularly fitting that his official induction takes place at this service.
The induction followed a traditional format and then, having forewarned me just before entering the chancel, the good doctor called on me for a personal greeting. I did well enough so that on some later occasion he publicly observed that I had demonstrated ability to “think on his feet”. I was on my way!
Also in the bulletin that Sunday was this information under the heading THE CENTRAL LUTHERAN SUNDAY SCHOOL:
Few Sunday Schools in any city have greater problems and difficulties with which to contend than Central. Placed as we are between the two public schools which have the greatest “turnover” in the city our school registers at least 500 more pupils a year than ordinarily attend. This irregularity of pupils imposes a severe burden upon our teachers. We thank God for the loyal, faithful and efficient staff of officers and teachers He has given us. If we could retain all our pupils from year to year, we would have a school of some 2000 instead of some over 750...Our school is organized under three departmental superintendents with a general superintendent in charge. Rev. B. R. Biorn was the superintendent this year. The assistant, Mr. Lloyd Refsell, is now the acting superintendent.
There followed the roster of 18 officers, 16 teachers in the Primary Department, 16 in the Junior and Intermediate , and 13 in the Senior and Adult Department. Of the total number of 60 persons 12 were men.
(The last name on the list: Mrs. H.Hetland, Conf. Girls B.)
And at the bottom of the page of that and every bulletin was a small chart indicating the numbered locations of 30 ushers, all named in an adjoining space, all of them men.
Another item of incidental interest: Miss Anna Warren, superintendent of the Senior and Adult Department was a very proud aunt of then-governor of California, eventually the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren.
A major change in my responsibilities required by Pastor Biorn’s departure was deferment of my Junior Church responsibility until the following January; Syverud was retained in that spot and for that period the Junior Church bulletin had me listed as Director of Music (I did organize a Junior Choir). Another major change was my assignment to prepare the Sunday School Christmas pageant, no small matter both because of my inexperience, and – there was its size: over 750 children had to be involved! Dr. Stub left it all totally in my hands. It looked good enough on paper to get his approbation in advance announcements. But I have subsequently suspected it was hackneyed.
My actual responsibilities in Sunday School were so unclear that I tended to get into situations to be ‘helpful’ but wasn’t needed. In one sad instance it seemed to the Primary Department superintendent that I was wanting to be boss. There followed an extended period of angry alienation on her part and genuine mystification for me. It came to Dr. Stub’s attention but he did not upbraid me, only indicated concern; and then very warm thanks when I somehow effected a reconciliation and told him about it. He assigned no blame to either of us; perhaps there was none? But that interne was learning some hazards of helpfulness.
In such a large parish there was naturally much good leadership, therefore activities in which my participation could be entirely voluntary or simply as a fascinated and appreciative observer. Music in that church, a notable example, was incomparable, with its thoroughly professional organist, Marian Hutchinson, a great pipe organ, and equally professional choir director with the Russian name of Peter Tkach and the musical instincts of that ancestry.
There was an active Men’s Club where I also had no responsibility whatsoever. In my time it had as president and strong leader one Lawrence Brings who owned and operated a business college but was himself also a speech teacher, actually the man who came to the seminary for afternoon speech classes. But one time I showed up as a surprise program participant, at its Major Bowes Amateur Night. Billed as “The South Dakota Cowboy”, I did a guitar-and-harmonica act. It was by no means the best act but I was awarded First Prize, a bed spring donated for the occasion by the owner of the factory that built some really unusual springs. There followed from him at the presentation some double entendre humor about expected appreciation of my award.
Youth work? I may have done well enough, but credit for whatever was ‘successful’ belonged as much or more to many of those youths themselves. There were many very fine people; and fine opportunities for interesting activities both within and beyond the parish, e.g. bible camp, inter-church conferences and contests, especially one very good Twin City Luther League Speech contest. Although “Luther League” was a good name in the Twin Cities at Central we had ‘X-L’ and ‘Junior League’. Memory now suggests only fond recollections of associations with each at 5:30 p.m. on alternate Sundays and at other events.
I assisted with Confirmation Instruction, a class of about sixty boys and girls. Memories from that are darkened by one serious miscarriage. It happened that on the Sunday the class was confirmed there was one boy who came with his parents (they lived in a suburb), all dressed in new clothes for the occasion – but had never told them that he had not attended any class since his initial enrollment, therefore was not included in the roster nor with the group but somewhere in the balcony.
How it happened that the drop-out had not been given attention was really my fault even though it was not unusual in that parish to have many fringe members and attendants such as that suburban family. How that boy spent those Saturday periods when his parents thought he was in the class was not ascertained. The parents were devastated when they came to the office to learn why their boy was not named in the roster. And so was I!
Here it may be noted that Calling was held to be of huge importance in the ministry and no less so at Central Lutheran; but my calling had to be pretty well limited to homes in that congested residential area from which came many of the Sunday school children. But I could have telephoned that boy’s home.
However, I must have been cahling beyond that area within walking distance from the church; for my pocket calendar has cryptic records of miles traveled on each of several days per week, but nothing about where or why. Yet that’s not all in my date book that now puzzles me. It actually has numerous appointments, names, places, indicating a very active life in that year – but very little explanation. I am limited now, for my recollections, to mostly anecdotal mental images. But lots of that!
One recurring appointment in my date book still amuses me because of its improbability. On some long-forgotten occasion I must have had permission at a nearby funeral parlor to play its pipe organ (it was before the days of electronic organs) solely for some free-time pleasure. But from that came this development: I became an occasional organ player at funeral services, not only playing the organ but also singing to my accompaniment.
There was a reasonable explanation for that development: The Depression! I was always paid a small fee, but by no means on any Union scale. Moreover, doing both the singing and the playing cut the cost. Some but not all of the funerals had Dr. Stub as officiant and then my performance could not have been altogether pleasing to his cultivated musical taste. But he was ever kindly patient, only one time commenting about my near-exclusive use of the organ’s vox humana stop. He surely sensed soon enough that I had very little knowledge about organ registration, played only by ear, and had a severely limited repertoire.
Actually, the nearest Dr. Stub ever came to offering any kind of correction was on an occasion when both of us were going down from our respective offices (in the Old Church) to have coffee at a women’s meeting. Walking along, he asked, Do you have a comb? I said yes. Then he said, but gently, Use it! My hair was not only many times poorly tended ; it was always in sharp contrast to his aristocratic thin, gray pompadour.
Assisting with the liturgy at worship services was a fairly regular activity while I was his only assistant and Syverud was in charge of Junior Church. For those occasions I was attired in robe and surplice, wearing also a stole but having it hung differently because I was not ordained. Instead of both ends hanging in front the stole was hung only over the right shoulder with the ends, one in front, the other in back, extended diagonally downwards for connection to each other on my lower left side. It was, said Dr. Stub, a common practice in the Church of England. It was new to me and unfamiliar to many, but in any event an interesting device for symbolizing what to liturgical purists was an important distinction.
I did not ever preach at the Sunday morning worship service and for the good enough reason (aside from my limitations) that that was unquestionably Dr. Stub’s central – and effective! – role as pastor of so distinguished a metropolitan church. I did get an occasional assignment to the pulpit for the less formal Sunday evening and mid-week Lenten services.
Some notes from Phelva’s little daybook return to memory the quite surprising frequency of solo singing that year. I really had not had a high estimate of my somewhat muffled tenor voice (a heroic tenor Marion Hutchinson called it) and can not now understand how I got started and continued on that route. Perhaps my status? And so sincere?
Her records also bring to more accurate recollection our expected financial straits. She went job-hunting November 9 but actually went only to the NLCA headquarters building for she was given a part time job in the Luther League office. Then on January 6 a call from Rev. Malmin offered a part-time job in his church office. Still later it was fulltime at the League office.
So with her employment, my occasional earnings from singing and playing for funerals, and my $50 a month salary, we seemed to stay solvent through that year, even managing to have friends as mealtime guests on occasions. And on March 3 we traded in our old Chevie and bought a maroon colored ‘31 Ford sedan.
And to our lasting amusement we also in our first home, that room-and-kitchenette apartment (bathroom down the hall), actually had overnight guests on several occasions, beginning our second night there! Ardis and Ernie came up from Albert Lea, bringing personal stuff for which we had not had space in our car when we went up on Saturday. My brother Leonard and his fiancée, Louise Schroeder, were among our later overnighters. And other kinfolk came also of course.
But our favorite memory is from the Sunday night after my induction when there came from my brother Conrad’s wedding in Atwater (which of course we could not attend) these couples: my brother Ralph and wife “Bud”, sister Emma and husband Oliver, sister Cora and husband “Bob”. That space was arranged for all to lie down at all was duly celebrated in harmonious hilarity.
The area in which our apartment house was located, on South 4th Avenue, subsequently became Urban Renewal territory and was razed for construction of an interstate highway. Although conditions in our time were not altogether untidy, there is no surpise for us in its demise as a viable residential area.
But neither is there unpleasantness in our memories of our first home there. Phelva in her little daybook had the delightful practice of taking special note of events that were the first of their kind in our new life together. Her entries reflect a fine level of happiness for us in those ten months.
Then came July 1, 1937, when we moved to the spacious and elegant manse on South Emerson Avenue and became members of Dr. Stub’s household and very much like family members. Anne, a St. Olaf College student, and Jack (JAO Junior) at Luther College, were both home. It was a friendly summer. And added to my associations with Dr. Stub, an occasional golf game with him and some of his cronies.
Upon entering the Stub home from its foyer one’s attention might go immediately to a pedestal on the right that held a bronze bust and there recognize in the figure’s features the relationship to Dr. Stub. It was his father, the aforementioned Hans Gerhard Stub.
The skeletal yet half-page of his vita data in the church’s official biographical directories of his time bear testimony to a man who was not only a scion of an honorable ancestry but in his own right one of the giants in Norwegian Lutheranism in America.
In a sense he stood astride over whatever division is made of the first 75 years of its history. Initially a pastor, thereafter a college and seminary teacher, he became a leader in movements towards unification of the three church bodies that merged in 1917 to become The Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, of which he was then its first president.
He had been the last president of one of the merging bodies, the Norwegian Synod that his father helped to found, and before that its vice president. In that time he was his church’s and the state of Minnesota’s official representative at the coronation in 1906 of Norway’s king Haakon. There followed in rising succession three honorary titles bestowed by the king who was Norway’s first after the nation’s political separation from Sweden.
But vita data were hardly less for his son, the J. A. O. Stub of that manse although they did not include any presidency of a church body. Instead, and well within the familial tradition of ever seeking unification of separated Lutherans, JAO came into the history of the National Lutheran Council under whose auspices I, many years later, served in Campus Ministry.
While not precisely among the official founders of the NLC (though his father was) a bold act of his had accelerated actions which led to what was in effect its birth. The context for his act was World War I which for Lutherans had created some special problems because of suspected support for the enemy by Germans among them, therewith presumably also by others of that faith.
To dispel suspicions of their loyalty but also to minister to spiritual needs of their own people in the aried services a loosely constructed “Committee for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Relief” was created, with the young Pastor J.A.O. Stub as Field Secretary. As he told to me, when military officials denied him access to military camps, having recognized only the YMCA and an agency of the Federal Council of Churches, he said he represented an agency serving all Lutherans, and so got his access.
His boldly confident action was later confirmed in the upgrading of the ‘Committee’ to an official ‘Commission’ by duly delegated representatives in October, 1917. From it there evolved in September, 1918, the National Lutheran Council. JAO’s father was its first president. But the younger Stub, still a Field Secretary, had by then had his interests diverted elsewhere.
Here I will have his new interest told in his own words:
Late in the fall of 1917, while serving as field representative for the “Lutheran Commission for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Welfare,” with headquarters in New York, I heard that there was a movement on foot by a few laymen to organize an English down-town church of our faith in Minneapolis. That report interested me, and won my sympathetic good wishes – but with no thought of ever being personally connected with this work.
Through my travels to the training camps all over the country I had come to meet personally hundreds of our young men with the colors. I had come to see more and more the weakness of our dear church at the center of the large cities particularly. I had observed that our youth which was rapidly becoming thoroughly Americanized, seldom found a church home of our faith in the large cities, except as they located in the more comfortable and well-established home neighborhoods. In city after city I was shown sites where once Lutheran churches had been placed. But they had been unable to maintain themselves where now the great tides of city life are surging. Our young people were not only being attached to the great churches of other denominations but far more of them were being estranged from all church contacts. I thought of the patient and faithful work of thousands of our pastors, in hamlet, village and on farms; my heart ached for the fathers and mothers who saw their fine lads and lassies set out to pioneer in the great cities; were all these labors, all these prayers to be largely in vain? Was our church – the historic church of the Reformation – to remain more or less unable to meet the problems presented at the heart of our great American cities? My heart was burning!
(From Central Lutheran Church Through Fifteen Years, Anniversary publication)
Here may be injected, Shades of his grandfather, that “kind soul [who in 1848] began his shepherding of the somewhat harassed flock in Racine and Milwaukee Counties, Wisconsin” with his burning heart’s desire to preserve among her emigrants in America the beloved Norway’s State-Church Lutheranism and culture!
Continuing his account, JAO wrote that “like a bolt out of the sky” there came a telegram urging him to be sure to attend a meeting of the Commission to be held in Columbus, Ohio. It developed that the sender of the message, there from Minneapolis, told him that an old “Central Baptist Church” had closed its doors, and that a Lutheran congregation was in process of organization with the thought of renting this church as its temporary quarters. It all led to a Call that he accepted March 4, 1919.
His account of Central’s early years continues through six pages, much of it with touching references and allusions (e.g. his ailing wife’s death, his father’s strong support and then his death) but all a highly dramatic account of the dramatic beginning of a wholly new (at that time) kind of Lutheran congregation and its growth through fifteen years in which there was actually effected the erection of that “Cathedral of The Norwegian Lutheran Church in America.” But – it was totally Americanized!
Reflecting back, perhaps we only dimly sensed then its significance that for nearly a whole year Phelva and I were members of what in midwest Lutheranism was a kind of royal household.
We moved in at 4:00 p.m. on July 1, 1937. Anne prepared the dinner that evening while we got settled in our room; it included installation of that new bedspring I had won, also a new mattress we had purchased. The next day, and thereafter, it was Phelva who had responsibility for meals, excepting occasions when we were engaged elsewhere; and actually those were not few for we had much freedom. In fact, on July 4th we drove to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, for a couple of days with Leonard and Louise.
And with the summer’s slower pace of church activity I had time for tasks in the house, generally in collaboration with Phelva and also in some instances with Anne for some furniture and wall painting. But both Anne and Jack, although on vacation from college, were off elsewhere much of the time in our first two months there and it would be only the two of us with Dr. Stub. Well remembered were occasions of conversation with him out on the wide screened porch facing the street. It was all a delightful beginning for our splendid home away from home.
Of special memory was our inclusion at a family party on August 6 to celebrate Dr. Stub’s 60th birthday. It was at the spacious home of his daughter Didrikke whose husband was the owner of the radio station KSTP. In the course of the evening a professionally recorded simulated newscast was turned on as if a regularly scheduled news program. But it had a fictitious amusing item about a family member there at the party.
Also of special memory of course was our first wedding anniversary. With hearty good wishes from Dr. Stub and Anne we set out to celebrate at a recreation park in a scenic area along the St. Croix River near Taylors Falls. Most easily remembered and often recalled was our festive splurge in having our dinner at a place of such haute couture it cost us one dollar each! (“A perfect day at the end of a perfect year” wrote Phelva in her book.)
As August ended so also did my interneship assignment. And we went off on our first extended vacation. It began with a sentimental journey to Flandreau, South Dakota, and reunion visits with “Dutch” Belgum and others who became special friends in my two summers there. Et al & et cetera for nearly two weeks in South Dakota; more of nearly the same in Albert Lea, Minnesota. All, or almost all, with our respective families.
At that point I daresay life must have seemed to us to be wonderfully good. Interneship had been pleasant and profitable. Our egos had been generously nourished. We must have appeared as ready as we felt we were for our Future as Pastor and Pastor’s Wife, two positions as honorable as any customarily envisioned in the milieu where we had spent the first year of our marriage. We had tasted a bit of ecclesiastical eminence without much threat or awareness of its beguilements.
More sobering reflections would come later, did come, and will be recalled in later pages. But at that time my Senior year at the seminary held a more immediate prospect of delight.
Seminary reopened September 21. But now I lived off campus, a married student, though that was not the novelty it had been in the past. Interneship modified – modernized? – that tradition. Also I commuted, a distance of at least 20 miles, brought lunch from the Stub kitchen, and usually spent all afternoon at the seminary and mostly in the library.
Other than those changes, there was much similarity to the former years. I was again in the Sem choir, was also that year the second tenor in what was very much like an official Seminary Quartet which, interestingly and pleasantly, had frequent engagements, though no full scale concerts. Our choir that year had a 12-concerts trip that included Milwaukee and Chicago.
An odd incidental item: Because Phelva had an aunt in Chicago, and a Minneapolis bus company (trying to beat the Depression) was offering a bargain price of $7.50 for non-stop overnight trips to and from Chicago she came for Thanksgiving Day when the choir was there. But she was the only passenger each way! We both stayed one night at her aunt’s home, and she returned to Minneapolis the following Sunday night.
There was one new and significant circumstance in my Senior year: I had become available for pulpit assignments, generally to churches with pastoral vacancies. In addition to a few single dates I was virtually temporary pastor in each of two periods of some weeks, first in Ortonville and Belhingham in western Minnesota, then later and for a longer period a church in Milford, Iowa, near Lake Okoboji, and a rural church of that parish.
My times in Ortonville-Bellingham included Christmas. On those trips I could go by train. The Iowa stint was more complicated as I made all but one of those trips on a bus that had a transfer and a long interim stop enroute and got me into Milford at some ungodly post-midnight hour. There I was met by a gracious layman who took me to his home for whatever sleep I could yet muster before my two services.
And there I had this happen on Easter Sunday: I was told just before the service in Milford that it was their custom on that day to process up near the altar with their Offering. I was familiar with that custom, also with the tradition of bringing in that manner a special offering for Missions; but because of uncertainty about their intentions I only made some trite introductory comments about giving “as the Lord has prospered”.
But as I was hurrying out of the church for my drive to the rural church someone called to me, “Aren’t you going to pick up your offering?” I mumbled a surprised demurrer but heard it said that their Easter altar offering was always for the pastor, “and now you are our pastor.” It can be imagined how anxious I was to return the next Sunday to express both gratitude and embarrassment. It was the most generous of the compensations I had each Sunday that year and the only time in my life I was beneficiary of the old Scandinavian custom of Altar Offerings.
We had two tragedies in my Senior year, a death in each family. It was the first death in the twelve member family I had been a part of all my life and it was Martin, the first born. He was just under 43 years of age at his death October 27, 1937. The cause was leukemia.
But if such can be quantified it was three times as great a tragedy – and more! – when Phelva’s sister Ardis died in childbirth on May 3, 1938. For that was the third death in that family in scarcely more than three years, the first, Arvid’s, occurring on April 8, 1935, and the father’s in the summer of 1936. Ardis, that woman of such great beauty of personality as well as in her singing voice, was only 28 years old.
(Actually, a multiplication of tragedy had occurred also in Martin’s family because three children, all girls, had died very early, their first-born when only five – of cancer! – and the second when just under three. The third death came after the births of two boys; she lived less than one year.)
On a far lesser level of gravity was a tonsillectomy I had in the morning of December 11 and now recalled with wry surprise because my record indicates that it occurred the day after our Seminary Choir’s home concert, 5 days after one dental appointment, 5 days before another, and 8 days before my next pulpit date in Ortonville.
That surgery incidentally was nearly the first of its type by the doctor who had become a good personal friend for he was a brother of the Julius Quello with whom I was associated in my Junior year’s parish assignment. He was, I was told, embarrassed about a year later when word came to him through a mutual friend that I had actually had another tonsillectomy. Where I was living then a doctor had found troublesome vestiges of diseased tissue.
The date in Ortonville was also at the beginning of Christmas vacation so we both went there by car, thereafter to my parental home for a week, back the following Sunday (December 26) for Christmas Worship and the church’s Sunday School program on Monday night. Next day we were back ‘home’ at Stub’s but only for a couple of hours after which we drove to Albert Lea to be with Phelva’s family, also to visit relatives of mine near LeRoy.
But all that extracurricular visiting, viewed retrospectively, was but prefatory to the receipt in Phelva’s home, New Year’s Eve, of a forwarded Special Delivery letter from Dr. S. C. Eastvold, by then the pastor of First Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It was an invitation to consider becoming his assistant after graduation from the seminary.
There were indications of what my special responsibilities would be; they would include directing the senior choir, indeed have charge of the music program. That had to be, as we liked to say in such situations, Challenging. For First Lutheran ranked with Central Lutheran as one of NLCA’s three biggest parishes.
The official Call came January 18, but Dr. Eastvold had come to see me before that and I had told him I would accept. It would not have been issued otherwise. In that conversation he had told me that the Call would, as it did, stipulate a two-year term. He also told in more detail what the areas of responsibility would be: Music Director; Youth Work; and...Preacher for the Norwegian Service every Sunday at 9:00 a.m.!
Preach in Norwegian? Yes indeed; to that too I gave my consent, though never before had I done anything like it; nor had I presumed such a possibility when I accepted the bi-lingual path of studies. But Dr. Eastvold knew well that in my family we all spoke almost nothing but Norwegian until we entered school. It was an easy assumption that I could use it in preaching. And for me it was one more Challenge, summoning the kind of anticipatory chutzpah that some seminarians can affect in their Senior year. It was called trusting the Holy Spirit for guidance.
That enquiry and follow-up Call to First Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, I may add, was not the only instance of having within my grasp, so to say, a Call to a parish. The bishop (called District President in those days) in South Dakota, Lester Pierson, had come to see me at an earlier time. I had learned to know him personally when in Flandreau (at our bible camp), apparently had a good rating with him, and he wanted me in his district. His procedure was hichly unorthodox (according to purists), offering me my choice between two possibilities. At any rate I did not accept his offer. (He was very wrong in his assumption that I would like to return to my home state.)
That term Call, as used above, had a special status, a kind of aura of sanctity because of the view, even firm belief for some, that when issued within proper churchly procedures it was or could be a divine summons. In the NLCA it was held that such Calls could be issued only by congregations or, if to ‘special service’, by some congregation’s authority. For any potential recipient to participate in the processes leading to its issuance was considered unethical.
So Dr. Pierson’s offer to me of a choice was at least unusual. But he was new in his position and acknowledged his action might be out of bounds. In point of fact so were Dr. Eastvold’s in soliciting and getting my consent before issuing the Call, issuing it from himself personally, and setting a limit to the period of service. It was all...somewhat disorderly.
I think I was more amused than seriously offended by the ways I was offered those Calls. But not frivolous in my perception of their possible validity as divine communications. My formal response to the formally issued Call had the right words, expressing confidence that my decision had been made only after earnest prayer for guidance.
Though the Call came on the 18th, Phelva recorded on the 9th that I had accepted, and that God had been “wonderfully good!”
If a Senior at our seminary who planned on ordination and service in a parish – or, to be careful in the order of my words, who was receptive to a Call – received a Call he would accept and asked for ordination, there was yet one inescapable ‘test’ to be passed before ordination would be authorized: the colloquium.
A dictionary definition of that word might not suffice for what a seminarian perceived to be the experience in prospect: he was to be brought before all the church’s district presidents, i.e. its bishops, who were assembled for the purpose of interrogating students and assessing qualifications for ordination to the pastoral office. Mine was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. January 13.
In technical reality, it was a matter of church polity, not a theological doctrine or dogma that set that prerequisite on the path to the pastoral office. But we did not challenge its authority. Moreover, as also indicated above, a district president could be a crucial intermediary between a vacant parish and an available pastor. Dr. Eastvold’s invitation to me had no advance participation by his district president; but the colloquium preceded the official Call and had to approve me.
In actual reality I knew of no classmate who was given a hard time in his appearance nor was anyone rejected. In my case the procedure was almost ridiculously simple, even simplistic. He who would be my ‘bishop’ was assigned to ask me questions. None was in any way challenging; but out of that simple ten-minute experience there came from somewhere the word that “Hetland and Larson” [my good friend Dave] had impressed one or more of them as “the best theologians.”
I would not have argued against my approval but the assessment amused me. Or was my reaction embarrassment? A genuinely good student I had not been, perhaps not even very conscientious. But though I had my areas of impatience with some of the disciplines of theological studentship as practiced in some courses and some classes I was not a reluctant learner.
One memory in that vein clings through the years: in a class of the formidable Dr. Bruce one day I let go with some words of impatience because, as perceived by me, much of the business of religion consisted in disdainful dismissal of intellectual challenges that were always there, so much so that it seemed we were trying to avoid confrontation with genuine intellectual thought.
The good doctor (I did note above that he was essentially a gracious teacher among his students) responded in such words as these: Mr.Hetland; I am going to give you some advice that I have never before given to anyone, that you read writings by Robert Ingersoll. I knew of course that Ingersoll in those days was perhaps the most notorious of so-called ‘free thinkers’ and popular on lecture circuits for his denunciations of all religion. I can not say I clearly comprehended Bruce’s intent nor what my reading then of Ingersoll would do for me; but I have not had retrospective doubt that it was pretty good advice.
Between Colloquium and graduation there were exams, both written and oral, to test our last-semester mettle. But also impatient restlessness, of at least two kinds, one for those who having received and accepted Calls were itching to get going, the other for those waiting for their future to take shape.
But actually the Depression and related circumstances, when our class entered, had then taken such a serious toll on seminary applications that we who were told when accepted that there could be no assurance of Calls at graduation time now comprised the smallest Senior class in many years, only twenty men; so by the time of our Commencement, excepting one or two who went on to further graduate study, all had received and accepted Calls to parishes.
My own anticipations had to be or became somewhat ambivalent because in any event Dr. Eastvold was a person of dappled repute, but there was also the reality that parish assistanceships generally had a mixed rating. Phelva noted in her diary, after an evening with O.G. and Fernanda Malmin, that “they are not Eastvold fans.” There were enough other ‘non-fans’ to make us wary.
My choicest memory of that emerging wariness followed from a conversation in his office with colorful Dr. Weswig. I had been asked to come for routine commenting on a term paper but when that had ended the conversation went on somewhat like this:
“So, you’re going to Eau Claire.” Yes. “For how long a time is your Call”? Two years. “Well, after about a year you’d better write to Dr. Aasgaard [the NLCA president] and ask for another Call.” It was about all that was said.
Well, as it turned out – but with no letter to Dr. Aasgaard or with his participation – I left Eau Claire on my own initiative after eleven months. I will tell about that later. But after my departure there came another seminary graduate who told me he too had had a visit in Dr. Weswig’s office; and a similar conversation. But this time the period was said to be three years; it got this pronouncement: “I’ll give you six months!”
And that’s how it went, though I don’t know how or why. It seems enough for me to remember my own last visit in Dr. Weswig’s office and his prescient acumen. I also got from him later, in Eau Claire, another thoughtful act of directional nudging; he wrote to me, urging me to prepare a thesis to earn the seminary’s academic degree, Bachelor of Theology. But more about that too in a later account.
That some considered it demeaning to accept a Call to be an Assistant Pastor did not really trouble me, especially when compared with what I had been ‘offered’ prior to Dr. Eastvold’s proposal. I am quite sure in my retrospective assessments that I was genuinely delighted to have First Lutheran Church of Eau Claire in my anticipations, and not at all fearful of teaming up with its redoubtable senior pastor.
We made our first visit to Eau Claire in mid-March and no apprehensions or forebodings marred that at all, in any case none that I recall. It was essentially to look for living quarters, an apartment it had to be, that we went for a two-night stay at the Eastvold home, and that was very nice as a get-acquainted visit. There was also an introduction of sorts at church where I sang a solo at the Lenten Service.
Yes, we would have to find an apartment, one within means that now would be assured. Specifically, we were to be introduced to the unprecedented experience of thinking budget-ally in view of a fixed salary. That would be $1500.00 per annum. There would also be purchasing of furniture and equipment, but we were unhesitatingly assuming it could be on installment plans. There was very little doubt in our optimism. So it was an entirely pleasant trip, as were also our anticipations of returning for my official beginning July 1.
Meantime, life went on – at the Stub home, at the seminary, at the churches where I was serving, in quite numerous special events and social visits among friends in Central Lutheran and within the Stub family. But all the time our sights were happily on the future which after some time in January included prospects of parenthood. (I marked May 20 in my date book as that day when Phelva first felt Life within her!) That also meant for Phelva the mixed emotions of Morning Sickness, soon enough detected by Dr. Stub who was gracious in solicitous concern for her comfort, and perhaps a bit uneasy about his strong preference for smelly little pork sausages for breakfast.
Phelva was with me that memorable Easter Sunday (April 17) in Milford, Iowa. We had driven first to Albert Lea, then on Friday to a home where we were to stay. Two odd memories are preserved – in addition to that special altar offering for me. First, at a farm home where we were dinner guests we found in the host, then retired, a remarkable fascination for the plays of Ibsen and a memory to match. It was an awesome experience to see and hear that tall elderly gentleman pacing the floor and dramatically reciting long passages, all in beautiful Norwegian.
Also on that trip occurred the nicely heart-warming experience of being asked quite seriously if I could be persuaded – if it would be permissible – to withdraw my acceptance of the Eau Claire Call and become pastor of the Milford parish.
But most keenly remembered from that Easter weekend was our homeward stay at the home in Albert Lea of Ardis and Ernie and my farewell hug of Ardis Monday morning, with good wishes for a safe and happy delivery of her baby. They were my last words with her.
It was so tragic, that death. The cause was eclampsia, “a sudden attack of convulsions, especially during pregnancy or at the time of parturition” (Webster’s definition). The baby was removed by surgery prior to her death by only a few hours. Its prospects seemed dim initially but it survived very nicely.
Phelva and I, riding with a brother of Ernie, had raced to Albert Lea the night before Ardis’s death but no conversation with her was possible. We remained in Albert Lea for the funeral where I spoke for the family. I returned to Minneapolis next day, Friday, went to Milford on Saturday, but enroute home Sunday came to Albert Lea for another over-night with the grieving family, and returned to Stub’s on Monday; Phelva came on Wednesday.
Those details have remaining interest also because on the following Saturday evening there was for Phelva, according to her diary notes, “a long chat with Dr. Stub” in the course of which – among other things – he talked about his own first year out of the seminary, e.g. preaching in Norwegian as I would be doing in Eau Claire, and other subjects, all indicating his genuine interest.
It was but one of many instances and occasions when Dr. Stub manifested his high regard for Phelva; but when recalling such occasions she is quick to tell her own enormous admiration for him, wanting to say that he was a wonderfully respectful gentleman toward all women. In the context of that conversation occurring after Phelva’s absence of many days it can be noted again that his gracious acceptance of our numerous absences has been remembered almost with awe. It was... fatherly!
Such memories however of things graciously condoned are for me well matched with recollections of how energetically Phelva worked at her ‘job’ as Lady of the Manse. An item in her diary for Monday, May 23, is illustrative. It reports having begun “in dead earnest” a house-cleaning which continued four days and included employment of a man and wife for washing woodwork and walls, and floor varnishing. It was a final flurry of work she felt had to be completed before our departure.
But it also became associated with two special events in the parsonage under auspices of church societies: “showers” in her honor! The first occurred five days prior to the burst of house cleaning and with only a few hours ‘warning’ to get ready for the coming that evening of the Girls’ Club. They brought “lovely lunch...a gorgeous cord lace tablecloth and 12 Madeira linen tea-napkins.” The second was a baby shower at which, she wrote, there was given “everything a child needs”. That occurred the Friday night at the end of the big work-week.
Meantime – really! – Phelva had also been winding up a writing project for the Lutheran Daughters of the Reformation at NLCA headquarters where she had been employed when we lived in our aparpment. I took her last piece of work, a re-write of someone else’s article, to the LDR office on May 20. Then she was ready for that momentous work week. And I had my last Sunday in Milford on the 22nd – with the two congregations having a joint picnic as a gesture of farewell!
Saturday, May 28, we began cleaning and packing our own personal effects while also preparing for the Baccalaureate service on Sunday morning and Commencement on Monday.
Luther Seminary has on its campus an honored shrine which in those days was intimately associated with Baccalaureate and Commencement. It is the original “Muskego Church”, built in 1843-44 by Norwegian immigrants who settled on shores of Wind Lake, about 20 miles southwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My class, following tradition, held a worship service there on Baccalaureate Sunday.
A box-like structure with walls built of squared logs, it was disassembled and brought to the seminary grounds in l904, reassembled, and there given a clap-board exterior. It underwent no other change; its interior is exactly as it was at its creation, smaller but crudely and simply modeled after churches in many a rural valley of the Norway they wanted to remember.
And there we went to pay homage to also our spiritual and cultural heritage. Just why I now have no idea, but for that service I was klokker, reading the opening and closing prayers – just as the man did that first Sunday of my student pastorate in Maskell, Nebraska! And of course as was doubtless done in the years of the little church’s actual use in Wisconsin. But we did it in English.
That was on Sunday, May 29, at 4:00 p.m. Our Baccalaureate Service, with Holy Communion, had been held at 10:00 a.m., with Dr. Gullixson as preacher. Commencement occurred next morning, Decoration Day, at 10:00, with a formal address by Dr. Weswig and an official greeting by the NLCA President, Dr. J. A. Aasgaard.
They were pleasantly festive events, especially the Commencement Service. My parents had come for that, also my brother John and his wife Nettie. They had all arrived Sunday afternoon but only my parents stayed over night with us.
(Dr. Stub was elsewhere that night and the night after, for a reason unrelated to my parents’ coming. But he had first taken Phelva and me to dinner at noon as usual: it was a regular event, another lovely memory – including our recollection of his favored lamb chops, so daintily ‘dressed’ in that restaurant.)
Then after the Commencement program on Monday we had what must have been the only time ever for me, a restaurant dinner with my parents (the others also). They all left that afternoon.
Now Seminary Life was all over! And departure from the Stub home a nearing prospect, with preparation for it already underway. But – now there would be my ordination, in South Dakota; after that, back in Minneapolis for attendance at the NLCA’s biennial convention; a visit in Eau Claire to arrange for housing; thence LaCrosse with my brother; to Albert Lea and Phelva’s relations; and in Iowa, participate in a classmate’s ordination.
We couldn’t get ready for departure by train next morning as we had hoped. But on Wednesday we got there, well prepared physically and emotionally to relax in the train’s coach and diner to Worthington, MN, and the spur-line (in those days) to Montrose.
“In Lutheran churches the action at a pastor’s ordination serves certain recognized purposes. It confirms the call of the ordinand to a specific work in the church’s ministry. It commits to the ordinand that office of public ministry of Word and Sacrament which belongs to the whole church. It pledges him to faithful service in that office. It invokes the Holy Spirit upon him and his work. It marks the apostolicity of this office by the laying on of hands....
“The act is performed by the bishop, the president of a synod or district, or a minister especially appointed by that official to act in his stead. Other ordained ministers take part in the action, especially in the laying on of hands...
“In different countries and traditions the service varies widely in vestments and ceremonial, from simple and direct to quite elaborate. The basic steps of the action, however, are much the same in all of them, allowing for differences in sequence and emphasis...”
– From The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church
I, therefore, charge and enjoin upon thee:
That thou give diligence always to preach the Word of God in its purity, as found in the Prophetic and Apostolic Writings, and as taught in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church;
That thou administer the two Sacraments as instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself;
That thou admonish thy hearers faithfully to a true repentance, and a holy life of love toward God and man; and
That thou thyself make sincere effort to live according to the word of God, so as to serve the Lord in truth as a right shepherd of the flock entrusted to thee.
Dost thou promise me here in the presence of the all-knowing God, in full dependence upon the grace which the Triune God Himself shall bestow, to perform all this with fidelity?
Answer: I do.
Give me thine hand in token thereof.
I commit unto thee, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the sacred office of the Gospel Ministry, with authority and power, as a right servant of God and of Jesus Christ, to declare God’s Word both in public and in private, to administer the Holy Sacraments in accordance with their institution, to bind sin upon the obstinate and to loose it upon the penitent, and further to perform whatsoever belongeth to this thy holy calling in accordance with the Word of God and the practices of our Church.
Excerpts from the
ALTAR BOOK of the NORWEGIAN EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Ordination – it was serious business, indeed has been a very solemn act in all ramifications of church history. For however different the innumerable Christian traditions the rite of ordination for virtually all rests on the claim to a divinely instituted class of shepherds who are thereby declared to be in lineal succession from the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus.
But, simply depicted, there are after the Reformation two kinds of status for such spiritual shepherds, viz. Holy Orders, and, Sacred [or Holy] Office. The former is indisputably associated with Roman Catholicism and its ordination in principle is irrevocable; the latter is quite literally ad hoc, and beyond simple description except within the body of believers it serves.
The data quoted on the previous page indicates pretty well what the rite meant in the NLCA, though there was much more in the total liturgy in our Altar Book, all of it a translation from the ancestral state church of Norway. And all was followed at my ordination, after formal certification of my Call to Eau Claire.
So I, the Ordinand, kneeling before the Ordinator, i. e. the District President (read Bishop) thereby entered my apostolicity, its authenticity validated with the ‘laying on of hands’ by him and by six pastors, all friends, I had invited to participate.
In my day there was talk about one purported difference in views on ordination between theologians of the Scandinavian state churches: The Church of Sweden by virtue of some relationship with the Church of England claimed a more clearly authentic apostolicity from St. Peter via bishops of England because their succession was held to have remained unaffected by the break under King Henry VIII from the papacy.
Ergo, Swedish Lutherans in America also held ‘title’ to that heritage. But more: he who ordained me, with others of his seminary class, had been ordained by Sweden’s archbishop who as a courtesy, when on a visit at the time to his people in America, had been invited to officiate at an ordination in the NLCA.
I did not take seriously that putative distinction but I was entirely sincere, I think, about ordination and my readiness to accept that Holy Office. In some impulse to guard that readiness I had asked the pastor of our home church, Oliver Bergeland, by then also a good friend, if Phelva and I could come to stay overnight at his home on the eve of the event. It seemed a warmly personal experience to spend that evening with one with whom I was about to share the special comradeship in pastoral ministry.
But that was a bit of romanticism which fell short of being particularly spiritual; for in his house the day and evening before a Sunday’s rigors were less than reflectively tranquil. It did, however, remove us from what probably would have been even less spiritually productive had we stayed in my parental home. For there the anticipations had for days and weeks operated on a totally different level.
Pastor Bergeland – ”Ollie” – served two rural congregations but the parsonage was in Madison. Their churches were small and my home church though relatively new was deemed too small for such an occasion as an ordination, least of all mine: the joke was feeble that said there wouldn’t be room for all my kinfolk!
So it was arranged to hold the Sunday afternoon service in Madison’s Trinity Lutheran Church which was entirely adequate and also a member of the NLCA. Its pastor F. B. (“Fritz”) Anderson was also a personal friend of mine, even more so of Bergeland; they had planned the event. It would include a reception at Bergeland’s parsonage after the service.
Ollie and I went to Fritz’s office that Saturday evening to review the plans they had made but also so that I might have that chance to visit with Fritz who would leave for vacation the next day immediately after the ordination service.
While he and I were talking Ollie was reading the bulletin for Trinity’s next-morning service, the entire supply lying there in the office. Looking up, he dryly asked Fritz: “Do you really mean this in your bulletin?” and then read the bit that explained the pastor’s vacation plan. This is how it ended: “Anyone wishing to get in tough (sic) with the pastor during his absence may speak with Mr. [name given].”
Fritz that night went through every one of the several hundred mimeographed bulletins and inked a correction of the typo!
Meantime, in homes of my family members and at the home of an aunt of Phelva living in Montrose, they were arriving, all those relations from as far away as Leroy and Albert Lea, MN, and elsewhere, who were coming to stay overnight and to attend that great event of my ordination.
For whatever the churchly reverence accorded the rite of ordination, the event and my subsequent status held a content of honor than which nothing greater in a family could be easily imagined. A son or brother, nephew or uncle, even a cousin as a pastor was quite unexcelled in the little world in which I had my birthrights.
Of course it’s not difficult now to identify patently absurd notions and ideas informing and associated with the solemn procedure that was my Ordination.
But for all that, I am neither hesitant to do so nor really rueful in reflecting on the earnestness of my dedication that day or on all the familial love and consanguineous pride associated with the event. The way we were then – it had a kind of beauty.
And no likelihood whatsoever that I would some day resign from that ‘Sacred Office’. For me it must have seemed not at all unlike entering Holy Orders; was it not a promise of constant faithfulness when I said I Do?
The day was beautiful, that June 5, 1938, the Service most impressive, and the reception very joyous. Refreshments were served by women of my church. Congratulations were abundant and clearly heartfelt, even tearful in some instances. After that reception there was more of the same at my parental home though with fewer people, most of them of closer kinship. Some played croquet on the lawn area fronting the full-width screened porch. It is all remembered very fondly.
Came Monday, with short visits in the homes of my married siblings; then Tuesday, back to Minneapolis, riding with Conrad and Esther, anticipating attendance at the NLCA convention, to be held as usual in Central Lutheran Church. But for those days we would not be at Stub’s: Anne and Jack would be home, the parsonage would have other folks visiting; so we stayed with Phelva’s cousin Ted Hendrix and his wife Opal, very good friends then and thereafter.
For the Convention’s Holy Communion Service (under Central’s auspices of course) it was Dr. Stub’s nice gesture to have former assistant pastors and internes participate in serving the several hundred communicants. There, then, I could have my stole hanging ‘properly’! It was my first ministerial act as ordained pastor.
Also significant for experiences up ahead was the election by the convention of our good friend O. G. Malmin to be editor of THE LUTHERAN HERALD, official ‘organ’ of the NLCA. As will be reflected in memoirs-to-come, his friendship thereafter in consequence of his elevated stature took on new dimensions of professional as well as personal worth to me.
Incidental but inportant item from those convention days: Phelva attended a concurrent LDR convention (Lutheran Daughters of the Reformation) and there acquired a copy of the child’s story book that contained stories she had written and some she had revised when employed in the LDR office.
In Eau Claire, where we went on the 15th, we quickly and easily effected our rental of a house’s first floor, the landlady quite utterly delighted that she could have us as her first tenants on that floor after she, recently widowed, and her maiden daughter had relocated. (They were in a German Lutheran Church.)
We too were pleased albeit a little uneasy about our responsibility for maintaining the furnace that served also the family above us; but it did lessen the rent. It was further lessened by an agreement that a large room with its own exit (but connected to our bathroom!) would have a separate tenant. And we had a fireplace, the first of seven successive homes so equipped!
That very evening at 8:30, we purchased the bedroom furniture that has served us ever since. Next day, a rug. And there, with perhaps youthful abandon, we entered upon an installment-paying life-style, a pattern of economic servitude from which we got free only after many a year beyond that mid-June of 1938.
Now with just one week left before our scheduled return to Minneapolis we set out on what could loosely be called vacation: two nights in LaCrosse, Phelva with Louise in her home, I with Leonard; then, arriving Saturday night, with Phelva’s mother in Albert Lea. Sunday afternoon, to Hanlontown, Iowa, to participate in the ordination of classmate and friend Harold Rye, but back that night in Albert Lea.
So then, with respect to that winding up of our past which was what most of the month of June was all about, we had four days left of relative freedom in Albert Lea: freedom for visits with kinfolk, to be sure, but Phelva’s records say I repaired or prepared “two chairs, a table, a baby rocker from mother, and 2 fern stands from Ernie.” She sorted books. All would go with us.
Friday we returned to Minneapolis and to Stub’s, actually our first day there in the month of June. But Phelva was right away back at her accustomed stand: on Saturday “cleaned house”, and, prepared a roast chicken dinner. (She recorded that “it was good”.) But Sunday it was again dinner at his favorite restaurant with Dr. Stub, this time Anne and Jack also with us, a nice Last Time as members of that...that royal family.
Meantime, on that busy Saturday, we had somehow found time to answer an ad and purchased a much-used drop-leaf kitchen table and four matching chairs – the very table I, almost fifty years later and after its use about twenty years as back porch furniture, repaired, stripped and, finding nice wood under several coats of paint and enamel, stained. At this writing it remains in steady use as Phelva’s desk in her ‘office’. On Monday, we made one more major purchase, a studio couch. On the installment plan of course.
By which time and its cumulative circumstances it is understandable that the trailer I rented and loaded early Tuesday for the move to Eau Claire was a four-wheeler. I went alone, Phelva staying first with a friend then at the Hendrix home where I came late that night, having safely delivered our worldly goods.
Tuesday, June 28, was then the date of our actual departure from the Central Lutheran Church parsonage at 2216 South Emerson Avenue, far more deeply remembered as the home we were priviliged to share with Dr. J. A. O. Stub and his two at-home children.
Indeed, as intimated above, it was also at the least a symbolic departure from much or all that had become Prologue for us individually and for the two of us in our life together. Were we thinking such thoughts as we drove next day to Eau Claire?
We quite probably did. For we were a happy pair of idealistic, dedicated Christians, also prospective parents, setting forth on what was doubtlessly perceived to be the Mission in life for which we had been planning, and anticipating, more than seven years, i.e. since early 1931 when we first met, fell in love, and became engaged. Arrival at last!