In Memoriam: Otto Tollefson

Clifford Biel, Otto Tollefson, and Bob Roiko

It was with great sadness that I received the news of Otto Tollefson's passing.  Barbara, his wife, sent out the following email:

Dear family and friends –

I am Barbara, the wife of Otto Tollefson.  I am using Otto’s e-mail address and list of contacts to communicate the passing of Otto on Friday, December 24th, at 4:55 p.m., at Franciscan Hospice in Tacoma, Washington.

Otto died from colon cancer, just three weeks shy of his 80th birthday. All the children were with their father before his death.  He died peacefully, with family surrounding him until his final breath.

You are invited to participate in our celebration of Otto’s life and faithful service to our Lord.  There will be a memorial service on Sunday, January 2nd, at 2 p.m., at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church by the Narrows, 6730 North 17th Street; Tacoma, WA 98406.

Address: 11111 Aurora Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98133.

Here is a recent photo of the Tollefson family (minus Dean):

 Scott, Helen, Barbara, Otto, Adel and Joel Tollefson

For many years, Otto has been instrumental in keeping the Brazil families connected via email updates.  We all knew that if we had something to share, we could send our news to Otto and he would get it out to the rest.  Now, many of us have reconnected on facebook, which has been a great tool to have more regular tidbits, photos, and updates.

 Otto also edited a book in 1998 about our time in Brazil, "Seed Falling on Good Soil".  He requested contributions from the mission families, which together, give a wonderful snapshot of their ministry and of the people whose lives were transformed while they were in Brazil.  The text Otto chose for the tone of the book comes from Matthew 13:3,8,23:

"Once there was a man who went out to sow grain...  But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants bore grain: some had one hundred grains, others sixty, and others thirty... 

And the seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as one hundred, others sixty, and others thirty."

The book is still available on Amazon.  Click on the photo for more info.

Otto had recently been working for St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Washington.  He described his service in his bio:

"The greatest gift I received on my 70th birthday was to officially begin as interim pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. But like “the man who came to dinner” I stayed on! What was expected to be a six month relationship has continued for almost three years. My part-time responsibilities now focus on visitation and teaching adult forums. 

The journey from my childhood home in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, began on D-day, June 6, 1944, when our family moved to Seattle. My education included the Seattle Lutheran Bible Institute (now Trinity College), Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. 

Upon ordination, my wife, Barbara, and I were privileged to be among the first group of missionary families that went to Brazil under the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1958. Our ministry was first in church planting and school administration in a new wild west frontier area, and later in stewardship, evangelism and lay training in a large Lutheran parish in Joinville, Santa Catarina. 

On return to the US eighteen years later I served First Lutheran Church, Poulsbo, WA, and then as mission developer of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, Lacey, WA. Barbara continued with her nursing, piano and church music careers. One of our greatest joys has been our joint ministry as clergy presenting couple with International Lutheran Marriage Encounter. 

We treasure our ties with people in Norway through our heritage, with Brazil through our ministry, and Scandinavian and Eastern European counties through LME and seminars we’ve given. We have five adult children and ten granddaughters. My ‘occupational therapy’ time is given to flower and vegetable gardening, reading John Grisham’s novels and Ann Rule’s true crime stories, and cheering on the Mariners."
My father was one of the tallest of the missionaries and Otto was one of the shortest, as seen in the first photo, taken in the early 1960's.  Of course, this was always a joke at missionary reunions.  But, the Tollefson family made its impression on my young mind for a much more important reason:  Barbara saved my life!

We were at a mission retreat in Camboriu, Santa Catarina, at the ocean front.  Most of the pastor's and wives were meeting in sessions up a hill, removed from the beach.  A couple of the wives were watching us kids as we played in the water and sand.  The day before we had been able to wade quite a distance out into the ocean, but there had been a storm during the night and the undercurrent was powerful and great rifts had been made in the sand, under the waves.  I was around 12 or 13 at the time (1974?) If I remember correctly, I was standing in the water with Kathy Fedde and Ruth Foehringer.  I felt a huge undercurrent start pulling us out, so I pushed Kathy to Ruthie, who pulled her out while I was sucked away.

Someone ran up to the meeting and everybody came rushing out.  My father doesn't swim (and hates the ocean) and he started throwing logs that were on the beach out into the water, hoping that I could grab on to one of them.  Pastor Charles Eidum swam out to me and grabbed me.  I had been pushed down repeatedly, with violence, by big waves that were crashing down on me.  I remember feeling a calm certainty that I would soon die.  Chuck Eidam pulled me in about half way, but then he started to succumb to the waves as well.  Barbara Tollefson had life saving experience and she charged in, storming through the waves and pulled both of us out.  There can be a lot of power wrapped up in those small packages!  (She is short, too...)

I sat on the beach, recovering my breath, everybody relieved that all of us were still alive.  My brother, Charles, sat down next to me, looked at how white I was from fear and said, "Boy, you sure have a lot of freckles!"  

The old guard is passing on and we are sorry to see them go.  Otto certainly planted his seeds on fertile soil.  His work and dedication will be remembered by many and will continue to produce fruit.  Those of us who have had the honor of knowing him and his family certainly will continue to carry a piece of him on with us in our journeys.

My heartfelt sympathies go to the Tollefson family.  
Que Deus esteja contigo!

Note:  Please feel free to leave comments about Otto or his family here.  Click on "Comments/Comentarios" below and a box will open up where you can write...


Rayela Art said...

From Scott Tollefson:

Dean and I think that the photo was taken outside the chapel/church at the Londrina hostel. Toward the back of the photo, one would eventually get to the soccer field. This was almost certainly a conference in the early 1960s.

My father may have been a short man, but he had a big heart with lotsa love.


Rayela Art said...

Another email from Scott Tollefson:

Thank you, Rachel, for your kind words regarding my father. How sweet of you to take the time to do that. My mom, Dean, and I sat and read every word you wrote in your blog regarding my father and mother. My mother remembered the near-drowning incident. According to her, she swam in behind you, calmed you down, and then asked you to swim with her. She claims that she never really touched you, but that you were able to swim to safety with her just a few feet behind you.

Dan Grant asked me two days ago, "Do you still have that photo of your father between Cliff Biel and Bob Roiko?" Unfortunately, I don't.

Very special request: could you please send that photo to me as an e-mail attachment? The higher the resolution, the better. It is one of my favorites of missionary days.

My mom and the five children were with my father during his final hours. Dean, in fact, flew in from Saudi Arabia, and made it with four hours to spare. We thought he had more time. He passed peacefully, and we were right next to him as he took his final breath.

On Friday we will lay him to rest, and on Sunday we will have a memorial service.

Muito obrigado for your kind posting and for all YOU are doing as a glue to keep the missionaries together. Maybe it is our generation's turn to really take the lead.

A big abraco,

Scott (& family)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...