From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Willmar Thorkelson, Lutheran Journalist and Author, Dies

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date Mon, 9 Dec 2002 16:01:16 -0600


December 9, 2002


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Willmar L. Thorkelson, journalist, author and
member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), died Nov.
29 from complications of Parkinson's disease.  He was 84.
     Thorkelson's writing career began while a student at Concordia
College, Moorhead, Minn., and spanned more than 60 years.  After
graduating from Concordia, Thorkelson wrote for the Bismarck (N.D.)
Tribune and Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune.
     Thorkelson reported religion news for the Minneapolis Star from
1944 until the newspaper merged in 1982 with the Minneapolis Tribune.
He continued writing news as a freelance journalist until September of
this year.  In 1969 he authored the guide "Lutherans in the U.S.A.,"
published by Augsburg Publishing House (now Augsburg Fortress,
Publishing House of the ELCA), Minneapolis.
     Thorkelson took a leave of absence from the Minneapolis Star to
serve as a press officer for the World Council of Churches (WCC) in
Geneva, Switzerland, 1948-1949.  He wrote the English-language news
releases for the WCC's first assembly in Amsterdam in 1948.  At the
WCC's eighth assembly in 1998 in Harare, Zimbabwe, he was recognized as
probably the only journalist who had been to all eight assemblies.
     Thorkelson covered the Second Vatican Council in Rome during the
autumns of 1963 through 1965.
     Since 1982 Thorkelson's articles appeared regularly in The
Christian Century magazine and in the Metro Lutheran, a monthly
newspaper published in Minneapolis.  He was a contributing editor of The
Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA.
     "Bill was a genuine professional," said Charles Lutz, former
editor of the Metro Lutheran.  "In my early years as a church
communicator, almost half a century ago, he was a role model for me.
Bill saw reporting honestly on the church and other faith communities,
warts and all, as his God-given calling.  He followed that call
     "Willmar created a respectability for religion writing that took
it off the church page and put it on the front page long before
newspapers began to give religion the attention it deserved," said the
Rev. Edgar R. Trexler, former editor of The Lutheran.  "His material was
lively, easily understandable and always fair."
     "Similarly, editors of church publications knew they could give
him an assignment and he would hit the mark for a denominational
audience, too.	He wrote quickly and reliably, and was always a friend,"
said Trexler.
     The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cited the Rev. Martin E. Marty, a
Lutheran historian and ELCA pastor, in an editorial in The Christian
Century magazine.  "I mourn," wrote Marty.  "He's a friend. ... He's
your friend, too, for what he's been doing to upgrade the telling of the
religious story, by setting national standards."
     Born in Trail, Minn., in 1918, Thorkelson earned a bachelor's
degree from Concordia, Moorhead, Minn., in 1940, and a master's degree
from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.	At Concordia, he edited
the student newspaper, The Concordian.	Concordia is one of 28 colleges
and universities of the ELCA.
     In 2000 Concordia gave Thorkelson its Alumni Achievement Award.
The college gives the award "to honor alumni who have exemplified the
ideals of Concordia College through outstanding service and leadership
in their profession, community and church. These individuals have
profoundly influenced the affairs of the world through thought, word and
     The Associated Church Press, the Billy Graham Evangelistic
Association and the Religious Public Relations Council (now the Religion
Communicators Council) have also honored Thorkelson and his work.  In
1998 the Luther Institute, Washington, D.C., awarded him a Wittenberg
Award, which is given "to honor outstanding Lutheran laity and clergy
for their service to church and society."
     Last year, the Religion Newswriters Association gave Thorkelson
its first Lifetime Achievement Award.  He served as that organization's
president from 1962 to 1964.
     Thorkelson is survived by his wife Maxine and two adult children.
A memorial service was held Dec. 4 at Central Lutheran Church in
Minneapolis, where he had been a member.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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