- Funeral Date: 5/02/17
- Funeral Time: 1 PM
- Date of Birth: 12/21/18
- Date of Death: 4/11/17
- Funeral Location: St. John's Lutheran Church
Omar Otterness, age 98, of Northfield, Professor Emeritus of Religion at St. Olaf College, passed away on April 11, 2017, at the Northfield Retirement Center. He was born December 21, 1918, in Brookings, South Dakota, to Lars and Alma Otterness. His grandfather Ole was one of the first homesteaders of Brookings County.
Raised in Brookings, Omar attended Augustana College and received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Illinois. He was active in the Lutheran Student Movement, and met his future wife Margery at a retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. They were married June 9, 1944, after his graduation from Luther Seminary and ordination. He accepted a mission call to China, first studying Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley. In San Francisco, Omar was the first pastor of Grace Lutheran, a storefront church. Omar and Margery traveled to China on a troop ship early in 1947 and stayed until driven out by the communists in December 1948. On return Omar served congregations in Redfield, SD, Chicago, and Mukwonago, WI. He continued his study of theology and received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
Omar was a member of the Religion Department at St. Olaf College from 1960-86. His many classes included Asian religions. He believed strongly in cross-cultural studies and was co-instructor of the Rome Interim in 1973 and faculty coordinator of Global Semester in 1973-74 and the Middle East Semester in 1977-78. He helped design and teach the Great Conversation program and also tutored in the Paracollege. During his years at St. Olaf he served several parishes on weekends. He was interim pastor at Valley Grove Church for several years in the 1960s.
A sabbatical with the Ebenezer Society in Minneapolis led Omar to the study of gerontology. After retirement, he helped found the Cooperative Older Adult Ministry (CoAM) in south Minneapolis, which continues today as TRUST/CoAM. Through member churches, CoAM focuses on life-long learning as well as providing services such as grocery shopping. Omar worked with other communities to develop similar programs. He was an active member of the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium in Northfield. He and Margery also traveled extensively worldwide.
Omar loved teaching. He believed in learning about other cultures and in life-long learning and ministry, and he acted on his beliefs. People and relationships were important to him, and he seemed to remember the name of everyone he had ever met.
Omar was preceded in death by wife, Margery, daughter Karen, sister Ruth, and his brothers, Lyle, Harlan, Ronald, and James. He is survived by sister Alice Hoaglund, Modesto, CA; children Rolf, McMurray, PA, Joann Espinosa, Omaha, Mark (Kathryn), Roseville, David, Northfield, and Carol Spencer (Jerry), St. George, UT; his grandchildren, Nathan Espinosa (Amber), Lino Lakes, Jennifer Whyte (John), Omaha, Phillip and Thomas Otterness, Minneapolis, and Naomi Pitlick (Brad), Brooklyn Park; and six great-grandchildren: Carver, Zachary, and Andrew Espinosa, Alexis and Alison Whyte, and Aaron Pitlick. He is also survived by in-laws Adeline Otterness, Verona, WI, and Barbara and Richard Reyer, Willmar, MN, and many nieces and nephews and their children.
A memorial service will be held 1:00 PM Tuesday, May 2, at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 500 W. 3rd St, Northfield. A reception will follow. Memorials preferred to Omar and Margery Otterness Endowed Scholarship at St. Olaf College, TRUST/CoAM, or St. John’s Church.
Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral.com