Obituary for Frederick Gonnerman

Frederick H. Gonnerman — pastor, church communication specialist, writer, photographer, woodcarver, loving husband of 62 years, father of four and grandfather of five — died at home on Wednesday, August 28, 2019. He was 86. Fred was born to Marcus and Marie Gonnerman in Dixon, Illinois, on June 4, 1933. Growing up on the family farm, Fred helped with the daily chores of raising crops, milking cows and feeding livestock — skills that served him later in life while raising a family in Northfield along with some 3,000 tulips. After beginning his academic career in a one-room schoolhouse, Fred graduated […]

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Frederick H. Gonnerman — pastor, church communication specialist, writer, photographer, woodcarver, loving husband of 62 years, father of four and grandfather of five — died at home on Wednesday, August 28, 2019. He was 86.

Fred was born to Marcus and Marie Gonnerman in Dixon, Illinois, on June 4, 1933. Growing up on the family farm, Fred helped with the daily chores of raising crops, milking cows and feeding livestock — skills that served him later in life while raising a family in Northfield along with some 3,000 tulips.

After beginning his academic career in a one-room schoolhouse, Fred graduated as high school valedictorian. The swine, sheep and corn from his 4-H and Future Farmers of America projects earned most of the money needed to finance his college education, and after finishing Wartburg College he entered the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary (now Trinity Lutheran Seminary) in Columbus, Ohio.

During his first week at Trinity Fred met Ruth Anna Harper, a senior at nearby Capital University, and they married on June 16, 1957 — two months before Fred began an internship at Salem Lutheran Church in Detroit. After graduating from Trinity in 1960, Fred began his ministry as a pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Painesville, Ohio. Two years later he became assistant director of public relations for the American Lutheran Church National Office in Minneapolis, where he developed an interest in helping churches enhance their communications efforts.

In 1966 he established the Office of Information Services (now Marketing and Communications) at St. Olaf College and also served a stint as manager of the college’s choir and orchestra. He later created Luther Seminary’s Office of Public Relations, retiring from that post in 1998.

During his career, Fred received numerous awards from the Religion Communicators Council (RCC, where he was named a lifetime member) and the council for the Advancement and Support of Education for his writing, publication design, and photography. He also served these and other communications organizations in a variety of capacities — all in his pursuit of improving church communications at the national and local levels. This lifelong passion culminated in the 2003 publication of Getting the Word Out: The Alban Guide to Church Communications, which was honored with the RCC’s DeRose-Hinkhouse Best in Class award for writing. Other professional honors during Fred’s career include a Gold Pen Award from MetroLutheran and a Wartburg College Alumni Citation.

Fred was also proud of his memoir, The Work of Our Hands: The life and Death of the Small Family Farm, published just three years ago.

He served Northfield as charter president of the Northfield Historical Society and as leader of the Northfield Urbanites 4-H Club. His long membership at St. John’s Lutheran Church included service on the church council and various committees, culminating in his work on the 125th Anniversary Committee that resulted in the publication of a commemorative history.

Fred and Ruth led numerous family camping trips across the United States and traveled the world. But Fred’s favorite place was the Gonnerman cabin on Minnesota’s North Shore near Split Rock Lighthouse, where he enjoyed renovating and improving the property, fishing, driving to Naniboujou Lodge for Sunday brunch, carving figurines and even lounging. His family is thankful for all the time “Up North” that he and Ruth were able to enjoy together.

Survivors include his wife Ruth; children Mark (Meri) of San Jose, California, Gay (Larry) of Minnetonka, Joy (Wayne) of Sioux City, Iowa, and David (Kasia) of Nashville, Tennessee; 5 grandsons; brother Paul; and sisters Donna and Mary Ann.

A service to celebrate Fred’s life will be held at 10 a.m., on Saturday, September 14, 2019, at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Northfield. Interment will be in Oaklawn Cemetery. Visitation will be 4-7 p.m., Friday, September 13, 2019, at St. John’s Lutheran Church and will continue on Saturday one hour prior to the service.

Memorials preferred to Wartburg College, Trinity Lutheran Seminary and St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral.com

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Funeral

September 14, 2019 - 10:00 AM


Visitation One Hour Before Service
St. John’s Lutheran Church
500 3rd St W Northfield, 55057 Get Directions

Visitation

September 13, 2019 - 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM

St. Johns Lutheran Church
500 3rd St W Northfield, 55057 Get Directions

Burial

Burial: September 14, 2019 - 1:00 PM

Oaklawn Cemetery
1415 Wall Street Rd Northfield, 55057 Get Directions

2 Comments

  1. Miriam (Foege) Reitz

    I knew Fred from Wartburg college days. We are thinking of you today. Please accept our sincere condolences on his passing.

    Reply
  2. Judy (Babcock) Hatlem

    No love, no friendship can ever cross our path without affecting us in some way .. forever. ~~ To the Gonnerman family, my most sincere condolences. Judy (Babcock) Hatlem

    Reply

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