Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

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I like people when you see them as they really are, because everybody’s
different — and colorful!” These are the words of Gjertrud Anderson, a devout
Lutheran who volunteers regularly at Catholic Charities’ Branch III Dining and
Resource Center. There’s just one thing making her slightly different from
most of the other volunteers: She’s 103 years old!
Gjertrud and her daughter Liz Ozmon live in the Phillips Neighborhood of
South Minneapolis, just a few blocks away from the shelter where they
volunteer. She began working at the center with their former church many
years ago, and, although they now attend Pilgrim Lutheran Church (ELCA) in
St. Paul, they continue to cook and serve food for the homeless once a
month.
“I know from all the people at Branch III that she always serves the meals with
a smile,” said Mary Bachman, director of volunteer resources for Catholic
Charities. “It’s always more than just a meal; it’s a connection between two
people.”
In her younger years, Gjertrud also volunteered regularly at the Marie Sandvik
Center, working with their Vacation Bible School program to help reach
children with the Gospel. But Gjertrud doesn’t just do all of this volunteering
out of a sense of obligation; she truly enjoys helping those in need. “It’s fun,
too. I like to see people that are themselves, because they’re much more
interesting than just followers.”
Gjertrud never has been much of a follower; she has carved her own path
through all of life, which has sometimes gotten her into trouble. One story
she recalled from her childhood was the day she got kicked out of church for
being a little too rambunctious. Although raised a Lutheran, she and her
friend were helping out at the Baptist church, but things didn’t work out too
well.
“I once got kicked out of the Baptist choir after fooling around too much,” she
explained. “The choir director stopped and said, ‘Gjertrud and Lulu may
leave.’ I’ve never walked such a long, long way, down that aisle out of the
church with everyone staring.”
After leaving her hometown of Luverne, Minnesota, Gjertrud made her way to
the big city and began nurses’ training at Northwestern Hospital in
Minneapolis. She remembered those days with fondness, despite the long,
grueling shifts she put in at the hospital. “I went to nurses’ training, and it
was training!” she quipped. “Of course, I’m sure nowadays the kids look back
and think it was fun.”
It was during her time at Northwestern that she met her husband, an
electrician who eventually became an inspector for the city. They got married
and moved into the house she still lives in today, over 75 years later. “They
moved in this house when I was a couple weeks old,” said Liz. “I was in the
laundry basket! They bought it — well, actually rented it and then bought it —
for $2,500! And it took them until I was in high school before they paid it
off.”
Because regulations at the time did not allow married women to continue
nursing, Gjertrud busied herself with many other things while her only
daughter Liz was away at school. Much of her time was spent working with
her former Lutheran church, where she taught Sunday school for over 40
years.
“I stuttered,” explained Gjertrud. “They never asked me [to teach] before, but
they couldn’t get anybody, so they asked me. I got home and told my
husband, ‘I’m going to be teaching Sunday school.’ He said, ‘They must be
scraping the barrel!’ I said, ‘Yes they are!’”
In addition to working with children, Gjertrud was also heavily involved with
the church choir. Her daughter Liz laughed as she remembered all the good
times they had singing in the choir together, recalling one time in particular.
“We got a new choir director who had a beard,” she explained. “This kid went
out to get a drink at the water fountain, and he came back all breathless. He
just saw Jesus at the water fountain; he had his robe on and everything!”
Gjertrud and Liz have been attending their current congrega- tion, Pilgrim
Lutheran, for several years now. According to Gjertrud, “I like the church
we’re going to now — I like going.” And Liz added, “It’s a spirit that you feel
when you walk in the door.”
Gjertrud is very content, though she naturally feels the pains of growing old.
“I’d like a new body, I think.” Regarding the strange process of aging,
however, she is able to laugh. “I remember Grandma Jacobson speaking to
me, saying, ‘You’ll never believe how peculiar getting old can be.’ You
surprise yourself at the things you do and say. It’s funny.”
Ben Bradbury is a student at Northwestern College in Roseville, Minnesota,
pursuing a degree in journalism.