Editor’s note: Arland Fiske passed away June 16, but as a tribute to him, The Pilot-Independent will continue to print his column for the next couple of months.
I first hear his eloquent voice in the spring of 1944. His theme was “We Live to Bequeath,” it still rings in my memory. The words were a manifesto of the life he lived. Thaddaeus Francke Gullixson was born Sept. 4, 1882, on a homestead in the Des Moines River Valley near Bode, Iowa.
His early days on the farm taught him the love of land and the sacredness of community. It also imbedded in his soul the value of hard work and an awareness of human frailty. In one of his books, he told the story of driving a team of runaway horses pulling an empty hayrack and his father’s strong arms and voice brought the team to a halt. In the years to come, he saw his father’s hands as the hands of God.
Tad, as he was called, was needed on the farm, as his older brother, George, was ordained into the ministry when he was only 11. But Tad was to follow. He attended Bruflat Academy in Portland, North Dakota, and then went to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
After completing the theological studies at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, he spent the academic year 1906-1907 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It promised to be a brilliant career in Old Testament studies. He mentioned his graduate studies to me a few times. Each time a “light” came into his aging eyes. A Letter of Call from a “West River” congregation in Pierre, S.D., brought these studies to a close.
In 1911, after ministering to cowboys on the frontier, he became pastor of First Lutheran Church in Minot, N.D., where he remained until 1930. His mark on the community is still felt by many who knew him. His concern for the community has been memorialized by Trinity Medical Center of which he was the founder and board chairman. One of his cherished friends was Ragnvald Nestos, who was governor of North Dakota from 1921-25.
For the next 25 years, from 1930 to 1955, Gullixson was president of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul and at the same time was vice-president of the former Norwegian Lutheran Church, later known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
My closest contact with “Dr. Gullixson,” as we students called him, was from 1948-1954. When I graduated from seminary in 1952, it was his encouragement that brought me back to the campus for an advanced degree in 1956.
His personal life and views were never the primary subject of his lectures, conversations or sermons. But these things did drop here and there and those of us who were in his presence gathered them as precious gems. O. G. Malmin, former editor of The Lutheran Herald, described Gullixson’s preaching as “biblical, confessional and contemporary.” I would add the word “doxological” or the “praise of God.”
Gullixson had a keen musical ability. While pastor in Minot, he was also a choir director. He was on the editorial board of the popular hymnal called the Concordia. He was also a member of the Joint Union Committee that guided the formation of the American Lutheran Church in 1960.
The eminent seminary president was like a “father” to many of us who received our professional education under his influence. While he could be uncompromising in the presence of his peers, he never forgot what it was like to be a boy or young man. Toughness and gentleness were close together in his spirit.
In the autumn of 1949, he spoke in chapel for a week on the theme “No Minimums” in scholarship, humility, faithfulness, courage and patience. His words had a way of taking deep root in the listener’s soul. I can still hear that voice with its majestic cadence and vibrato. We considered ourselves fortunate if he would ever invite us into his office just to chat. We valued every moment of it.
When he died on April 2, 1969, an era ended for many of us. Just five days later, on April 7, Easter Monday, another era ended for me. My own father died. I had lost two “fathers” in one week. “We Live to Bequeath” is a fitting epitaph for both of them.
Next time: “Rjukan — Norway’s Heavy Water Plant Attacked”