Rev. Basich advocated for individual rights

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2011 - 10:57 PM

Roseville pastor who founded Advent Lutheran Church in 1953 joined civil rights struggle and fought for pensions.

The Rev. Thomas Lee Basich founded the Advent Lutheran Church in Roseville and ministered there for more than 50 years. But his activism spread far beyond one congregation.

He marched with Martin Luther King in Alabama in the mid-1960s, conferred with Hubert Humphrey about civil rights and was a tireless advocate for other causes, including the pension funds of thousands of other Lutheran pastors.

Basich, 84, died June 22.

"He was a spiritual man for all seasons, many just causes, and a noble servant of Christ," friend Robert Hansen said.

Basich was born and raised in Chicago. He graduated from Augustana College and Seminary in Rock Island, Ill., and Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.

He was ordained into the ministry of the Augustana Lutheran Church and served briefly in a church in New York City's Bronx borough. Basich moved to Minnesota to serve a North Oaks church before founding Advent Lutheran in 1953.

His daughter Lynn Basich said her father and mother were given 50 hymnals and a church parsonage in a suburb booming with post-war homes for returning GIs and their families. Basich came to know several politicians and counted Gov. Karl Rolvaag as a congregation member. Humphrey and other leaders were friends.

His daughter recalled "governors in our living room; we had senators calling on the telephone, and we had Secret Service people in our church when Hubert Humphrey came for services."

When King asked for clergy to come to Selma and Montgomery in 1965 to support voting rights for blacks, Basich joined the marchers. A year later, when the U.S. Senate started discussions to pass the Voting Rights Act, Humphrey called Basich to Washington, D.C., to give the opening prayer.

Basich chaired the Governor's Human Rights Commission in Minnesota in the mid-1960s. He served on the Lutheran Church in America National Evangelism Commission.

"He was a strong leader with a very warm heart for all people," Lynn Basich said. "At the same time, he could take on very large causes and deal with leaders."

He played a leading role in a 10-year lawsuit challenging management of the pension program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court. "He was a spokesman for the not-so-powerful in the church," Hansen said. "To say he was a controversial figure would be an understatement."

In the Roseville area, Basich was an early member of Lake Johanna's volunteer fire department, a leader in establishing Roseville's park system, a founder of a Bible camp and one of the organizers of the Roseville string ensemble, family members said.

"He loved the people, and he was a fearless proclaimer of God's truth," said his son Matthew, who became a pastor and took over the ministry in the same church a few years ago.

Basich is survived by his wife, Lavergne, of 61 years.

In addition to Lynn and Matthew, both of Roseville, he is survived by daughter Anne, of Roseville; sons Mark, of Lorton, Va., and Michael, of White Bear Lake; six grandchildren, and a sister, Sarah Vadasz of Vallentuna, Sweden.

Services have been held.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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