Obituary: Robert Boehlke was an adventurous spirit

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2011 - 8:52 PM

Pastor, professor and photographer roamed wide.

Robert Boehlke

A boyhood spent on the Minnesota prairie was the quiet opening to Robert Boehl- ke's life, which later encompassed years in Indonesia, travels with his family through Kenya, a doctoral dissertation at Princeton Theological Seminary and an ill-advised standoff with a Komodo dragon. Yet for all of the adventure, it was his spiritual side that most people came to know, said his daughter, Heidi Boehlke, of Minneapolis.

"When new people came to church, he would greet them," she said. "My dad was very generous and always had a smile and just loved to know what people were like and what they had to say."

Robert Boehlke, a pastor and professor of Christian education, died on Nov. 11 of a bacterial infection while traveling. He was 86.

First educated in a one-room school in Winthrop, Minn., Boehlke went on to study at the University of Minnesota and the theological school at the University of Dubuque, in Dubuque, Iowa, where he met his wife, fellow student Mary Greer. He was pastor at Presbyterian churches in Iowa and New Jersey before entering the doctoral program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Upon graduation, he and Mary were about to take an assignment in Portugal with the Presbyterian Fraternal Workers when a denied visa application sent them instead to Jakarta, Indonesia. Boehlke began teaching at an ecumenical theological seminary there in 1963, arriving near the tail end of President Sukarno's reign, a time of tremendous political turmoil.

Heidi Boehlke said she remembers fondly her family's years in Indonesia, as her parents raised their four kids while sending them to an international school in Jakarta. The family often took trips, traveling to Sri Lanka, Europe and Africa. Robert Boehlke was a passionate wildlife photographer, and he once climbed close to a Komodo dragon to get a better shot. It had just eaten a goat, and the theory was that the big lizard would be too full to eat a person, his daughter said.

Boehlke stayed in Indonesia for more than 20 years, developing ecumenical curricula for Sunday schools and the public secondary schools, attending Presbyterian conferences and serving as one of the pastors at an English-language congregation. The family returned to the United States in 1987, settling first in Hutchinson, Minn., and then Bloomington. Upon returning, Boehlke wrote a two-volume history on Christian education in the Indonesian language. He also served as pastor, community volunteer and resident wildlife photographer in Hutchinson, holding a show of his photos at the Crow River Arts Center.

Indonesia was never far away, as Boehlke served as president of the Minnesota Indonesia Society and acted as translator for a group of Minnesota conservation officers during a 1997 trip to Indonesia.

He and Mary were members of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.

Mary, who was an elementary school teacher and sculptor, died in July. It was difficult for Robert, said Heidi, but he was glad that his wife had died first and would not have to bear the loneliness he felt upon her passing. He finished writing his own life story two months ago and had planned to share it with people this Christmas. He called it "Beyond All Expectations."

In addition to Heidi, he is survived by children Lisa, Eric and Andy, one grandchild and a sister, Audrey.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 420 Cedar Lake Road S. in Minneapolis.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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