Obituary: Rev. Harry Stroessner wasn't afraid to share his beliefs

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2012 - 10:04 PM

The United Church of Christ pastor 'was above all inclusive,' especially of Indian people, a colleague said.

Rev. Harry Stroessner

Whenever the Rev. Harry Stroessner encountered injustice, he'd roll up his sleeves and push back.

Stroessner, a United Church of Christ (UCC) pastor who founded All Nations Church in Minneapolis, died of cancer Jan. 9 at an Edina hospice. He was 80, and in recent years had divided his time between Eden Prairie and Ely, Minn.

He was born in Wisconsin on a farm his family later lost during the Depression, said daughter Libby Fairchild, of Chaska. At Mission House College and Seminary (now Lakeland College) in Sheboygan, Wis., he met Bonnie Stephens, a fellow student and a Ho-Chunk Indian. They married in 1952.

After he was ordained by the UCC in 1955, he served churches in Maple Lake and Fairmont, Minn. In 1968, he moved to St. Mark's UCC Church in Bloomington. During his 13 years there, he also served on Bloomington's human rights commission, despite grim moments that included a cross-burning in front of the parsonage and a torrent of letters from Elroy Stock, a vocal opponent of interracial marriage.

In 1981, Stroessner helped found and became pastor of a UCC church built at 1515 E. 23rd St. in Minneapolis to serve urban Indians -- All Nations. Its membership never grew much past 115, but its influence in the Phillips neighborhood was strong. It provided health and educational services, helped train Indian pastors and served the neighborhood in many other ways.

"My dad was very visible in the community," Fairchild said. "He would take long walks, pick up trash along the way, and befriend everyone."

Michael and Becky Goze were among those who joined All Nations. "We were so taken by Harry's friendliness and sincerity," said Michael Goze. "Very shortly after meeting him, you'd know you were dealing with someone who respected all people. He had very passionate opinions and would often relate them to scripture, so you'd have a hard time arguing with him."

Stroessner also shared his opinions in scores of brief, sharply written, witty letters to the Star Tribune, most denouncing inequality and racism. In one from 1990 he wrote, "I would like to nominate the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce for the First Annual Nicolae Ceausescu Humanitarianism Award for its decision to oppose increased support for the Minneapolis school system. ... Surely the Christian members of the chamber that I know must have been absent from the meeting."

The Rev. Wally Koch, a retired UCC colleague, said Stroessner "was above all inclusive."

"He loved to laugh, but he could also be stern," Koch said. "One morning he was out for a walk when this guy comes up and wants to rob him. He turned around -- he had his cleric's collar on -- and said real firmly, 'I am a member of the clergy, and I will not let you rob me.' This person backed away and left him alone."

Stroessner also started a Habitat for Humanity program in Phillips and traveled many years to Mexico to help build homes and schools.

After he retired, he and Bonnie spent summers at a lake home near Ely and winters at an Eden Prairie condo, close to their grandchildren.

In addition to his daughter Libby, he is survived by his wife; two other daughters, Stacy Kehrwald of Eden Prairie and Lisa Stroessner of Crystal; two sons, Mark of Apple Valley and Todd of Hopkins; two brothers, Wayne of Random Lake, Wis., and Gordon of Grafton, Wis.; two sisters, Joyce Meinberg of West Bend, Wis., and Diane Kraus of Fredonia, Wis.; seven grandchildren, three great-grandkids; five step-grandchildren and two step-great-grandkids.

A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. April 15 at Oak Ridge Hotel and Conference Center in Chaska.

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290

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