Theodore Homdrom was flying Air Force missions during World War II when he decided that if he survived, he would try to give back in some way.
“During those 30 missions over the mainland of Europe, he intensified a certain religious sense that if God protects him through this next mission, he’ll try to give back in any way he can,” said Homdrom’s son Steven.
After the war, Homdrom worked as a teacher before becoming an anti-apartheid Lutheran missionary in South Africa. He met some of the leading anti-apartheid activists of the time, including Desmond Tutu and Beyers Naudé.
Homdrom, of St. Anthony Park, died April 3 at 100.
He grew up on his family farm in Erskine, Minn., and attended Concordia College as a history major. After joining the Air Force, he was trained in navigation and then flew missions over Europe in a B-17. His missions included D-Day. “He said that was one of his lightest missions, actually,” Steven said. “The tough ones were flying over places like Berlin.”
Homdrom received several honors for his service, including the Purple Heart. But he wasn’t one to boast about his life, even in the two books he published that covered his war and missionary experiences.
In “Mission Memories: World War II,” his father wrote that “he was simply doing what he had to do,” Steven said.
After the war, Homdrom became a Lutheran pastor. This led him to South Africa with his wife, Betty, who died in 2010. The couple spent 30 years there. As their children grew up going to white schools and living on church land, they experienced the two sides of apartheid.
“We had to be in a white-only school, but when we lived at home on the mission station, then we had mostly black people around us. So, growing up, we were in two different worlds,” daughter Ev Hanson-Florin said.
At one point, Homdrom was arrested as part of the government’s resistance to the anti-apartheid movement.
“The government wanted to intimidate many of the people in the church headquarters,” Steven said. “And so they were going after certain people, and my father was one of them.” He eventually was exonerated by the Supreme Court of South Africa.
Despite that ordeal, Hanson-Florin said the family’s time in South Africa was full of love and fun, with camping trips and hiking. Homdrom got to know other anti-apartheid activists — including Tutu, whom, Steven said, worked in the same building in Johannesburg as Homdrom. Years later, Homdrom was chosen to present Tutu with an honorary doctorate through Luther Seminary.
“His strength was really to have a certain vision of how people in South Africa could get along with each other and understand each other, despite the kinds of political things that were going on,” Steven said.
Homdrom retired and returned to the United States in 1985. He worked as a green card coordinator, and Betty worked on their church’s refugee committee.
Hanson-Florin said that through their work, her parents taught her similar values. When services were held for Homdrom, multiple people approached her about the impact he’d had on them.
“When people came out of that service, they said it was not a service where you felt like you wanted to cry. It was a service that made you think, ‘What can I do to contribute to the good of this world?’ ” she said. “Yes, it was as a result of my dad’s death, but it was that anybody can do something and has a role in making the world a better place.”
Homdrom is survived by three children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
Imani Cruzen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.