John Theodore Schevenius put others' needs before his and cherished his time with his family.
As a longtime missionary and tireless humanitarian, Schevenius lived to serve strangers half a world away, his family said. His generosity and presence lives on inside the buildings he built in Africa and through the many lives he touched.
Schevenius, 92, died Dec. 4 at his Chanhassen home. His son Wes Schevenius said his father suffered from heart problems and Lewy body dementia.
"Dad was a trouper. He was tough, and outlived expectations," Wes said. "As always, he was thinking of others. He loved to sing, he loved to laugh, he loved his family and he loved his God."
Schevenius was born in Minneapolis to Carl Schevenius, a pastor, and his wife, Alice. After a stint at the Army Air Force during World War II, Schevenius enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study civil engineering. There, he joined the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical campus ministry and met his future wife, Ruth, a pre-med student who was the daughter of missionaries to India. They married after graduation and had five children.
In late 1950s, Schevenius and his wife became United Methodist missionaries posted in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. For nearly two decades, they made Africa home. During their missions, he served as a school principal and built hospitals, churches, schools and other buildings — often designed by Ruth.
"Mom and Dad also raised much, if not most, of the money needed for all his building projects through numerous letters from Africa and dedicated itinerating during their furloughs," Wes said.
In 1975, the mission board sent the Schevenius family back to the United States after a war made their stay in Zimbabwe difficult. Schevenius, who couldn't find a job, went back to school and took some engineering courses, even sharing a classroom with Wes at one point.
"I don't remember who did better," Wes said jokingly of his father.
Schevenius eventually got a job at General Mills and worked there until he retired in 1998.
All along, he remained active in global efforts. He sponsored four African children who earned college degrees in the United States and in England. He took multiple trips back to Zimbabwe to help rebuild the missions after the war. He was involved in many organizations, including Compatible Technology International, that worked to eradicate poverty.
In his later years, Schevenius enjoyed trekking with his wife, until he couldn't anymore. He never complained, even when dementia robbed most of his physical and mental abilities, Wes said. But as he grew frail, Schevenius wondered: "How will I praise God if I can't speak?"
With the help of his loved ones, he managed to do it. When he could no longer attend church, he watched sermons on TV. When he couldn't sing, his family sang to him. Songs that carried words of love for God brightened his heart and left him with a glimmer of hope.
"He was a very good husband and affectionate," Ruth said. "He would remember my birthday and special times we had shared."
During an evening meal with his family recently, Schevenius bowed his head and said plainly: "One of these days I want to go to Jesus." A week later, he died.
In addition to his wife and son Wes of Chanhassen, Schevenius is survived by children Jean Fellman of Arizona, Ann Copeland and David Schevenius of St. Paul, Elizabeth Dykema of St. Louis, and his sister, Bergliot Schevenius, of Golden Valley. Services have been held.