Herman Muus, or "Ham" as he was known, was not your typical minister, but his lifetime of service touched thousands of lives.

"He used to say he had a H.A.M. ministry," said his wife, Pearl. "He explained it as a 'hang-around ministry.' That's where you meet people on the street, where they're at, wherever they are."

Muus, pronounced "moose," helped found a north Minneapolis community center, a wilderness base canoe camp for young people and other camps. He started youth service trips to Mexico and a youth hiking program in the Rockies.

Muus died Dec. 18 at his home in Grand Marais one month after suffering a stroke. He was 91.

Ham Muus was born in Fargo, N.D., in 1929, the son of a Lutheran minister. He and Pearl were in grade school together in Fergus Falls. Both went to St. Olaf College, and they married in 1949 after their sophomore year. He was a top-flight student and starred on the school's basketball, tennis and baseball teams. He was an inductee in the college's athletic hall of fame.

After college and a year teaching, he enrolled in Luther Seminary in St. Paul. When a small Lutheran church was unable to continue its gospel mission in north Minneapolis, it asked the seminary for help, and a group of seminary students agreed to take it on, said Curtis Johnson who was one of them. They renovated an old hotel on Plymouth Avenue in 1954 and Muus became the first director of the Plymouth Christian Youth Center. "He had this kind of charisma about him that made him a leader," Johnson said.

"I owe my life to him," says David Dominguez, 75, a retired maintenance worker for the U.S. Post Office who was 8 years old when he met Muus at the center. Dominiguez was one of 10 children from a poor, Hispanic family. He said Muus became a father figure. "He knew about people and how to treat them."

Ham and Oz Anderson, another seminary student, had done some camping in the Boundary Waters "and we figured one of the best ways to help inner-city kids was to get them out of their environment for a little happiness," Anderson said. So began the Wilderness Canoe Base, which Muus headed. Many young people who went on the first canoe trips came from the Red Wing corrections facility for youth where Anderson was chaplain. Up to 500 a summer went on the trips, Pearl Muus said.

Muus developed other projects including a "Mexican youth encounter" program in which teenagers were bused to Mexico, spent time at a monastery and helped out villagers, said Jeanne Mugge, a family friend.

Muus was a supporter of American Indian causes and pressed Lutheran leaders to support Indian-run programs, according to Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement. "He was one of the greatest people I ever met," he said.

Later, Muus was a chaplain and 12-step addiction counselor at Golden Valley Health Center, and heard some 5,000 "fifth steps," in which people confidentially disclose their resentments and their role in them.

For years, Muus also pursued his artistic interests. He was a potter and painter and worked with stained glass.

Peter Rogness, a retired bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said he was 15 when he began working at the canoe base.

"I will say that Ham probably shaped me more than anybody besides my parents," he said. Muus taught him that "faith was not something that was simply believed, it was lived, and lived largely for the sake of other people," Rogness said.

Besides his wife, Muus is survived by sons, Nathan of Oakland, Ca., and Jeff of Hopkins; daughter, Solveig of Phoenix; brother Bernt of Grand Marais and three grandchildren. Services have been held.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224