(10/7/13) Thorwald Ansgar "Unk" Rykken, age 89, passed away at home on October 5, 2013, surrounded by his family.
He was born July 14, 1924, at the Bethany Indian Mission in Wittenberg, WI, where his father was serving as a missionary among the Ho-Chunk, Oneida, and Stockbridge people. His mother taught at the mission school sponsored by the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Thor attended the mission school until 1930 when the family moved to Petersburg, ND. Following graduation from Petersburg High School in 1941, Thor attended Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, where he was active in a variety of extra-curricular activities and served as senior class president. He excelled academically, graduating in 1947 with dual degrees in philosophy and the classics.
While singing in the Concordia Choir under Director Paul J. Christiansen, Thor met the love of his life, Cathryn Wambheim, and the two married in 1948. Thor and Cathy enjoyed 64 years of marriage, raised four children, and answered seven pastoral calls. Thor cared for Cathy during a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's, and she preceded him in death just six months ago.
As part of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, Thor flew 49 missions as tail gunner on a B-25 out of Corsica in the Italian phase of World War II. He was awarded the Air Medal for meritorious achievement, and his experiences as Staff Sergeant are documented in Dr. James Hofrenning's book titled Cobbers in WWII: Memoirs from the Greatest Generation. A call to ministry became clear for him during his military service, and, so, after completing his college education, he enrolled at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. To fund his schooling, he took one year off to serve as Superintendent of Schools in Dahlen, ND, and to teach along with Cathy; he thereafter returned to Luther Seminary and was ordained in 1951.
Thor devoted his life to his family and the ministry, touching many lives with wisdom, counsel, a gentle heart, and care over his 54-year career. He served parishes in McClusky, Mercer, Denhoff, Cando, West Fargo (Faith), and Fargo (Olivet), ND, and Black River Falls (Evangelical, Squaw Creek, and Little Norway), and preached his last sermon when he was almost age 89. Thor's father baptized him when he was eight days old, and he, in turn, went on to baptize three generations of his family over 62 years.
Thor possessed a variety of characteristics that aided his ministry and other interactions – intellect, humor, a love of learning, and a gracious spirit. He is remembered as a gifted storyteller and musician. In addition to spending time with his beloved family, Thor enjoyed reading several newspapers each day, listening to NPR and classical or jazz music, attending concerts and plays, and playing harmonica and piano. His encyclopedic knowledge on wide-ranging subjects combined with his curiosity and humility made him an excellent conversationalist and valued friend.
Thor's community involvement included serving on the boards of Lakeview Nursing Home in Devils Lake, ND, Bethany Lutheran Homes of LaCrosse, Bethany Homes of Fargo, ND, and United Campus Ministry at North Dakota State University, as well as participating in the United Way of Fargo. Thor also served as chair of the Devil's Lake Conference in the newly-formed American Lutheran Church, on the American Missions committee while in Wisconsin, and as chair of the Fargo Conference of the ALC. Thor had an abiding interest in ecumenical work and was involved in building bridges with other denominations within the communities he served in both North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Thor is survived by his children, Anne (Larry) Lunda and Paul (Mary) Rykken of Black River Falls; Elizabeth (Robin Shaw) and Miriam (John Schulz) Rykken of St. Paul, MN; four grandchildren, Kathryn (Karl) Schweitz of Cottage Grove, Jacob (Kristen) Rykken of El Paso, TX, Erik Shaw of St. Paul, MN, and Megan Rykken of Madison; three great-grandchildren, Ramona, Emma, and namesake Thorwald; a brother-in-law, John (Carol) Wambheim of Fargo, ND; a sister-in-law, Helen Hagen of Moorhead, MN; a step-granddaughter, Wendy (Gabino) Barrera of Minneapolis, MN; two step-great-grandchildren, Antonio and Monica; special Peterson and Rykken cousins; and many nieces, nephews, friends, and former congregants.
In addition to his wife, Cathryn, Thor was preceded in death by his parents, Thorvald and Alma (Syvertson) Rykken; three sisters, June Slater and Beatrice and Edith Rykken; and his parents-in-law, Harvey and Josie Wambheim.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 12, 2013, at 2:00 p.m., at the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) 115 N. 5th St. in Black River Falls, WI, with visitation at the church on Friday, October 11, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., and for the hour preceding the memorial service. Funeral arrangements will be handled by Torgerson Funeral Home, (715-284-4321) Black River Falls, WI. The family prefers memorials to the Thorwald and Cathryn Rykken Scholarship Fund at Luther Seminary, Black River Memorial Hospice, or to the mission fund at the ELC in Black River Falls.
Online condolences may be sent to www.torgersonfuneralhome.com