Posts in centennial
106 Year Old Comet Shares Impact of Hillcrest That Still Lingers

“My dad asked me to go to Hillcrest, so I went,” Minnie mumbled, starting to explain her Hillcrest experience as the oldest living person who attended. 3 strokes in her 106 years haven’t damaged her memory, easily reminiscing on a year at Hillcrest that set a solid foundation for her faithful life.

This picture of Minnie outside Hillcrest in Grand Forks hangs beside her bed in her room in Mohall, ND.

Minnie’s bags plopped down on Belmont avenue in Grand Forks, North Dakota in the fall of 1925. After the long trip to Lutheran Brethren Schools from her family’s farm in North Dakota, Minnie climbed the castle steps as a 16 year old.

Stomach ailments cut her time at Hillcrest short, but it didn’t keep her from building fond memories of a year in the Castle. “They called it a castle,” Minnie explained, leaning forward to add emphasis on her instructive time in Hillcrest’s classroom. “It was a beautiful home.”

Minnie’s year in the Castle was the final year before President E.M. Broen took leave to focus on an evangelistic ministry. Minnie was greatly impacted by the 67 year old father of what would become Hillcrest Lutheran Academy. “We called him daddy Broen,” Minnie noted. “He was taking care of us kids, so far from home.”

Broen’s position as father was a bridge for both Hillcrest students and his own family, calling all to rest in the grace of Jesus Christ. Following the martyr death of his son-in-law in China, Broen took special care of his daughter, Hannah. She noted the special guidance her father gave as she buried her husband. Broen’s guidance is documented in Hannah’s Book, The Bridge.

E.M. Broen is surrounded by his children in this 1911 picture. His love and care for his children spilled over into his care for the students at Hillcrest, recognized by Minnie and all who attended the Lutheran Brethren Bible School.

Broen’s figure as a father of the schools impacted the staff and students at Hillcrest to follow suit. During Minnie’s Christmas at Hillcrest illness and distance kept her from traveling home for the holidays. A friend’s family invited her to their farm in Minnesota. The care of her friend’s mother stayed her during a trying time. “I enjoyed being there since I couldn’t go home. If I would’ve went home I wouldn’t have went back,” Minnie said, leading the conversation to her battle with illness.

Minnie fought for her life from childhood through early adulthood. At the age of nine Minnie had a near death experience. Sitting in her bedroom connected to the dining room in her large childhood home, Minnie overheard the doctor tell her parents that she might soon die.

“I could see the devil coming across the floor for me,” Minnie started. Fear gripping her face as she recalled the memory of the incident. “He wanted to take my heart and put it in a box. I said no, and turned away from him.”

Minnie's childhood farm was known as the Leland farm. It was one of the largest farmsteads in the area.

Minnie recalled a book, Mirror of the Heart: Casting out Sin and Satan. The book was Norwegian, written at the turn of the century. Her father saw her holding the book, looking at a picture of a heart with words written inside the heart. She told of an image in the wake of holding the book. “The room opened up where the dining room was, and there sat Jesus in the dining room with a whole bunch of angels. And oh, I was so happy!” Minnie’s foundational peace in Jesus propelled her to drink from the well of Bible training she received at Hillcrest 7 years later. “We studied the books in the Bible, it helped me a lot,” Minnie said, focusing on the training she received in one year at Hillcrest. She said the staff told them to study the scriptures the same way a cow chews her cud. An apt analogy for the midwest students.

The 1925-26 string band was a highlight for Minnie, standing third from the right in the second row. Her proficiency on the harp opened doors for her to tour with the group throughout Minnesota and North Dakota.

In addition to Bible training, playing in the string band was another image that popped readily to Minnie’s mind. The group would travel to area churches in the modest bus Hillcrest used for tours. Weathered roads posed an obstacle for the band’s delicate instruments. “I played the harp,” Minnie noted, waving her hand in time with hymns she called from memory.

The impact of music and Bible training is reaping a heavenly harvest after Minnie's 106 years. The nursing home in Mohall, North Dakota was graced with her singing voice and Bible memory when she wheeled from room to room in encouragement. Time has taken its toll on Hillcrest’s oldest student, who now has her arm pressed tightly against her chest, a result of one of the strokes she survived. Her faith is expressed best now to those who visit her. Bible memory and hymns are readily on Minnie's lips, mixing with a bit of humor from time to time, "I imagine He (Jesus) is getting tired of hearing from me."

Minnie's pride in being a Hillcrest student is evident in the pictures hanging in her room and the clear recollection of growth in Christ during her year at Hillcrest.

As our time together fades, so does the smile on Minnie's face and the twinkle in her eye. There is a bond Hillcrest students feel, even if there is 100 years separating their experience. Parting words are broken by a raising of Minnie’s hand as she emphasizes her thoughts on her time at Hillcrest’s campus in Grand Forks in 1925. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It made a great impact on me.”

President Egge Had Courage Building Experience in a Hillcrest Uniform

Coach Werdal passes out equipment to G.T. Gunhus to start the 1958 season.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but facing one’s fear,” said Coach Werdal. 

I was in his office shortly after he had told us football players to turn in our pads if we were going to play fearfully. He said fearful players have a greater risk of injury and have a negative influence on the team’s spirit. 

I went to admit that I was often fearful. That was true in other areas in addition to messing up on the football field. That is when he described courage as facing fear, not the absence of fear. 

I have thought about Coach’s statement in many different situations these 55 years since I was on the Hillcrest team.  I occasionally think of his words as I watch our Comets on the gridiron.

We miss the best of life because of fear.  Like Adam, who admitted, “I was afraid …so I hid,” we even hide from our Creator Redeemer!

Jesus, our Savior, faced an infinitely more dangerous opponent than any football team. In facing Satan who was determined to destroy Him, Scripture says that Jesus entered the conflict by looking forward to the joy set before Him. 

Joel Egge poses for the yearbook in his senior season, 1959.

Jesus knew the suffering He would endure and the death He would experience, but He faced His future with something greater than courage. He was on God’s mission to win freedom for us being held captive by Satan, sin, and death. He looked forward to that outcome!

The joy He saw, of people like us freely enjoying God, receiving and sharing His blessings, and living with Him eternally, caused Him to “endure the cross” and “scorn its shame.”  (see Hebrews 12:2) 

My desire for you, and for our Hillcrest students, is that we face tomorrow, not with self-generated courage, but carried by the joy Jesus won for us. 

Rejoice that Lord Jesus will walk with you each tomorrow until He welcomes you into the eternal today forever captivating you with the joyous fullness of life!

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace, Over all victorious in its bright increase.
— Frances Havergal
Centennial Sighting: Alumni Finds Purpose Through Discipline

As Hillcrest's first graduating class was preparing their final weeks at school, Tellef Senum received a note from President Broen. Senum likely sat on his bed, palms sweating with his eyes on his suitcase as he opened the letter that would give him news of his discipline. The letter was a life line that Senum used to change his actions and realize what a life of eternal significance looks like. 

Hillcrest was rounding the bend on their first of what would become 100 graduating classes as the seniors wrote their last letters home as Hillcrest students. Their wooden desks held a handful of envelopes that would carry messages of joy and excitement. Tellef Senum's desk sat bare except for a simple sheet of paper with fresh ink on it communicating disappointment and a discipline that would enable him to remain at Hillcrest.

As a sophomore, Senum likely was getting used to the freedom of life at Hillcrest. His friends were a joyous sight that often led him to exuberant activities. The staff were working to bridle the young man in an effort to guide him to maturity. While Senum bucked, the staff worked to discern if Hillcrest was the appropriate place for Senum to grow. They reached an impasse in March of Senum's sophomore year. It called the two parties to meet in mutual understanding. Senum responded marvelously. 

The letter to Tellef stated, "The faculty has decided to campus you for four weeks from date, instead of sending you home, and this gives you another chance." Senum's heart likely leapt for joy, evidenced through an attitude change that led him to the rank of class president two years later.

Senum walked across the graduation platform at the Lutheran Brethren School building in Grand Forks in 1922 to shake the hand of the man who penned the disciplinary letter two years prior. Their meeting on the stage was a marking stone that propelled Senum to great heights in proceeding years.

Senum earned his B.S. from the University of North Dakota and his Master of Science and PH.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota after receiving his Hillcrest diploma. A series of teaching stints throughout North Dakota propelled the Hillcrest graduate to Los Angeles for a director of research position for the William T. Thompson Company. He moved up the ranks to become the Executive Vice President and Director of the company in 1955. In 1960, Senum established his own firm, called the Fibertone Company, manufacturing pharmaceuticals. 

Senum's work in the field of science earned him a naming in the American Men of Science, Chemical Who's Who, Who's Who in the West, World's Who's Who in Commerce and Industry, Dictionary of International Biography, Personalities of the West and Midwest, and the Royal Blue Book (Leaders of the English Speaking World). 

In 1976 Senum orchestrated a Golden Anniversary celebration for he and his classmates. They were the first four year students to attend Hillcrest Academy. Senum compiled a book that held a letter he wrote to the administration. The letter was a preface to pictures and memorabilia the class of 1922 willingly put together for the Lutheran Brethren archives as an inspiration to future classes. Senum's letter stated, "I estimate that at our Golden anniversary our average age is about 70 years and that is not too early to prepare a review of our past 50 years and to record our thanks to God for all the good things that have happened to us. Of course, I believe the first good thing that happened to all of us was when we were born. The second good thing was when we were born again."

Senum's book will be displayed in the J.H. Levang Archive Library, a new feature that will launch at the Centennial Celebration Graduation Weekend, May 26-28, 2017. The library will highlight how God has used Hillcrest as a beacon of light to high school students for over 100 years. A place for students, like Senum, to mature and grow convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and in Him there is life. 

Front Row (L to R): Martha Kilen, Ida Goplen, Hilda Kasa, Thora Norman, Sylvia Herigstad, Almina Foss, Hannah Hektner, Christine Hektner.
Second Row: Carl Stadsklev, Mabel Foss, Nellie Vining, Hannah Giske, Clara Egge, Norma Kringen, Ingalf Torkelson.
Third Row: Helmer Lybeck, Johannah Fryhling, Emelie Johnson, Gladys Westley, Norman Nelson.
Back Row: Clarence Walstad, Tellef Senum, Bersven Blikstad
Not Pictured: Ruth Bridston, Edna Randall, Iva Benson.

centennialWayne StenderComment
Gunhus Shared Resolve After Foxhole Conversation

G.T. Gunhus enrolled at Hillcrest in 1957. His experience parallels a foxhole conversation that put him on a unique trajectory to be used by God.

G.T. Gunhus poses in his football gear for a yearbook photo in 1957.

G.T. Gunhus poses in his football gear for a yearbook photo in 1957.

In 1957, Gunhus found himself in a Comet uniform with a beat up helmet hugging his ears. The equipment was worn. Augsburg college discarded the worn helmets, and Hillcrest's year-old football program quickly picked them up. 

Being only the second year Hillcrest fielded a football team, most in the area felt the Comets would be easy pickings for a pad to stats and a tally in the win column. But with Gunhus' athleticism and football I.Q., the Comets played spoiler throughout the year. 

Dust rolled off the wheels as the Comet bus came to a jolted stop in Campbell, Minnesota for one of the many spoiler games. Campbell scheduled the Comets for homecoming. Fans stood in silent protest as the Comets made quick work of the established football program. Gunhus and his teammates unstrapped their gear as they grabbed water bottles for halftime, smiling. The Comets were spoiling homecoming with the scoreboard blaring their 34-0 score. "Not a team could beat us," Gunhus recalled. 

Jumping into a football program picking up speed, Gunhus' Hillcrest experience would provide context for a future battle. He joined the Vietnam war at the height of combat. Having the experience of jumping in to contribute to Hillcrest's football program, Gunhus had a knack for catching up with a pace. His role as Army Chaplain would take him to a difficult place and greatly shape his life.

Gunhus' green-stained army bag hit the ground with a thud at a base camp at Phu Loi, Vietnam in 1968. The entire first month brought Gunhus face-to-face with an ominous fear. “I was afraid I was going to die.”

His fear heated to a boiling point when Viet Cong guerrillas attacked the Phu Loi Camp on October 12. Rocket and mortar fire blared as he crouched in a deep bunker under the cover of night. The sandbags provided little security as the ground shook and awoke Gunhus' fear. “I had to come to grips with my calling,” Gunhus recalled. The faces of his wife Ann, and two small boys, Kevin (age four at the time) and Michael (6 months old), ran through his mind as mortar shells exploded around him. He reminisced that the strongest picture was the “image of a family without a dad and husband.” He remembered thinking, “I didn’t sign up for any of this.”

Then, the Lord spoke. “Do you trust me to keep you alive?”

Gunhus responded: “Yes, by your Grace.”

“If I allow you to die, do you trust me to take care of your family?” God asked.

Again, Gunhus replied, more slowly: “Yes, by your Grace.”

It was in that night that Gunhus' call to military service was reinforced. He recalls his soul centering on a passage from John, chapter 15, verse 16. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  At that point, Gunhus realized that he was God’s servant, and his response was to say, “Lord, send me where you want me to go.”

Later in his career Gunhus would counsel hundreds of men in difficult times. He supported many in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, where he was the Chief Chaplain for the U.S. Army as a four-star general. His office was obliterated when the terrorists flew a plane into the Pentagon. Gunhus was on vacation at the time. In coming back to the office, Gunhus resolved to build a chapel where terrorists crashed a plane that left the Pentagon charred. He led the effort in building the chapel, a place many have found solace.

More of G.T. Gunhus' story is told in Hillcrest's Centennial book, written by historian Steve Hoffbeck, set to release at the Hillcrest Invitational Tournament, April 7-8 2017. This Centennial highlight is a glimpse into how God uses experiences at Hillcrest to prepare followers to be a beacon of light in a darkened world.

Centennial Sightings

E.M. Broen became president of the Lutheran Brethren Bible School in 1903. Broen would later become a driving force in the creation of the high school department in 1916. Through the start of the Bible school it is clear to see the mission heart that would later be a driving force in Hillcrest Academy. 

In Broen's early years with the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, good friend, Pastor K.B. Birkeland, was influential as the two took on the primary teaching of the Bible school department at the turn of the century. It was often that Broen was asked if he, “would consider a call . . . to go to India.” Birkeland could see a mission itch in Broen's spirit.

Professor E.M. Broen sits third from the left. Future Chinese missionary, Marie Harstad, stands first from the left in the second row. This is the student body for the Lutheran Brethren Bible School 1903-04

Professor E.M. Broen sits third from the left. Future Chinese missionary, Marie Harstad, stands first from the left in the second row. This is the student body for the Lutheran Brethren Bible School 1903-04

Broen liked the Lutheran Brethren because he saw it as a “mission synod.” In 1902 the synod sent their first missionaries to China, who would pioneer a vital, indigenous church in the Hupeh and Honan provinces. Areas unreached by Christian missionaries before their endeavor.

From his first days walking the halls at the school's Wahpeton campus, Broen communicated his mission heart. In his first class in 1903 a young woman named Marie Harstad sat impressionable and eager to learn more of the Lord. Her Bible School education would change her life, and propel her to change many others after graduation. 

Marie placed trust in Jesus at an early age. Thinking back to her pig-tails and skipping, Harstad noted that her faith matured in a special writing where she declared, "when God saved me . . . . He also called me to China.” Her missionary heart was deliberately hidden as Harstad matured. 

While prayers for China continued, a new song came from Harstad's mouth as she sought further training in a faith that compelled her to mission work. She started praying that a Bible School would be established near her home. As the Church of the Lutheran Brethren answered the call of synod leaders to start what would later merge into Hillcrest Academy, Harstad's prayers were answered, preparing a young woman for overseas mission to an unreached people group.

Harstad's early days as a Bible school student were filled with butterflies as she found herself in a surreal experience. Her answer to prayer through the Lutheran Brethren Bible School was deeper than her prepubescent prayers near her farmhouse window every night. Harstad sat in Broen's class. The missionary was preparing the mission-minded.

As the class exited their introductory material, Harstad wrote of her instructors' incredible passion for things of the Lord. She wrote in one entry explaining, “one of Broen’s outstanding subjects was missions and mission history. His whole heart was in that subject and lots of times God’s presence was felt so strongly that the tears rolled down our cheeks." Marie epitomized the experience by simply stating, “At times I thought I was more in Heaven than on earth.”

Harstad's experience in Broen's class kindled a flame for missions that she worked to keep hidden in her early years. She writes, “Broen spoke often of the mission field, and wished he could go there.” She commented in her journal that, “the whole class seemed to catch the mission spirit.”

Following graduation, the impression Broen had on his pupils translated into life-changing action. In a time before China Inland Mission's call in the 1920s for 200 missionaries to pack their belongins in coffins to serve the Lord in China, Marie traveled to China in 1906 in a proverbial trailblazing event. The Lutheran Brethren sent six students to China before the world was called to action. The six students were members of the first three classes of the Bible School, what would later grow into Hillcrest Academy.

The mission heart of Hillcrest predates a worldwide mission emphasis. This heart serves as primary roots that establish Hillcrest as a place for students to not only affirm the faith, but to equip students to exercise their faith in eternally significant actions.