Rev. Norman F. Norden; 1937-2014: Henry Co. Lutheran minister a missionary in South Pacific

Rev. Norman F. Norden
Rev. Norman F. Norden

The Rev. Norman F. Norden, 76, pastor for 19 years of Hope Lutheran Church in Henry County’s Hamler who began his ministry as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, died Monday.

He suffered a fatal heart attack while swimming laps at the YMCA in Defiance, where he was a regular visitor, his son, Chris, said.

Pastor Norden and his wife, Wanda, lived in rural Malinta. He retired from Hope Lutheran in 1999, but remained active at church — he sang bass in the choir — and in the community.

“He never ceased to say, ‘Thank you for sharing the Gospel good news,’” said the Rev. Lindsay Shaner, pastor of Hope Lutheran since 2007. “People still looked to him as a recognized leader in the congregation.

“I looked upon him as a friend and a colleague,” Pastor Shaner said. “He liked to tell stories, and he was positive and outgoing and affirming. One of the most good-natured people you’d ever want to see.”

Pastor Norden also made a point of being part of the community, his son said, from having coffee with townsfolk to attending high school basketball games.

“He got himself very well connected with the community,” his son said.

In retirement, Pastor Norden became an officer in the German Lutheran Heritage Society, which has collected and preserved family histories and archives from northwest Ohio counties with deep German roots.

He told The Blade in 2002 of the turmoil that led many ancestors of northwest Ohio German Americans to immigrate in the 19th Century. His grandparents were immigrants from Germany.

“There was so much fighting going on, and these people were very tired of all this fighting and these wars,” Pastor Norden said in 2002.

Pastor Norden’s parents spoke German at home as he was growing up.

He was born July 14, 1937, and grew up on a farm near Napoleon. He was a 1955 graduate of Ridgeville High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Capital University in the Columbus area.

He continued his studies at the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus with the aim of being a minister — and a missionary. He was inspired by missionaries from his home church, St. Paul’s Lutheran, especially the Rev. George Hueter, who served in Papua New Guinea.

Pastor Norden received a bachelor of divinity degree from the seminary in 1963 and was ordained. He was an intern at Trinity Lutheran in Mobridge, S.D., and then set off for Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, his family in tow, where he was a missionary for much of the next 16 years.

He and his family lived at a Lutheran mission station in a remote area. He had to learn a local language, his son said, as he and the family adjusted to life without such amenities as instant, always available electricity.

“He liked the people there,” his son said. “He saw how the Gospel and the good news, the effect that had on people’s lives.”

Some tribes had been fighting, but hearing a message of hope “helped bring them together and helped bring peace to the region,” his son said.

He was stewardship director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea for six years before he and his family returned to the United States.

Surviving are his wife, Wanda, whom he married in 1960; son, Chris; daughters, Lisa Ehlert and Rachel Downs; sisters, Florence Behnfeldt, Mary Ann Iliff, Margarite Lanzer, and Gladys Dachenhaus; brother, Dan, and five grandchildren.

Visitation is from 2-4 and 5-8 p.m. today in the Rodenberger Funeral Home, Napoleon. Services are at 11 a.m. Saturday in Hope Lutheran Church, Hamler, where visitation will begin at 10 a.m. The family suggests tributes to Hope Lutheran Church’s endowment fund.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.