Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Lee Bjerke, 93, of Viroqua, Wisconsin died Friday, March 24, 2017 at Bethel Home in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Lee was born April 20, 1923 to Oscar and Edna (Dorwin) Lewison in Viroqua, Wisconsin. She attended Viroqua High School and graduated in 1942 from Luther College with a degree in Elementary Education. Lee furthered her education at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Lee was united in marriage with Arlen “Spec” Bjerke on June 16, 1945 at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Lansing, Iowa.

Lee was a teacher in the Lansing, Iowa and West Salem, Wisconsin school districts for 40 years. She retired from teaching in 1986.  In 1998, Lee joined the Teacher “Wall of Fame” in the West Salem School District.  She was a member of the Eastern Star-Decorah Chapter No.73., La Crosse Area Retired Educators Association (LAREA) and Wisconsin Retired Educators Association (WREA).

Lee was involved with many church related activities.  She taught Sunday school, Bible Classes, was in the Choir, and an active participate in the Ladies Circle-both in West Salem and Lansing Churches.

Lee is survived by her children, Dr. John (Nancy Bekkedal) Bjerke of Viroqua, Wisconsin and Jane (Marlin) Kitchen of Grand Ledge, Michigan; six grandchildren; Mark Kitchen, Teri Karcher, Amy Stoakes, Lisa Bjerke, Kristen Coats, Megan Bjerke; seven great-grandchildren; three sisters, Leaura Plummer of Johnson, Kansas, Gay Newton of Hutchinson, Kansas and LoAnn Markno of Wichita, Kansas; and two brothers, Bill Hatton of Dallas, Texas and Orvin Lewison of Viroqua, Wisconsin.Lee was preceded in death by her husband, Arlen on October 21, 2000; her parents, Oscar and Edna Lewison; and one brother, George Hatton.Visitation will be Monday, March 27, 2017 from 4-7 pm at Thornburg-Grau Funeral Home and Cremation Service, Lansing, Iowa with a one hour visitation before services at the church on Tuesday.Funeral Services will be at 11:00 am on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Lansing, Iowa with Rev. Laura Gentry as the officiant. Burial will follow at Old East Paint Creek Cemetery, Waterville, Iowa.


Dear Family and Friends,
     Mother left us in her sleep on Friday night-no long painful illness, just an earthly body that finally wore out.  These last few years she had become frail and had what they call “short term memory loss”.  But, up until the end she still knew her family and even my close friends Sandi and Cheryl (who I have to admit are just like family).  Mom had a hard time coming up with the words she wanted to use when visiting but still enjoyed hearing each of us tell her about what was going on in our lives.  She enjoyed having “Our Daily Bread” read to her up until the time she left us.
     Mother was a teacher her entire adult life.  Even after she left the class room she continued to teach us how to treat our families, how to support the church, and how to grow old and still enjoy life.  When she no longer could make jewelry, she enjoyed watching me make jewelry for her.  When she no longer could stay awake the entire time I was making earrings for her, she still enjoyed wearing the end product.  The girls at the home know how much she like her earrings and put them on her every day.
     During the years she was teaching, Mom was known as a “tough teacher.”  Although having that reputation, her former students who we ran into years later, commented on what a great teacher Mom had been.  At her 90th birthday party, one young man who had her in the fifth grade read about the open house and drove to Viroqua to see her and thank her for all she had done for him.  Her classroom was organized and she kept up with the latest teaching methods.  One of the highlights of her career was being selected to go to Philadelphia to demonstrate the individual teaching concept to a national conference of school superintendents.  Parents often thanked Mother for the extra time she spent with their children by bring her things from their gardens.  On more than one occasion we came home from church on Sunday to find a bushel of cucumbers or tomatoes on our back steps; sometimes with a thank you note and sometime just the gift of fresh vegetables.
     Mother and Dad had a great Christ based marriage.  They loved and respected one another.  That is not to say they didn’t have some lively discussions.  They met when Mother was choir director for this very church.  At the time they did not want to heat the church in the middle of the week so they held practice at my grandparents’ home.  When dad came home from the service he met mom at choir practice in his own home.   Mother said on more than one occasion that she never contemplated divorce-murder maybe, but never divorce.  They were a team; singing in the choir at church, raising my brother and me, and taking care of dad’s mother Mathilda Bjerke, who lived with us for over 20 years.       They did things together but mom drew the line on hunting and fishing.  If you caught it or shot it-you cleaned it.  She would cook what Dad caught but the rest was up to him.  
     Mother said love was a verb, an action word.  She showed her love to dad in many small actions. When dad was working, he played cards every lunch hour.  Mom packed his lunch so he could eat it with only one hand.  She peeled and sectioned oranges, she picked the grapes off the stems and cut his sandwich into four pieces so that he could still hold his cards in one hand and eat with the other.  As dad became ill, Mom was determined that he not go into a nursing home.  She was his nurse and helper up to the end.  I think Dad lived at least 10 years longer because of mother’s excellent care.
     Mother was always busy-always had one more thing to get done.  Because of having so much on her mind she sometimes forgot my brother or me a various places.  When the IGA was downtown in West Salem, there was never enough parking after work so mom would drop me off and drive around the block.  I was to run in and get meat for supper and come right out.  She was supposed to drive around the block but she would start thinking about something else and drive home.  This happened so often that when I would go back in to ask to use the phone, the clerk would say, “so, your mom left you again did she.”  Our all-time favorite story of mom being distracted happened one summer day right here in Lansing. My grandmother from Kansas was visiting and we were to go out on the houseboat.  Mom was going to drive up town to get ice and Grandma asked if she could go along to buy some postcards to write while we were out on the boat.   Now Grandma Hatton was noted for being slow and taking forever when you took her shopping so mom did not want to take her to town.  Grandma finally prevailed and mom agreed to take her but only if she would run into the drug store, buy the cards and get right back out to the curb while mom drove to the store and bought the bag of ice.  Grandma did just as instructed; she got the cards and got right back out to the side of the main road so mom could pick her up and not have to park again.  Only, as grandma is waving her arms in the air, mother drove right by her back down to the house.   Mom brought the ice down to the boat and dad asked what grandma was doing.  Mom said she didn’t know, only to look up the street and see grandma walking as fast as she could, not wanting to be left at home from the boating trip too.  When mother saw her coming, all she could say was ”oh my!”
     Mother was always on the go: visiting her brothers and sisters in Viroqua and Kansas, shopping with Amber or Grace, having coffee with Jean or Clara, driving to the country to see Ruby and Ida, or doing crafts with her teacher friends.  Her life was busy and full of family and friends.  She was connected and engaged with her students, children and grandchildren.  She led a life that was full and centered on her faith in Jesus.  As I said, she was teaching to the end.
Daughter Jane Kitchen

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:he leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul: he leadeth mein the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 
What then shall we say to this?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?  Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, of famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, no things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here ends our first reading.

John  3:16-17, 14:1-6 
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him...Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.

To bring us peace in this time of loss, Lee’s family chose the 23rd Psalm. This is the best known of all the psalms because it bears a message of such comfort and hope for us as we travel through this life.

When we grieve it feels like going through a dark valley. We feel the terror of the darkness, the pain of loss, the fear of the future. But this Psalm assures us that we are not alone.  We walk with our shepherd who is there to guide us through the difficult valleys of life.

That Shepherd, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says of himself, I am the good shepherd. [John 10:14] He came, not to condemn the world but to save it. 

He is the shepherd and we are the sheep. Shepherds today usually keep their sheep in a pen and bring feed to them.  But in biblical times, shepherds were nomadic and they led their flock through many valleys and hills.  Wherever they went, it was the shepherd’s job to keep the sheep safe.  He even slept among them in case a predator might try to sneak upon the flock at night.

It takes a special kind of person to be a shepherd. A shepherd has to love his work. Above all, a shepherd has to love his sheep. He has to love his sheep enough to want to be with them all the time and be willing to lay down his own life for the sheep. 

Because of the witness of the bible, we know that our Good Shepherd loves all his sheep. He is always present with them as he promises, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20] Christ wants to be a vital part of his our lives and guide us through this life.

This was so beautifully evident in Lee’s life.  She was enthusiastic, adventure-having, fun-loving, parrot-earring-wearing, Christmas-decorating, rum-ball-making and filled of joy because she knew her shepherd, Jesus Christ. She knew him. She believed in him. She loved him and she was eager to share this love and shepherd others. As Jane said, she was always a teacher. It was in her blood. It was who she was. Lee was quick to share her knowledge with anyone, anyone in her path and most particularly, she was eager to share God’s love.  Lee shined forth—indeed she sparkled with this love.

Because of this, she was pretty easy to love. She was loved and adored by so many, especially her family. And so it wasn’t easy watching Lee slowly lose her health and her memory. She stayed largely cheerful through it all, though, and graciously allowed others to serve her. Even then she was teaching—teaching the joy of serving.

And now she has passed from this life. It was a long life but probably not long enough for our satisfaction. We will miss her so much. The pain and sorrow of loss is enormous.  But the good news is that we are not alone. Our Good shepherd is there beside you to guide you through these difficult times, as he was for Lee.

But the greatest assurance for us in this time of loss is that the Lord Jesus was Lee’s Good Shepherd. She was a member of his flock. She became a member when God claimed her in the waters of baptism. By the grace of God she remained a member all her life and her faith grew. In that, she is an example of faithful living for us all.

And when she died, she literally passed through the valley of death. Her Good Shepherd was there to guide her through that valley. She has passed through that valley and now she sees her Savior’s face to face in the promised green pastures because he has won her salvation for her on the cross.  Because of Lee’s faith in him—who is the way, the truth and the life—we know that she is in God’s arms now.

I enjoyed singing alto in the church choir with Lee. She was so much fun and could make the most hilarious faces when we got the note wrong. I remember her favorite anthem we did was one called The Stone is Rolled Away, an upbeat Easter song by Don Besig. It’s all about how God rolled the stone away to reveal an empty tomb, for Christ has risen! When it was time to sing it, Lee would always say: “Come on now, let’s roll that stone away!” And I think of that now because, indeed, Jesus is now rolling away the stone for Lee, even a few weeks before Easter. She who is with Christ will be raised victorious with him.

We couldn’t get the choir together without you, Lee, but I’m singing this song for you.
The stone is rolled away!
Yes, the stone is rolled away!
Hallelujah, let the whole world know that the stone is rolled away.
Tell the world the stone is rolled away!
Yes, the stone is rolled away!
Hallelujah, let the whole world know that the stone is rolled away.
Go tell Peter and go tell Paul that the stone is rolled away,
He has risen to save us all, so rejoice this Easter day!
The stone is rolled away!
Yes, the stone is rolled away!
Hallelujah, let the whole world know that the stone is rolled away.
Sing and rejoice this Easter Day!

Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.
Sermon by Pastor Laura Gentry

(enjoy the video below, in which Lee makes her dancing debut!)