|Mark William Thomsen|
Feb. 24, 1931-Jan. 20, 2014
For the last four years Mark, his beloved wife of 61 years, Mary Lou (Kafer), daughter Sheree and granddaughter Lily called a former Amish farm on County Road T in Wautoma home. Mark enjoyed growing green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and pumpkins and helping raise chickens and sheep. More than anything, he took great pride in being “The Best Barbie-Playing Grandpa Ever” according to granddaughter Lily (7).
Born in Owatonna, MN to Rev. Jens Harry Thomsen and Helene Ragna (Hansen), Mark spent much of his youth in central Wisconsin. Living with his brothers and sister in Poy Sippi, he met and fell in love with Mary Lou at Berlin High School (Class of 1949) where he began his long career as a scholar, and an athlete. He attended Dana College in Blair, NE, married Mary Lou and earned his BA in 1953. The Omaha World Herald referred to Mark as “Triple Threat Thomsen” for his prowess on the Dana College football field. Following graduation and having decided to dedicate his life to God’s work, he entered Trinity Theological Seminary in Blair, NE and earned his bachelor of divinity in 1956. Mark was ordained at the United Evangelical Lutheran Church Convention in Racine, in 1957. He completed his Masters of Divinity in New Testament Theology at Princeton in 1957.
The young couple followed God’s call to serve as missionaries and on July 4, 1957, with their 2-year-old son Mark in tow, they sailed on a freighter from New York to Lagos, Nigeria. The family served a total of 12 years as Lutheran missionaries in Nigeria. For his first year, Mark was a teacher at the Secondary School in Numan, then becoming the principal of the Lutheran Seminary in Lamurde where he started the first English speaking seminary for the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria. Mark served as academic dean of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria in Bukuru, from 1959-1966.
Mark, Mary Lou and their four children returned to the US in 1966 and back to Dana College where Mark was Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion until 1972. Mark benefited from Mary Lou’s typing and editing skills as he wrote his dissertation completing his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Northwestern University and Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL in 1971.
In 1972, Mark accepted the call to become Pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Dubuque, IA where he served for eight years. Mark’s dedication to justice in the world and scholarship on Christianity and World Religions brought him to Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN as Associate Professor of World Mission and World Religions from 1980-1982. In 1982 Mark became Director of the Division of World Mission and Inter-Church cooperation of the American Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and with the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, Mark continued his work, as Executive Director of Global Mission for the ELCA. He and Mary Lou moved to the new headquarters north of Chicago, IL. During Mark’s 14 years as Director of Global Mission for the ALC and ELCA he traveled to over 40 countries with Mary Lou keeping track of all the places he visited, writing on a bed sheet hanging in a doorway at home. Mark retired from his work for the national church in 1996 to a new position as Director of Ph.D./ThM studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. The final two years in this position overlapped with his last job as Director of the Chicago Center for Global Ministries, from 2002-2006.
Mark and Mary Lou permanently relocated to their vacation/retirement farmhouse in the spring of 2010. Mark authored six books, including Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross: An Engagement with Muslims, Buddhists, and Other Peoples of Faith. (2008) and many articles. Mark and Mary Lou were happy “snowbirds” in Rio Verde, AZ where Mark enjoyed running in the Sonoran desert and gazing at the Superstition Mountains and Four Peaks from the patio of the home their son Derek built.
In addition to life on the farm, Mark enjoyed reading, writing, running (he ran the 100 and 200 meter dash in the Wisconsin Senior Olympics, qualifying for Nationals in 2010), and playing golf.
Mark is survived by his wife, Mary Lou (Kafer); son Mark and Grace (Swanson), Milwaukee; son Derek and Vicki (Burch), Phoenix, AZ; daughter Sandee and David Lyons, Des Moines, IA; daughter Sheree, Wautoma; sister Carol and Keith Skogman, Seguin, TX; brother Jim and Barb, Madison; and brother Don and Andrea Thomsen, Englewood, CO. He is survived by eight grandchildren: Sonja Thomsen-Oulahan, Drew Thomsen, Chelsea McGarvey, Jens Thomsen, Mathew Thomsen, Maureen Lyons, Hannah Lyons and Lily Thomsen-Keller. He was also blessed with four great-grandchildren, numerous cousins and many dear friends. Mark was preceded in death by his father Jens Harry Thomsen, mother Helene Ragna (Hansen), stepmother Martha (Mortensen), and granddaughter Mary Rose Thomsen-Keller.
A Memorial Service will be held Sat., Feb. 15 at Hope Lutheran Church, Wautoma, with visitation at Noon and service at 2:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made payable to ELCA Global Church Sponsorship at P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764 or https://community.elca.org/globalchurch. Leikness Funeral Home, Wautoma is assisting the family with arrangements, www.wautomafuneralhome.com.