Skip to content
Students sitting outside Bockman

Professor Emeritus Eugene L. Fevold Memory Book

Luther Seminary gives thanks to God for the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Eugene L. Fevold.

The Rev. Dr. Eugene L. Fevold, professor of church history at Luther Seminary for 32 years, died Oct. 29, 2011. He was a highly respected research scholar and teacher, concerned for the use and collection of primary resources in the study of church history, and conscious of his responsibility to the church as well as to the students and the Seminary as a theological professor. Particularly for those with a special interest in American church history, he was an excellent mentor and an enjoyable teacher. He retired in 1988 as professor emeritus.

Born in 1918 in Minnewauken, N. D., he was a graduate of St. Olaf College, Luther Theological Seminary and the University of Chicago Divnity School. He was a member of the Religion Department faculty at Concordia College in Moorhead from 1947-1956, and was a pastor in West Fargo, N.D., for four years during that same period. He spent a year in Norway from 1954-55 as a Fulbright scholar. He was ordained in 1948. He married Dorothea Asper in 1949. She died in 2000. He is survived by their children, Constance, Karen, Carol and David, as well as many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Fevold came to Luther Seminary in 1956 as a guest professor of church history. At that time, Luther's student body was growing rapidly each year, approaching 500. Additional faculty was needed. Further, the one American historian on the faculty at that time, Dr. E. Clifford Nelson, was on leave from teaching as director for probably the most outstanding Lutheran event in America in the post WWII era, the Third Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, held in the Twin Cities in the summer of 1957. Nelson was capably assisted in this project by one of his early outstanding history students, Luther Seminary President Emeritus, Dr. Lloyd Svendsbye. Fevold took most of the teaching load in American church history during this period.

The constantly expanding student body at Luther demanded additional permanent faculty and Fevold was named professor of church history in 1958. It can be said that he, as well as the other faculty members, were seen as "teachers of the church" as well as the seminary, for at that time, faculty members at Luther were elected to professorships by the General Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fevold understood his responsibility to the church and took it seriously. With his death, there are now only two church-elected faculty members remaining on Luther Seminary's emeritus list.

In addition to teaching, a major book project was in the works. In 1954, Fevold and Nelson were asked by the ELC to prepare a comprehensive history of the church. Fevold was the expert on the 19th century while Dr. Nelson focused chiefly on the 20th century. The two-volume project, "The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian Americans--A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church," appeared in 1960, just as the merger creating The American Lutheran Church was moving toward completion. An outstanding work in denominational and immigration church history, it has been an inspiration for many similar volumes over the years. Fevold himself was responsible for one of these, "The Lutheran Free Church: A Fellowship of American Lutheran Congregations, 1897-1963" (1969). He wrote one of the sections in the still standard history of American Lutheranism, "The Lutherans in North America" (1975). He also wrote a variety of articles on church and immigration history, and the seminary, published in various periodicals, books and collections of conference papers.

Major teaching responsibilities continued to fall on Fevold as Nelson was named dean of Luther Seminary in 1961 and then moved to the faculty of St. Olaf College in 1966. Help arrived in 1967 when Dr. Paul Sonnack joined the faculty, and again in 1982 when, as a result of the Luther-Northwestern merger, Dr. Dorris A. Flesner joined Fevold in teaching American church history.

Not so well known, but highly important, was Fevold's interest in collecting primary resources on congregational history. These sources were need for the ELC history of 1960. Shortly after World War II, Fevold and some associates obtained a microfilm camera, visited many historically important Norwegian-American congregations and filmed their records. This was the beginning of what came to be an extensive congregation record microfilming program in the ALC under the competent direction of archivist Robert C. Wiederaenders.

In the classroom, while jokes and entertainment were not his forte, every so often, something unexpected would surface. One day in class, the subject was the Danish Lutherans in America. "Now in connection with the Danes, there are three important things to remember," he said. The first two were expected--the "Holy Danes" and the "Happy Danes." But then came this: "And then of course, there was the Great Dane!"

The pens and pencils dropped--this was not in the book! He noticed the changed mood in the class and paused, smiling a few seconds and then proclaimed, "Kierkegaard!" The students were amused. More importantly however, the rest of the class period was devoted to an excellent survey of the important contributions of this famous theologian and his impact in America on the Danes, the Norwegians and the Eastern Lutherans as well. He knew what was important and strived to convey it to his students. And yes, he did eventually get around to the rest of the Danes, both "holy" and "happy."

Fevold and Nelson were good friends and coworkers for many decades. Their perspectives on the role of historical interpretation were not exactly the same, however. There was a reason why Fevold was the 19th century authority on the Norwegians while Nelson focused on the more recent period. Nelson was well known as a risk taker in historical interpretation, desiring to put even the most recent past into an interpretive framework. He hoped to help shape a future direction for the church, particularly in the area of Lutheran unity, a prospect that many others, including Dr. Fevold, had cherished for decades.

This approach did make history highly relevant to the present--and the future, and classes were as a result very interesting for many. Students knew that Nelson was engaging in a practice most historians would not touch. Fevold, in contrast, was more traditional in his approach to interpretation. He felt, along with other historians, that one should evaluate current events for a generation in order to discover what the ultimate outcomes would be before setting them concretely in an interpretive framework. After all, sometimes the unexpected occurs! And it certainly must be said that in the Lutheran church in the United States over the last generation, the unexpected has indeed occurred!

Nelson lived long enough to see the beginnings of it and was less than impressed. Fevold saw much more--and probably realized that the historians of the next generation will need to take the more traditional interpretive approach he favored, in order to try to understand what has happened to American Lutheranism in the current era. The ideals of unity and ongoing progress once thought to be in sight are no longer visible, with church bodies in America ballooning from a low of about 14 to something approaching 50 today.

Those of us who were privileged to know and to learn from the fine American church historians at Luther like Fevold--as well as Nelson, Sonnack and Flesner--over the past several decades are grateful for them and their varied insights and expertise. Our church is better--historically and theologically--because Fevold and his associates were with us. Thanks be to God for all of them--and for the current faculty and staff members as well.

Submitted by John Peterson

If there were some formal list of "treasures" belonging to Luther Seminary, surely Dr. Fevold would be on that list. Yet, as John has so eloquently stated above, he understood his responsibilities reaching far beyond the confines of Luther, as well as the period in which he lived and worked. His scholarship, attention to detail, humility, and utter graciousness became a source of inspiration to me and many others. I give thanks to God for the privilege of having had Dr. Fevold as a teacher, advisor, and friend during my time at Luther.
Jack Mithelman
Indianola, IA
Prof. Fevold assigned us to read many of the early church fathers (in English translation)
These became "wow"oments for me, so much more interesting and exciting that just reading a general history book (although I do still read these). These made history interesting and exciting. From those years and on, I have not lost my interest in history--of all sorts. Thank you, Prof. Fevold!!!
Al (Alfred) Gramstedt
northfield, MN

Add Your Memory

Your memory/thanks will be submitted for review and displayed here once approved.
Full Name:
Location (your church or city):
Relationship to the seminary:
Graduation Year (for alumni):
Memory or Thanks: