An ode to Decorah

(Driftless Multimedia photo by Samantha Ludeking)

By Rev. Ole Winter

(Driftless Multimedia photo by Samantha Ludeking)

No, not a poem, rather more like a paean of praise for Decorah. Early this September I will have lived longer with a Decorah mailing address than any other place. Thirty years.

That’s what happens when one retires and is fortunate enough to live as long as I. So now to the writing of this “prose Ode.” Two days after moving into our new Decorah retirement residence we left many unpacked boxes scattered around the house and hit the road to California. Why the hurry? The very day our U-Haul arrived in Decorah, our granddaughter Abbey was born in that Golden State.

About three weeks later we arrived back to our new home to begin the final unpacking. As we drove in our driveway we noticed that during the weeks we were gone a new sidewalk had replaced the old. My wife Naomi commented, “Wasn’t that nice of the city of Decorah…we move in and they put in a new sidewalk!”

We had also been impressed that on the day we unloaded our household goods; we were greeted by the then Visitation Pastor of Decorah Lutheran church. We wondered, “Do they always do that for new arrivals; a pastor is the “Welcome Wagon”?”

Not many weeks after that who should show up at our front door but our then Congressman the honorable Jim Nussel; with his wife, making a house call. By now we were quite sure we had come to the right northeast Iowa town, even our congressman greeted us.

The “icing” on the cake for this fisherman was smeared on when, fully settled, I decided it was time to get to the famed trout streams of this “Driftless” region of Iowa. I came home with my limit! Hey, this whole county is one “honey hole” for a trout fisherman.

Now I have to be the honest pastor. We found out the sidewalk in front of our Day Street home was replaced so they could locate a new cable beneath it. And the visitation pastor of Decorah Lutheran church had heard of our moving day and so caught me sitting in the back of our moving van. Jim Nussel’s visit? It just so happens he was our son Larry’s classmate at Luther and he happened to be in town. I was really a bit disappointed when I learned I limited on those rainbows so easily because they had stocked North Bear creek the day before. Nevertheless… we were not disappointed in our move.

I continue the Ode to Decorah. To keep me from being bored in retirement I was asked to serve as the interim pastor of First Lutheran Church and received graciously, even though I was a graduate of St. Olaf College rather than Luther. When that Visitation Pastor, John V. Halvorson from Decorah Lutheran Church, retired their Senior Pastor Jim Glene and the congregation asked me to be their Visitation Pastor and it kept me busy for about eight years.

And would you believe. While all of this was happening Aase Haugen Senior Services decided to built Vennehjem, that lovely senior active living facility on the north side of town. It was finished just a few years before Naomi and I decided it was time to move there. And now guess what? I presently live in the Aase Haugen Assisted Living portion of that care center. And, if I live long enough, I may move into the new facility they plan to build across the street from Vennehjem!

Oh yes… I also raise a song of praise for the great hospital and two very fine medical clinics that care for the health of this area of Iowa. When I needed further treatment for cancer, living here by myself, Decorah Lutheran Church members and non-Lutheran folk drove me to Rochester for radiation treatment, expecting no pay.

Like many fellow readers you may have family scattered from coast to coast as I do. But my family loves to come to Decorah as often as possible. This area has a physical beauty really unmatched in Iowa, an outstanding college from which three of our family graduated even though Mom and Dad were “Oles,” fabulous restaurants, lots of Air B&Bs (one owned by one of my doctors) and hotels, as well as my families favorite summer place, The Whippy Dip. 

Oh yes, I just have to tell you this! Out for a walk the other day this “Ole” finally met a real live “Lena.” Yes, in Decorah! Really! Was she ever beautiful and with a great personality. She even took my hand and licked it. But again this preacher has to be honest, this Lena is a Labradoodle whose last name is Carlson. Finally, I have to rejoice that when Decorah found out this Ole was a Dane rather than Norwegian, they hesitated just a bit and nevertheless welcomed me because my wife was 100% Norwegian. 

We lived for 16 years in three cities of beautiful California where I served as pastor. And my wife Naomi and I both grew up on lovely farms; she in Wisconsin and I in Iowa. But we are convinced that God gave us the great privilege of living in Decorah these last good years. And when my years on this marvelous planet are ended my remains will be buried next to hers in quiet and beautiful Phelps cemetery.

Is this Heaven? No … but it’s close.

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