Marion Grace Gabrielsen

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 2:19 pm

Marion Grace Gabrielsen died Dec. 26, 2016, one week short of her 96th birthday. A service of remembrance is at 1:30 p.m. April 29, at First Lutheran Church, 604 W. Broadway, Decorah, with Rev. Chad Huebner officiating. A private family burial was in Lutheran Cemetery in Decorah. Fjelstul Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Born Jan. 2, 1921, in New Ulm, Minn., Marion was the daughter of Otto F. and Florence (Gilley) Oswald. She was baptized and confirmed in New Ulm’s United Church of Christ. As the youngest of seven children in a household that included two grandfathers, and occasionally visiting great-uncles, she grew up in an extended family with deep Minnesota roots. Her father’s grandparents, from Wuerttemberg, Germany, were among the first settlers in New Ulm. Her mother’s grandparents, from England, New York State and New England, settled in the Minnesota Valley near Cambria, in Blue Earth County, a Welsh community that Marion returned to every Fourth of July in her childhood for a picnic in Wagner’s Grove. In Cambria she stayed for a week at a time on the farm of a cousin, finding arrowheads and potsherds left by the original native people. Her keen interest in history was encouraged by these memories, nurtured by family stories and by the vivid legacy left in her early landscape.

Growing up in New Ulm during the Depression, she was aware that her family was relatively comfortable in a time of need and scarcity, a perception that forged in her a strong sense of social justice. In 1938, after she graduated from New Ulm High School, she left home to attend Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., eventually transferring to the University of Minnesota, from which she graduated with a degree in social work in 1942. When she and her roommate decided to go to New York for what was intended to be a year, they planned to enroll in a graduate program at U. of M. on their return. Instead, she stayed for more than 25 years. Her first job, during a period of war-time labor shortage, was as head of the semi-violent ward at a mental hospital in Connecticut. She also worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and for Traveler’s Aid.

In New York, Marion met John G. Gabrielsen, Jr., at that time an engineering student, the son of Norwegian immigrants to Brooklyn. After a courtship that included movie dates at odd times in the middle of the night, when they were free from the irregular shifts they worked during the war, they married June 23, 1945. Marion decided to learn Norwegian at night classes offered by Bay Ridge High School so that she could communicate better with John’s parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Together they raised their family of two daughters, Diane, born in 1947, and Jeanne, born in 1950, in Brooklyn, where they were active members of Bethany Lutheran Church, and where Marion served in the Women’s Auxiliary of Lutheran Medical Center, when John was a member of the hospital board.
In 1969 John and Marion moved to Syracuse, New York, becoming members of First English Lutheran Church. There Marion began her active participation in League of Women Voters and in American Association of University Women. Moving to Downers Grove, Ill. in 1974, they lived in the Chicago area until 1982, when they retired to the summer cottage John’s parents had built in the 1920s in the Hudson Valley, near Fishkill, New York. There Marion enjoyed gardening and bird watching, needlework and quilting, and visiting with family and neighbors. She was an avid reader, with special interests in American history, environmental conservation, classical archaeology and Biblical history, and the life and teachings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When John and Marion moved to Decorah in 1999, they lived at Vennehjem, became members of First Lutheran Church, and enjoyed participating in the Lifelong Learning Seminars offered by Luther College. She continued to live at Vennehjem after John’s death April 7, 2005, moving to Barthell Order of the Eastern Star Nursing Home in 2011. A lifelong lover of music, she often attended concerts at the college, right up to the Homecoming Concert in October, 2016.

Marion is survived by her daughters and sons-in-law: Diane and Peter Scholl, Decorah, and Jeanne and Michael Anderegg, St. Paul; by her grandchildren: Emily Scholl, Denver, Colo., Laura Scholl (Dan Roush), Oak Park, Ill., Timothy (Lee) Anderegg, Takoma Park, Md. and Niles (Jessica) Anderegg, Gaithersburg, Md.; and by great-grandchildren: Gabriel and Greta Roush, Oak Park, Ill., Penelope and Kellan Anderegg, Takoma Park, Md. Also surviving her are nieces and nephews in Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California, Hawaii and Maryland.

She was preceded in death by John; by her parents; by her two sisters, Leona Oswald and Laura Niemann; and by her four brothers: Delbert, Arnold, Melvin and Grant Oswald.

A treasure to all who knew her, Marion lived her life with grace (as her middle name suggests), humility, humor and compassion for others, evident in the many charities she helped to sponsor, and in the avid interest she took in politics and international events. The family requests that memorials be sent to Bread for the World, Lutheran World Relief, First Lutheran’s Music Endowment, or Barthell Order of the Eastern Star Nursing Home.

Fjelstul Funeral Home in Decorah is serving the family. Online condolences may be made at

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