Pastor Ronald L. Fretheim

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 5:16 pm

Pastor Ronald L. Fretheim, 77, of Decorah, died Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, at his home in Decorah, surrounded by his family, after a four-month battle with ALS. Memorial services are at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at First Lutheran Church in Decorah, with Rev. Chad Huebner and Rev. Melissa Bills officiating, with a luncheon to follow. Visitation is from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, at First Lutheran Church. The family suggests memorials be given to Luther College, Luther Seminary, the ALS Iowa Chapter, or ELCA World Hunger Appeal. Fjelstul Funeral Home in Decorah is serving the family. Online condolences may be made at

Ronald Lester Fretheim was born in Decorah Sept. 7, 1939, to Lloyd and Alice (Halvorson) Fretheim. He grew up on the family farm west of Decorah and attended country schools for all his elementary years. From an early age Ron loved to read, to sing, and to play organized baseball with the town kids. He graduated from Decorah High School with the class of 1957, where he participated in football, wrestling and baseball, sang in the choir and enjoyed every part of school life. He attended Luther College where he majored in math and accounting. He excelled in wrestling, was nationally ranked, and won a record number of dual meets. He also played football all four years and was active in student life, joining other men in forming a new “brotherhood”: Pi Sigma Omicron and supporting the effort to allow dancing on campus. He received many honors while at Luther including “Athlete of the Year” his senior year. He graduated in 1961, intending to enter a graduate program in accounting at University of Iowa. During the summer of 1961 he gradually changed his mind about his future and decided to enter Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. and become a Lutheran minister. This was a bit of a surprise to his family and to his girlfriend! He married that girlfriend, Karen L. Paulson, June 1, 1963,  at Madison Lutheran Church, in rural Decorah. He and his bride moved to Portland, Ore., where Ron interned at Portsmouth Trinity Lutheran. Ron graduated from Luther Seminary in June 1965, and was ordained at Madison Lutheran Church. He served four parishes during his career: Grace Lutheran, Elmwood Park, Ill.; Hope Lutheran, Everly; Peace Lutheran, Wayzata/Plymouth, Minn.; and Bethel Lutheran, Madison, Wis. He cared deeply for his parishioners and they cared deeply for him. Those bonds have lasted over the years and he has been lavished with concern and love and prayers by those dear people. He enjoyed leading youth groups on mountain climbs, canoe trips and convention trips. He worked always to lead lay people into church leadership and into a deeper faith. Ron and Karen retired to Decorah in 2002 to enjoy family, Luther College, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, the good people of Decorah and his beloved golf. He and Karen have spent winters in Arizona and cherish the friendships they have made there. On May 31 of this year Ron’s weakening condition was diagnosed as ALS. It was unrelenting but he faced the challenge with dignity and calm, accepting what he knew was to come and saying that he was not afraid to die and that he had had a very good life.

Ron is survived by his wife, Karen; two daughters, Kristin (Steve) Hanneman of Hopkins, Minn. and Anne Fretheim of St. Paul, Minn.; two granddaughters, Siri Fretheim and Osa Hanneman; two brothers, Leland (Harriet) of Long Lake, Minn. and Marlin (Janet) of Fort Smith, Ariz.; nieces and nephews and many cousins.

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