Morris G. Anderson (July 27, 1912 to January 6, 2003)

A Tribute by his son, Philip J. Anderson, First Covenant Church, Minneapolis, January 10, 2003

by Philip J. Anderson

[This tribute, read at the Memorial Service for Morris Anderson by his grandson, Erik, was written by his son Phil. —Ed]

On Monday, January 6, 2003, not long after daybreak, our father was quickly summoned home to be with God. This day was the Feast of Epiphany in the church year, when the light of Bethlehem's star guided the three Magi to the Christ-child in Bethlehem, a manifestation of his saving presence to all creation. As we have entered now this season of light, life, and hope in his redeeming love, Dad has been embraced eternally by this light in all its fullness and glory. When called, his lamp was found burning.

As we grieve profoundly his passing, and ache because of the emptiness we feel, Dad would remind us today of the words of the hymn-writer Nils Frykman, whose songs were among those he loved to sing in Swedish:

Why should I then be grieving when having such a friend?
No, rather I'd be singing until my journey's end.
So I will sound your praises of faithfulness and grace;
I'll sing through endless ages, beyond all time and space.

("My God, When I Consider," The Song Goes On [1990], #75)

Morris Gustaf Adolph Anderson (his immigrant parents named him after the King of Sweden) was born on the Canadian prairie, July 27, 1912, in Daysland, Alberta, about fifty miles southeast of Edmonton. Dad liked to say, with his characteristic wit (often referred to by others as "Morrie-isms"), that "I was born in Daysland, and I've been in a daze ever since." The fact that he was born at all is something of a miracle. His father, Axel, was 40 when he married in 1905, having emigrated from Sweden to Minneapolis in 1887, working as a laborer and chauffeur, spending winters as a lumberjack (teamster) in the Roseau, Badger, and Strathcona areas of northern Minnesota. He became engaged to his best friend's fianc, Hildur Lidholm, following his death in a grisly sawmill accident. Axel then set off for western Canada, a poor and long-frustrated farmer looking for new homestead land just opened by the Crown. He found his 160 acres along Dried Meat Creek, built a sod house, cleared the land, and then constructed a small cabin. Hildur, along with her widowed mother, took the train from Minneapolis to Wetaskiwin, where they were married. She was thirteen years younger. Dad was born in this cabin, by then expanded to 12 by 24 square feet. Shortly after his 80th birthday in 1992, Morris took his sons and grandson Erik on a memorable trip to see the place where, in his words, "I first saw the light of day." This week, on Epiphany, he first saw the light of a New Day, where darkness is not known.

Morris was the last of five children. The first, a daughter Alberta, died during a difficult birth on a cold winter day, and was buried under a tree on the homestead (the coffin made by Axel), attended only by neighbors and the simple words of Scripture. Four boys followed in quick succession, each separated by no more than eighteen months—Edwin, Albert, Carroll, and Morris. Dad was baptized at Meeting Creek, the nearest Covenant church some thirty miles distant. Because of health issues with their mother, the family moved back to Minneapolis in 1913, finally settling on the far northside in the Camden neighborhood. In 1915, their father had his arm amputated at Swedish Hospital (where the physician, Rignell, always knelt and prayed at the operating table before every surgery) because of melanoma, and it became difficult for him to work. The men of the Camden Covenant Church (now Brookdale) came to the family's assistance and built a chicken-coop so that it could support itself through the sale of eggs. The family also acquired a cow. The Anderson boys (as they were known) thrived in this close-knit Swedish-American community, and they were the best of friends throughout their lives.

Edwin, the oldest, died in 1926 at age 18 from complications of the rheumatic fever he had contracted as a small boy. A student at Minnehaha Academy and principal violinist of the MacPhail Symphony Orchestra (the feeder orchestra of the Minneapolis Symphony), Ed's sudden loss was devastating to the family and proved to have an abiding impact on Dad's life, especially in a couple of ways. First, the family moved to the Swedish Tabernacle in 1927, because in her grief their mother could not bear the memories associated with Camden. Thus began Dad's seventy-five-year membership at First Covenant Church, and his untiring service to its mission and life in so many capacities. It was also here that he met our mother, this being her family's home congregation since the early 1880s. Second, it became necessary for all three surviving sons to drop out of school and go to work. All became bankers. In Dad's case, he left Minnehaha Academy (a long streetcar ride from Camden, costing a nickel) early in 1928 to begin as a messenger boy at the Federal Reserve Bank. He was just 15. Over the course of the next forty-six years (fortunate to have work during the Depression) he progressed to the check department, followed by many years as a bank examiner (also serving as a Federal Reserve Agent). He, along with our mother at home, managed a heavy travel schedule examining the member banks of the Ninth District, ranging from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the east to Montana in the west, an area he especially came to love. Then he helped lead the new Functional Cost Analysis program until his retirement in January 1974 at age 61 (his motto was "Out the Door in '74"). Though unable to complete high school, he eventually earned diplomas from the American Institute of Banking, at both the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University. As a family we took a memorable trip by train to Madison for his graduation in 1958. He had loved his work but eagerly entered his retirement years, living the next twenty-nine to the fullest.

Morris met Harriet Johnston (she would always call him Monie, while to his friends he was Morrie) at Medicine Lake Bible Camp in 1935. They had no doubt seen each other often through the years at the Tabernacle, but he recalled first noticing her at the Minnesota State Fair in 1934 standing with her sisters Verna and Gladys in the Midway near the booth of what was reputed to be the world's fattest lady. In the late summer of 1935 he invited her to a wiener roast (along with his brothers Al and Carroll and their dates) at Brownie Lake. Engaged not long after, they were married October 2, 1937. In 1955 they built a new home near that little lake in South Tyrol Hills, where they raised their two boys and lived happily for more than forty-one years. In time came four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. All have memories of their father and grandfather's all-enveloping, unconditional love—being taken in his arms and hugged and kissed with affection and humor. Gestures and words of love flowed freely from this kind and gentle man, and will be missed but always remembered and felt.

Our parents moved to Covenant Manor (now Village) in December 1996, and Mom's older sister Verna followed in February; always single, she had lived next door to our family all those years in Golden Valley. Up to that time, independent living for these two sisters was possible only because of Dad's constant care for both, cheerfully and without complaint. He then visited Verna every day at Colonial Acres until her death at age 95 in February 2000, while caring for Mom at home until her passing the following July. Morris and Harriet were married for almost sixty-three years, and their two hearts were indeed one. An abiding image of their life together is singing duets while washing dishes or riding in the car, love songs like Moonlight Bay or hymns. Mom even complained from time to time that it could be hard getting to sleep as he laid beside her telling stories, remembering old times, even singing to her! He liked to joke that while others walked around Calhoun, every day he walked around Harriet (Minneapolis insider humor!). The community at Covenant Manor made their final years together so happy and rich, surrounded by a host of friends, old and new, who continued to support Dad in his grief. As a family, we are especially grateful for the friendship that blossomed over the past year with a very special person, Adele Pierce, thankful for the experiences and love they shared together, for her being with him in his last hours when, because of distance, we felt so helpless. We know that she grieves deeply with us. Our gratitude extends as well to Grace and Margaret Nelson, and to Pastor John Satterberg, who together helped carry this burden.

Our family has been reminded repeatedly in fresh ways this week, by those who have spoken and written to us (embodying the amassed wisdom of life and experience), of Dad's character, gentleness, patience, kindness, cheerfulness, selflessness, honesty, integrity, thoughtfulness, cheerful countenance, vice-like memory, humor, and beautiful voice. The list could go on. Through more than a half-century, I never heard my father raise his voice in anger or say a hurtful word; this was not the suppression of feelings but the even keel of a steady ship listing neither to port nor starboard. Embodying all the biblical virtues and few, if any, of its vices (Dad would emphatically disagree), his life was a joyful and confident witness of his faith. He often quoted a prayer he learned at Bible camp: "Live out Thy life within me, in all things have Thy way. I, the transparent medium, Thy glory to display."

Anyone who knew Dad was aware that music was his passion—all kinds of music, but especially vocal, sacred music. He began playing violin in the 1920s, inheriting his brother Ed's fine instrument, made in Germany in the 1850s. He was careful not to let too many know that during this past year (his 90th) he studied violin once again at the MacPhail Center for the Arts (where Ed had studied seven decades earlier), because he wanted to improve his technique and play in small classical ensembles. On this past Christmas Day, spent with my wife's family at her sister's home on Lake Phalen in St. Paul, Dad brought his violin and autoharp, and the impromptu family string band played long into the evening. He joined in as well on traditional Swedish folk dancing. We had a great and memorable last Christmas together.

Yet it was singing that Dad loved most: solos, duets, quartets, church choirs, male choruses—endless opportunities to exercise what he saw to be his spiritual vocation. Morris was always singing, and he had a song for every occasion. He was the last surviving member of the Ambassador Male Quartet (formed seventy years ago), a group that included Paul Linden, Vernon Ahlquist, and his brother Al. Carefully kept ledgers recorded on average fifty or more occasions a year that the quartet sang in churches and on radio. As a young man he sang in the chorus of the Apollo Club, and in 1956 he became a charter member of the Covenanters Male Chorus, singing for forty-eight seasons. He sang at countless weddings and funerals, not least for his loved ones. The past six years at Covenant Manor brought about numerous new opportunities to exercise his great gift. The morning before he died, he was to have sung two solos at Colonial Acres, but had a chest infection (which within hours became aggressive double pneumonia). Fittingly, and perhaps prophetically, the same two songs were chosen for his memorial service even before learning that he had intended to sing them that day ("I Look Not Back" and "God of Our Life, Through All the Circling Years," The Covenant Hymnal [1996], #450 and #77). He was to have practiced with the quartet at the Manor the day he passed away, but there was a prior call (the Ambassador Quartet?) for a heavenly concert as his days of earthly life's rehearsal drew to a close.

Morris Anderson was a true Mission Friend, in a faith joyfully sung with images of the pilgrim journey, of heaven and home. Others observed that this theme became even more pronounced in his song selection after our mother's death. In August 2001, his sons and their wives accompanied him on one last visit to Sweden to see his only surviving cousin Lisa, now 101 years old. At Hökelund, the family farm in Vörmland (where his father was born in 1865 and Lisa's in 1854), a home full of music that had become a conventicle during the 1860s, giving birth to a Covenant church (Kila) in 1882, Dad sang to us and his Swedish family. This was pre-meditated! It was a song, made popular in some circles by Artur Erikson, that he wanted to sing to us in that place, at that time, a message he wanted us to hear. He even had written out beforehand an English translation for those who could not follow the language. Accompanied by my second cousin, Ella Greta, he sang in Swedish:

I have heard of a city beyond the clouds,
Beyond earth's mist-enshrouded lands.
I have heard of those sun-lighted shores,
And someday, just think, someday I'll be there.
Hallelujah, I must raise my voice in song.
Hallelujah, I am bound for that city.
Though my steps become tired and heavy,
Still my journey is upward and homeward.

I have heard of a land without tears,
Without sorrow, without anguish, without strife.
And there no one from sickness will again suffer.
And someday, just think, someday I'll be there.
Hallelujah, there we all will rejoice.
Hallelujah, all doubts will have vanished.
Never again shall I stumble and fall.
I am there, yes, home with God.

I have heard of that snow-white raiment,
And the radiance of golden crowns.
I have heard of the heavenly family,
And someday, just think, someday I'll be there.
Hallelujah, I rejoice in my spirit.
I can hear the heavenly songs.
And all these earthly ties will sever,
Because I know I shall soon be there.

(Jag har hört om en stad, Lydia Lithell/trad. Russian)

When Dad's father Axel left for America on June 1, 1887, his oldest brother Gustaf (Lisa's father) gave him a simple cross, which I hold in my hand as I write, with words by Carl Olof Rosenius printed on it. It reads: "Let us meet often at the Cross, where flowed the life-giving blood for our sake." On the back, Gustaf wrote: "The Lord is always near when you call upon him." In 1905, as Axel wrote letters from the Canadian wilds to Hildur in Minneapolis (example: "I am just a poor but good man. The first I know I am, the second I hope I am."), in their separation he always closed his letters with those inviting words to meet at the Cross. We also heard them from our father through the years, and we hear them now and find comfort in our separation for a little while (one of Dad's favorite hymns was En liten tid). So in the days ahead, "Let us meet often at the Cross," in spirit and hope anticipating the great reunion to come, because, as in the words Dad chose to be sung today and engraved on his headstone, "The way of the Cross leads home." (The Hymnal [1950], #296)

May God grant peace to the memory of our beloved father, a good and faithful servant of the Lord.

See all articles by Philip J. Anderson