Leo Vetvick 1919-2003

by Phil Johnson

Leo Vetvick was a pioneer. He grew up near Foley, Minnesota, northern pioneer country, and he was a Covenant Church pioneer pastor in social gospel. He was a Norwegian-American in a church filled with Swedes and married Bette Ekblad, a Swedish-American girl.

Leo’s daughter, Rev. Lois Vetvick, said in her tribute to him that “When Dad went to church on Christmas, they always sang Away in the Manger. The words are ‘the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head’ but Dad thought the words were ‘Swede head.’” Poor kid!

In World War II, Leo was a staff sergeant in the medical corps. He was at Omaha Beach, Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge. He contracted Tuberculosus during his year in the service in Europe following the war. When he returned, Leo began his studies, and after much life experience, including the removal of part of a lung, he studied for the ministry at North Park Seminary. Leo and Bette resourcefully made their way in Chicago, had a good time doing it, and made a lot of wonderful friends.

I first heard of Leo in the late ’50s when I was at North Park. He came to campus from Minneapolis where he served as Hennepin County Court Chaplain, employed by the Greater Minnesota Council of Churches. He opened the eyes of many of us to broader reaches of gospel and ministry. He had experience in the larger world of social activity and worked to meet needs and problems in areas and among people with whom most of us were unfamiliar. Pastor Leo was a cherished Chaplain to many, including his colleagues in the County Court system and he was teacher to the Covenant Church about these matters.

Lois spoke of the one, of many, commendations that meant the most to Leo. All the workhouse inmates signed it. It read: “I was in prison and you visited me.” “It wasn’t just that he visited them” continued Lois, “He knew he was caring for God’s own; the core of who he was was to give thanks to God for God’s love.

Leo followed his Chaplain career with another unsalaried career of faithful ministry as a pastor and as member with Bette of Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis. He contributed pastoral visitation, attended church business meetings faithfully, served on committees and boards, and intentionally lived as a Christian. I will miss the exchanges with Leo after church on a Sunday morning. The whole church will miss him. God bless the memory of Leo Vetvick, Pioneer.