Mel and Joanne Honored for Their Labors of Love

The Soderstroms Take Leave

by Nicole Daniels

If you’ve had any interaction with North Park over the course of the last 42 years, chances are you have met, or at least heard of, Mel Soderstrom. He may have been your classmate, your dorm parent, your financial aid advisor, or, more recently, he may have asked you to donate to the school. No matter what type of interaction you had, chances are, two things are true. You remember Mel well, and you think he’s a pretty good guy.

On Wednesday, June 21, 2006, North Park University did its best to honor this lifetime of significance and service by hosting a retirement party for Mel in Hamming Hall, or “the old gym.” More than 200 family members, friends, colleagues, and community members gathered to exchange stories, reminisce over photos, and pay tribute to Mel’s outstanding contribution to the North Park community over the years.

Mel has worked at North Park since 1964 in several capacities, including resident director of Sohlberg Hall, director of financial aid, director of development, and major gifts officer. Of course he came to the school even before that, as a member of the Class of 1960. Although his official retirement was effective June 30, he remains at the University part-time, continuing his work in development.

Mel’s daughter, Anne, designed invitations to the party that were mailed, unknown to Mel, in April. Another letter preceded the invitation inviting Mel’s admirers to honor his years of service by making donations to the Melvin R. Soderstrom Scholarship Fund at North Park University. Perhaps the most meaningful moment of the June 21 event occurred when Mel learned of the scholarship and that more than 430 friends and family members had given a total of $50,000 in his honor.

LeRoy Johnson, long-time friend, acted as master of ceremonies. The man who hired Mel at North Park, former professor and administrator, Carroll Peterson, reflected on “hiring Mel.” Four current colleagues presented a skit highlighting Mel’s endearing foibles and quirks, including his infamous love for whistling hymns.

Most speakers expressed admiration for Mel’s friendship with and intimate knowledge of North Parkers across the country, including their personal interests, professional achievements, and family members. Dan Tepke, North Park’s senior vice president, said Mel is a “Who’s Who” of people in the Covenant. “Every university needs a Mel, and we have been fortunate to have Mel here,” Tepke said. Turning to the honoree, he added, “You have served the University incredibly well.”

Mel spoke of experiences that brought many present, male and female alike, to tears. He told about hearing the North Park Choir sing at Orchestra Hall when he was 14-years-old, citing it as the first time he experienced “the North Park feeling.” After his years as an undergrad at the College, he never moved far from campus and he has lived one block north of Old Main for many years.

In typical Mel-fashion, his remarks focused not on himself, but on other North Parkers he’s known. He spoke about the inspiration he has found through hearing their stories and seeing their commitment to North Park’s mission. Encouraging his current colleagues, he noted, “These are people who believe in what you are doing.”

The gratitude expressed throughout the event extended to Joanne, Mel’s wife, an equally devoted North Parker from the Class of 1965. Joanne sat at his side during the event, surrounded by their three children and their families. Daughter Kristen Starr graduated from North Park in 1991 and she and husband, David (C’89), brought their sons—David, Jonathan, and Matthew. Both son, Karl Clifton-Soderstrom, and spouse, Michelle, are North Park graduates—Karl, College ’93 and the Seminary ’95, and Michelle, Seminary ’95. They have two children—Hannah and Johannes—and continue the Soderstrom family tradition of North Park service. Karl teaches in the University and Michelle was appointed professor in the Seminary this past year. Youngest daughter, Anne (C’96), and her husband, Lon Rork, flew in from their home in California to celebrate this important milestone in lives of Mel and Joanne.

Sunday evening, June 18, the Soderstrom family invited friends to join them in celebrating the careers and retirements of both Joanne and Mel. Accomplished pianist, Kimberly Schmidt, played lovely music, Joanne’s Chicago Public Schools colleagues praised her for her outstanding service during her rewarding career, Mel was feted, and the Soderstrom children lauded and roasted their parents. Many friends gathered, enjoyed great food, and had a lot of fun while shedding a few tears. Pietisten is thankful for the ministries of the Soderstroms and proud to number Mel and Joanne among its friends.