Tribute to Adele Oberg Cole

by Tim Cole

This is drawn from the tribute Adele’s son, Tim, gave at Adele’s memorial service. —Ed.

I would like to extend the thanks of my family to all of you for being here to support us and to remember our mother, Adele. We are grateful to all of you who have expressed kind support and fond memories of our mother and we are especially thankful to Phil Stenberg and the Bethlehem staff and congregation for the great support they have provided to our family.

Bethlehem Covenant Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, this place where we are gathered, is so central to our family that we continually return to this church at some of the most important times in our lives. To illustrate the centrality of Bethlehem, I mention the following.

Our grandparents were founding members of Bethlehem
Mom was a lifelong member of Bethlehem
Our mother and father were married at Bethlehem
All five of their children and many of their grandchildren were baptized at Bethlehem
Three of their children were married here at Bethlehem

And, none of the Cole family would be here today if not for my Mom’s connection to this church and here’s why…

After graduating from Minnehaha Academy, Mom attended North Park College. She introduced her roommate, Dotty, to a friend from Bethlehem, a young GI named Clarence Strandberg. Clare and Dot eventually married and spent many years as members of Bethlehem before retiring to Wisconsin. Shortly after being introduced to his future wife, Clare gave my Mom the address of another GI, John Cole. They corresponded for two years before finally meeting. In 1946, John and Adele were married at this altar. Just this past March they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

Along the way they raised five kids—my two older brothers Kevin and Dana and my two younger sisters Cyd and Dee. Mom performed their weddings and baptized their children.

Motherhood included such adventures as multiple trips to the doctor for stitches, running off to Little League games, music lessons, and theatrical performances, and an occasional visit to the principal’s office. As she once said, “Sometimes it felt like you dropped a bag of marbles and they all scattered in five different directions…” Throughout all of those years we were growing up Mom and Dad handled each situation with humor, strength, and grace.

Mom and Dad were known for taking in friends of their kids who were going through troubling times in their own homes. In fact, one of those troubled teenage boys wrote the following to us this week:

“I’m sorry to hear about your Mom. She was Mom to us all for years. I felt like she understood me better than my own Mom… She knew we were up to something but loved us anyway. We loved her greatly—she was cooler than us all, too.”

The once troubled teenage boy who wrote these words sent them the day before yesterday from Baghdad, where, at the age of 56, he’s serving voluntarily as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force.

Even in recent years my mother “adopted” more than one of my adult friends who would telephone and call her “Mom”—or run interference for her in a crowd of people.

Being a loving wife and mother didn’t stop Mom from deciding to pursue a career of her own even as she approached the age of fifty. She took classes at a local state university where she worked as a secretary. This combined in her with a growing sense of a call to the ministry that ultimately would define the rest of her life.

If raising five kids weren’t enough of a challenge, imagine starting seminary without even knowing if you would be ordained. She felt the call to ministry at a time when her own denomination was not yet ordaining women. This prohibition was short-sighted. Women like my Mom weren’t afraid to point that out and the church changed—and it is better for it. In 1979 she was the third woman in the history of the Evangelical Covenant Church to be ordained and the first woman in this conference.

Ordination empowered her ability to work with the bereaved and the dying as a hospice chaplain. Her enthusiasm for this work doesn’t mean that she didn’t have her own doubts. I’d like to read from a newspaper interview she gave back in 1979 in which the Star Tribune reporter asked her about her calling:

“There are many times when I have said, ‘Lord, do you really mean it?’” Once, she recalls, she asked the Lord to send her a sign assuring her of her vocation.
“I walked into this room and I can still see the man lying there. I didn’t really know him. He was a 92-year-old man and I was just going to pass the time of day with him. He was my answer. We got to talking. He took my hand and said, ‘in all my years there’s only been one other time when I’ve had a sense of somebody’s call as clearly as I have a sense of your call.’ It was spooky because I came in to talk with him about what his needs were and he ministered to me.”

In all, Mom spent twenty years generously sharing her boundless capacity for loving kindness as she brought comfort and solace to countless desperately ill people of all faiths. At various points in her ministry Adele sat Shiva with families of Jewish patients, she recited the rosary with Roman Catholic patients, and she served communion to Christians of all denominations in their final days. Communion was very important to Mother.

Mother was one of the youngest residents to move in to Covenant Village when she and our father began living there in 1989. They have continued to be an integral part of the Bethlehem congregation and to attend church here as health allowed.

In recent days, many people have expressed to us how shocked they were that Mom passed away so abruptly. Because of her enthusiasm and cheerful approach, they may have thought she would outlive them all. What they may not have realized is that her health had declined significantly in recent years. She faced numerous medical challenges with the courage of someone with complete faith. One of her favorite Psalms speaks of her utter trust in God’s mercy no matter what happened to her physically.

For You created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. (139)

Mom lived life enthusiastically, but she also lived with the knowledge and complete acceptance that she would soon be leaving this world. Early this past Friday she did so, peacefully.

So, today we gather in this place, Bethlehem, her church home for the past 81 years, to celebrate her life and to share our grief and joy. Mom, once again all the scattered marbles have come together in this place that has been so special to our family to honor and celebrate your life.