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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Letters from war

Dusty box uncovered in church attic connects generations

A church can accumulate a lot of memories in 104 years. Irving Park Lutheran on Chicago’s Northwest side is a good example.

But while most church memories exist only in the minds of one or two generations, Irving Park found tangible evidence of what may well have been the congregation’s most anguished and finest hour.

Goran Anderson is one of 388 sons and
Goran Anderson is one of 388 sons and daughters of Irving Park Lutheran Church on the northwest side of Chicago who served in World War II. Irving Park was founded by Swedish immigrants in 1903 and in the 1920s and ’30s was one of the largest Lutheran congregations in Chicago—at one point boasting a membership of 2,500. Today, current and past members are being reconnected by a dusty box filled with World War II letters sent “home” to Irving Park’s pastor at the time.
Last fall three parishioners—Lloyd DaMask, Lynette Schroeter and Darcie Wadycki—were cleaning out the church attic when they came across a dusty old cardboard box. Fortunately, they decided to look inside before tossing it.

What they found were more than 1,000 letters written to Pastor Joshua Oden (oh-dane), now deceased, during World War II by members of the congregation serving in the U.S. armed forces.

The three turned the letters over to their current pastor, Brooke N. Petersen, and Ralph Greenslade, the congregation’s unofficial historian. Church leaders decided to return the letters to the writers or their surviving families if they could be found.

Greenslade explained how the decision was made: “Someone in a future church ‘housecleaning’ could have viewed the box as merely old clutter that needed to be tossed. We didn’t want that to happen, so we began our journey to find the letter writers or their families.”

In all, Irving Park sent 388 sons and daughters to fight in World War II. Some 239 of them corresponded with Oden.


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