Helen Hill Farwell, wife of the late Luther College President Elwin Farwell, died July 27, 2017, at the age of 97 at Aase Haugen Senior Services in Decorah.
Helen Irene Hill was born June 3, 1920, the third child of Nehemiah Lucian Hill III and Alice Irene Roberts Hill. Very early in Helen’s life, an agricultural depression in Illinois forced the Hill family to move away from the Tazewell township area where N. Lucian’s and Irene’s ancestors had been pioneer settlers. They moved to Union City, Mich., where Lucian and Irene worked together to run a feed store. Eventually both sets of Helen’s grandparents joined them in the Branch County, Michigan area.
The Hill children were active in 4-H. In the Rural Youth Bureau, an extended age 4-H program, Helen met her future husband, Elwin Farwell. After graduating as the salutatorian of her high school class in 1937, Helen worked in her parent’s feed store. Later, with assistance from her uncle, Harrison Hill, Helen attended Michael Reese School of Nursing in Chicago.
Shortly after Helen’s graduation from Michael Reese, on Aug. 23, 1942, Helen and Elwin married at the Congregational Church in Union City, Mich. Helen worked in the Michigan State student health service while Elwin finished his senior year of college. Immediately after his graduation in 1943, Elwin departed for the Army. Helen joined him in Virginia for officer’s training school and then lived with her parents while Elwin served in the Pacific.
Following the war, Helen cared for a growing family and continued her nursing career while she and Elwin lived first in Michigan and later in California where Elwin studied in seminary and earned his doctorate in higher education.
Elwin’s first parish assignment was to Salem Lutheran Church in Andrew, Iowa. Helen carved a unique niche by combining her nursing skills with her husband’s pastoral care. Even 50 years later at congregational reunions, parishioners would remember Helen’s visits to their elderly or ill family members.
Helen continued to use her nursing skills to complement her husband’s career by serving as a campus nurse at California Lutheran College while Elwin served as the college’s first dean.
In January of 1963, Helen and Elwin and their family moved to Decorah, where Elwin served as the sixth president of Luther College. Helen used hospitality, diplomacy and community involvement in her role as first lady of the college. Though not of Norwegian background, Helen embraced Decorah and Luther’s Norwegian roots. The college community gave her a bunad upon her arrival in Decorah and she often wore it as a Vesterheim volunteer giving museum tours or as she seated people for the First Lutheran Church Nordic Fest smorgasbord.
Helen and Elwin entertained new faculty at their home and hosted annual Christmas Open Houses for faculty and townspeople each December for many years. Helen often called with a loaf of her famous sourdough bread if a college family experienced illness or had a new baby. She continued to express her interest in medicine by involvement in the hospital auxiliary. She was a passionate reader and was a member of Friends of the Library. Along with Elwin, she headed the capital campaign to expand and renovate the Decorah Public Library in 1997. She received a Distinguished Service Award from Luther in 1984.
After retiring from Luther at the end of 1981, the Farwells continued to make Decorah their home base, although short-term jobs took them to California, Nebraska, and Colorado. Helen’s skills making a comfortable home and welcoming new friends made each new location positive. Helen and Elwin had several college students live with them over the years.
Helen enjoyed travel – she and Elwin traveled to six continents over their lifetimes. They enjoyed wintering in warm locales such as Hawaii, Florida and Arizona after they retired.
Helen is preceded in death by her husband, Elwin, an infant son, her parents, her sister Charity Alice, and her brother Maurice.
She is survived by her sister-in-law, Arlene Hill of Virginia, her children Don Lucian Farwell ‘71 of California, Helen Kay Kennedy (Dave Tardy) of Michigan, James Lyman Farwell ‘75 (Elizabeth Sadhu) of Oregon, Judith Anne (Farwell) Bumpus ‘80 (Brian Bumpus ‘80) of New Jersey and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren: Irene and Ken Kraegel and Milo of Michigan; Sean Kennedy and Nicole Vlado of New York; Anna Kennedy, Daniel Norman and Emmett of California; Joel Kennedy of Pennsylvania; Jazz Khalsa of Oregon; Shabbie Khalsa of Oregon; Adam ‘00 and Shelley (Jennings) Bumpus ’99, Megan and Nick of Iowa; Kelly Bumpus ‘03 of Iowa; Shannon and Ryan Adamson and Sydney of New Jersey; Tim Bumpus ‘15 and Megan Gelsinger of New York; and Zachary Bumpus of U.S. Air Force in England.
Memorial services were Aug. 2, 2017, at First Lutheran Church, 604 West Broadway in Decorah.
The family suggests memorials to Luther College (Farwell Scholarship Fund), c/o Development Office, 700 College Drive, Decorah, IA 52101, Winneshiek Medical Center Auxiliary, 901 Montgomery Street, Decorah, IA 52101, Friends of the Decorah Public Library, 202 Winnebago Street, Decorah, IA 52101 or a charity of your choice.