Stella Mae (Cleveland) Gilbertson, 1947

Winter 2018 (January 13, 2018)

Stella Mae (Cleveland) Gilbertson was born on Sept. 16, 1927, near Revere, Minn., the second child of Oscar and Anna Bertha (Erickson) Cleveland. The family settled in Rembrandt, Iowa, where Stella completed her elementary and high school education. She become a child of God through Holy Baptism and attended Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. Stella had determined that she wanted to dedicate her life to teaching, with the intent to never marry nor have children. After graduation from Rembrandt High School, she was accepted to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, becoming the first in her family to seek a college education. She completed work for her Certificate of Education in 1947 and became a 2nd grade teacher at Postville, near Decorah. 

However, her life’s plan was altered when she met her soul mate, Gaylen Gilbertson ‘50, a student at Luther College. Her children and grandchildren are forever thankful that Stella and Gaylen met and were married on June 12, 1948.

Both Stella and Gaylen were strongly drawn to service to God, and after Gaylen’s college graduation, the couple moved to St. Paul, Minn., where Gaylen entered Luther Theological Seminary. In 1953 they were called to the Lutheran mission field in Japan where they served for 22 years (1953-1974) and raised four children. Through all her years of service in the work of the Lutheran mission field alongside Gaylen, Stella found great reward in the many responsibilities of being a missionary’s wife, as well as the joys and challenges of raising a family in Japan.

In 1975, they followed a call to serve in Papua, New Guinea, where Stella served as a volunteer for Life Line, a suicide prevention program.

In 1977 Stella and Gaylen returned to the U.S. where Gaylen served as senior pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Ill., for nearly 15 years, followed by another four years as assistant pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Chicago. The couple enjoyed a rich and satisfying retirement in Mundelein, Ill., delighting in their in close proximity to their grandchildren and attending St. Andrew Lutheran Church.

During this time, Stella became highly involved in the work of Lutheran World Relief, including helping to form the Friends of Lutheran World Relief in the Chicago area.

Over the years, Stella enjoyed working in the arts. She became an accomplished seamstress and took pleasure in designing clothes for her family for many years, including both her daughters’ wedding dresses. She also enjoyed quilting, drawing, painting, and writing poetry all to the delight and pride of her family and friends.

Throughout her life, Stella continued to pursue her love of teaching. In addition to her years teaching second grade, she regularly taught Vacation Bible School and taught reading to adults in St. Paul, Minn., during furloughs. In Japan, she taught numerous classes in English as a second language, including for many years as a teacher of kindergarten in the Nagoya public school system, which she always viewed as a means of witnessing her faith to her students. To her own children, she taught both formal and informal classes. To the community, she was a substitute teacher at Nagoya International School, and also a Brownie and Girl Scout leader and Cub Scout Den Mother. In nearly every place she lived, she was a Sunday School teacher. In fact, Stella was a life-long teacher, and touched many people, both children and adults.

Above all, Stella understood that the higher purpose of her life was for love and service, to God, to her family, and to the world. Her greatest legacy to her children, grandchildren, extended family, friends and all who met her will continue on -  to inspire us also to respond to human need through loving action and service. 

On May 24, 2017, at the age of eighty-nine, Stella completed her earthly service and was called home by The Teacher to be with all who have gone on ahead of her.

Stella leaves to mourn her passing her devoted children: son David Gilbertson ‘71 (and Carolee Matsumoto), daughter Mary Beth (Gilbertson) Selbo ‘78 (and Mark Selbo), daughter Suzanne Gilbertson ‘81 (and Koji Ohashi), and son Loren (and Mika Niwa). She also leaves five beloved and devoted grandchildren:  Colin (and Meredith), Rachel, Kai, Sonia, and Niki. She is survived by one brother, John Cleveland ’63 and his wife Lorraine, and one sister, Lucille and her husband Cecil Harms.

Services were held at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, 10 South Lake St, Mundelein, IL on June 2, 2017.

Honoring Stella’s commitment to aiding those in need around the world, please consider a donation to Lutheran World Relief at


Stella Mae (Cleveland) Gilbertson