They were refugees. World War II and the Cold War had driven most to Britain from Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Hungary, and Poland. They were also young people coming to Hothorpe Hall in England’s Midlands from all over Europe and as far away as Japan, young people who had grown up amid postwar dislocation.
We were Luther sophomores, juniors, and a few new graduates. Luther’s student congregation had chosen pairs or threesomes of us and funded our round trip for a year’s stay at Hothorpe. For room, board, and a small weekly stipend, we gardened, cooked, cleaned, maintained buildings, and provided camp counseling. We were also those who had paid our own way to staff summer work camps at Hothorpe and elsewhere in Britain.
Last August 18–20, in Minneapolis, 44 former Hothorpe Hall volunteers, staff, and spouses, including 21 Luther graduates, gathered for three days of fellowship. Some 20 more, many in Europe, sent greetings and followed the gathering on Facebook.
Luther’s role at Hothorpe Hall dates from 1952. That was when the Lutheran Council of Great Britain hired a fresh seminary graduate, Lloyd Swantz ’49, as the council’s youth director. In spring 1955, a London newspaper advertised: “Wanted: One Small Castle,” seeking what the council first saw as a youth center.
By early June 1955, the council located an affordable fixer-upper 95 miles northwest of London. It was a dilapidated 27-room manor house and miscellaneous outbuildings on 12 neglected acres. Hothorpe Hall was to be a place for “spiritual refreshment, Christian fellowship, conferences, camps, outings of all types, and meetings.” To help staff the hall, Lloyd Swantz ’49 turned to his alma mater, which from 1958 to 1981 sent a steady stream of Luther students, faculty, and alumni.
When sold in 1984, Hothorpe had served the council’s youth and adults for 29 critical years.
The earliest Luther volunteer at the August gathering was Jerry Aaker, at Hothorpe 1960–61. Among those sending greetings, Ron Wendshuh stretched Luther’s representation back to 1958–59.
Our schedule left time for informal reminiscing, a musical evening, and even a variety show like those we’d mounted at Hothorpe. On Saturday morning, nine panelists spanning 1960 to 1979 remembered “their” Hothorpe. Saturday afternoon, Roger Willer, a former Hothorpe assistant director and the current ELCA director of theological ethics, led a workshop on ELCA teachings about serving immigrants and refugees. The $1,000 offering from Sunday’s worship has gone to Lutheran World Relief’s Syria in Crisis fund in appreciation of Hothorpe’s service to another flow of refugees.
Before heading home on Sunday, we heeded Ron Wendshuh’s greeting, which ends, “When long-term Hothorpe workers and missionaries readied to leave, we would all gather . . . and sing ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds.’ . . . We often shed tears all around at those departures. I can’t be joining you in Minneapolis, but I hope you will close your reunion that way.” And so, we sang again, affirming our ties to each other and to refugees past and present.
—Written by Frank Arrowsmith, William Beyer ’66, Raymond Makeever ’67, Pamela Nordmark, William Nordmark ’73, Dennis Ofstedahl ’76, Karen (Magnuson) Ormachea ’77, Cynthia (Stenehjem) Sparks ’78, and Ross Sutter ’76
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