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Obituary for Rev. Roger A. Hjelle


Roger Allen Hjelle was born on September 3, 1944, spending his childhood primarily near Wauzeka, WI. He graduated from Luther College with a BA in English in 1966, from Luther Theological Seminary with his M.Div. in 1970 and also obtained a Master’s degree in Educational Media from UW-La Crosse in 1980. Following his ordination at St. Peter’s Evangelical Church, Prairie du Chien, in June 1970, Pastor Hjelle served his first call as an Associate Pastor at Ridgeway Lutheran, Ridgeway Iowa. In 1974 he was called as Associate Pastor to Good Shepherd Lutheran, Viroqua, WI serving in that position for 10 years and called to serve as Senior Pastor until 1998. After obtaining his MS degree, Pastor Hjelle started the Conference Resource Center and produced a weekly radio devotional program, also beginning a delayed cable cast of worship services. In 1998, he was called as Senior Pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran, La Crosse, where he served until his retirement in 2012. He epitomized the ideal of “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23) in his 42 years in the ministry. Roger met Luanne Mahlum at Luther College, marrying on December 30, 1965. Sons Alan and Kurt were born during their time in seminary, and daughter Anissa was born while serving their first parish in Ridgeway, Iowa. The family moved to Viroqua, WI in 1974. He immersed himself in the responsibilities of his ministry as Luanne held down the fort at home. Sermon preparation, home and hospital visitations, youth pastor activities and confirmation education, and church committee meetings kept him on the move. He was also instrumental in helping to establish the hospice program in the Viroqua area which continues to this day. As the kids grew up, he did his best to stay involved in their lives. He served as a Cubmaster while Alan and Kurt participated in Cub Scouts. Church activities kept him quite busy, but he still attended many football, basketball, and baseball games for the boys, and track and cross country meets for Anissa. He supported Luanne as she resumed her teaching career. As each of his kids graduated from Viroqua High School and went off to college, the advice “You know who you are, and you know what you are here to do,” was ingrained into each of them. He presided at the weddings of each of his children, delivering meaningful, personable, and memorable messages. He had the joy of baptizing grandchildren, and the solemn, but comforting task of giving the sermons at the funerals of his parents Knute and Mae Hjelle, and his parents in-law, Warren (Zeke) and Maxine Mahlum. He was a servant to the Lord and his family. In 1983, Roger and Luanne made a decision that impacted their family for generations. They bought some lakefront property on Leaf Lake, near Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. The Hjelle cabin was built, basic at first, with improvements over the years. Brother-in-law John Ryberg made a sign, “REV REST”, naming the cabin perfectly. The cabin was a source of pride, joy, and togetherness for Roger and Luanne, and became the summer place to be for the family. Fishing, boating, tubing, waterskiing, swimming, croquet, and eventually jet skiing were activities that were all shared together. The grandkids would, and still, communicate to get up at the cabin at the same time. Roger was happiest when all the kids could get up to the cabin and catch some fish with “Papa Rog” and enjoy all the other lake activities as he watched proudly from the deck. His presence will always be present at the lake. Roger and Luanne stayed quite busy being grandparents across the Midwest. Watching grandkids, dog-sitting, and of course trying to keep up with the activities of their busy grandchildren. Roger was very proud of his children and their accomplishments, but the grandchildren especially made him beam with pride. Sport events, dance recitals, graduations, and other occasions were priorities in his and Luanne’s life. Through thick and thin he made it to many events throughout the years. In retirement, Roger also transformed a woodworking hobby into a business, named R.A.H. Turnings. He began working in the basement in the parsonage in Viroqua, building small furniture projects at first, then adding to his collection of specialized tools to make even more complex projects. Everyone in the family has some unique woodwork made by him, from furniture, to toys, kaleidoscopes and more. He began traveling to craft shows with his creations, and his craftsmanship and attention to detail was appreciated by his customers. He was particularly pleased at one of his last craft shows in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, from which his grandchildren were able to see their “Papa” doing something that he enjoyed so much. He was preceded in death by his parents Knute and Mae Hjelle and parents-in-law Warren and Maxine Mahlum. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Luanne Hjelle of Onalaska, WI, children Alan (Michelle) Hjelle, of Algona, IA, Kurt (Lynn) Hjelle, of Oswego, IL, Anissa (Josh) Williams, of Owatonna, MN, grandchildren Bo and Emma of Algona, Maddie, Gavin, and Alaina of Oswego, and Kinzie, Brayden, and Leyton of Owatonna, sister Diane Ryberg (John), and brother-in-law Phil (Pam) Mahlum. Thank you for all the thoughtful prayers, cards, messages, emails, and memorials to Luanne and the family. We are grateful. The family of Roger Hjelle invites you to a Celebration of his Life and 50 Years of Ministry (1970-2020). It will be a "Meet and Greet" Drive Around from 4:00-7:00 p.m, Thursday, June 18, 2020, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 4141 Mormon Coulee Road (Highway 14/61) La Crosse, WI. Honoring Covid-19 you will stay in the comfort of your car. Dress can be casual. As you circle the church you can view family pictures, greet family members, view the beautiful cremains box and Rog's "Southside Townhouse" which he started. Additionally please follow the directions of the ushers. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23) Well done, indeed.