His 90-year call to serve
By the time most people reach the age of 90, they have enjoyed several decades of living the relaxed life of retirement.
Not so with Blue Earth’s Rev. Victor “Vic” Vriesen, who will turn 90 on May 19.
While he officially retired a long time ago, Rev. Vriesen is still working three jobs, as well as being active in a multitude of community organizations.
Vriesen is the chaplain for United Hands Hospice, the lead chaplain for United Hospital District, as well as the chaplain at the Winnebago Adolescent Treatment Center.
Several of those jobs involve being on call 24/7.
“I don’t often get a middle of the night call, but it does happen,” Vriesen says. “And when it happens it usually means someone has passed away.”
Vriesen has announced that he has gotten old enough that he is going to retire from one of those three jobs being the chaplain for United Hands Hospice.
“I guess at 90 it is time to slow down a little,” he says with a chuckle. “But I plan on still doing the other two.”
He has been the only chaplain for United Hands Hospice, having done it for 21 years.
“I was on the original board that started the hospice program,” he says. “So I started the chaplaincy program at the same time in 1997.”
He has been the chaplain at United Hospital even longer, starting there in 1993, after he first retired.
“I remember when I started I was given a tour of the brand new hospital,” he recalls. “Of course, that part of the hospital isn’t even here anymore, as it was torn down to make room for an even newer hospital.”
His stint at the Adolescent Treatment Center is much shorter, as he has been the chaplain there for ‘only’ seven years.
“The kids there wonder why an old man like me is there praying and having devotions with them,” Vriesen says. “I tell them it is because I care about them, and because I had a brother who was an alcoholic. My brother was about to become president of Bell and Howell, had two beautiful homes and a high paying job, but alcohol ruined his life.”
Vriesen says he counseled his brother, who later became sober for the last 23 years of his life.
The active, soon-to-be 90 year old says he knew at the age of nine that he wanted to become a pastor.
“My father was a pastor, and so was my grandfather, and four of my uncles,” Vriesen says. “I just followed in their footsteps.”
Adding up the years of ministry between his grandfather, father and himself, Vriesen says it totals 200 years of service 70 by Vriesen himself. Add in his uncles and there are 340 years of ministry by the Vriesen men.
“When my father was 88 he was still filling in and looking for a pulpit to preach from,” Vriesen says. “It runs in the family.”
Vriesen graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul with a degree in English. While there he belonged to a multitude of college organizations and was a photographer for the school newspaper.
“Our basketball team was the national champions in 1949 and I got to photograph my best friend, (future NBA Lakers star) Vern Mikkelson in action,” Vriesen recalls.
From there he went to Mission House Seminary in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where his father, grandfather and uncles had all gone. It no longer exists.
He also got married, to his wife of 67 years, Betty Fossum.
“We actually met when she was five and I was seven,” Vriesen says. “Her mother told her to smile at me and her response was ‘I hate him.'”
The next time they met he was 20 and she was 18. Her best friend advised her not to go out with him, because he was going to become a pastor and so she would never have any fun.
After they were married, they moved to Ledyard, Iowa, in 1953, where Vriesen was the pastor for the next 40 years.
“I had at least 40 calls (to go to other churches) over that time but I turned them all down,” Vriesen says. “We had a wonderful life in Ledyard; it is a special community.”
During his years there he designed a new church building and parsonage that was all built with volunteer labor. Same thing with a new community center and a library in Ledyard.
The church seats 400 people and was built for $70,000, and the four bedroom parsonage for $20,000. The library cost $40,000 and received an Iowa state award for top community project of the year.
He and Betty had three children, Merry, Jeffrey and Beth. They now also have nine grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
There was one minor speed bump on his way to becoming 90 years old.
“I had a heart attack when I was 28 years old,” Vriesen admits. “I was working too hard. But I came through it alright.”
Good thing, since he had a two-year-old daughter and a three-month-old son at home.
And, God had a lot more for Vriesen to do in his lifetime, he says.
Here is just a partial list.
He was on the initial board of Interfaith Caregivers. He is still on the United Hands Hospice board. He was on the board that started Blue Earth Area Mentors (BEAM).
He has served as the president of the Blue Earth Kiwanis Club twice and as a Kiwanis District Governor and has received the coveted Kiwanis Hixon award.
He was a Scoutmaster for 12 years. He has received the Blue Earth Chamber Area Ambassadors Award and the Sertoma Club’s Service to Mankind award, and quite a few other awards and honors.
Plus, he and Betty have found time to have traveled to 46 of the 50 states and to Europe a time or two.
Vriesen also went to Africa and South America to visit missions that his Ledyard church was supporting to the tune of $1.2 million over 40 years.
“We’ve been very fortunate.” Vriesen says. “And despite what Betty’s friend told her about me, we have had a really good time.”
A man as busy as Pastor Vriesen probably doesn’t have time for any hobbies, you would probably think. But you would be wrong.
Vriesen is a woodworker and he is famous for making wooden crosses which he gives away. He gives them to the people he visits in the hospital, or through hospice, or to mothers who have just given birth with a smaller version for their baby.
He gave 70 of them away last year during the county fair alone.
He guesses he has given away about 800 of them. And he is going to continue to do so, as long as he can.
Same thing with his work as a chaplain.
“I’m going to continue on as long as I can,” he says. “As long as I am not over reaching my capabilities.”
In other words, he is not ready to fully retire just yet.