Saturday, August 27, 2011

Goodbye to one of the Grande Dames of the ELS

When I was framing this post in my mind the other day, Joe and I got into a little discussion about the meaning of the word, Grande Dame.  I thought it meant, simply, a great lady to be respected for her life's work.  Joe thought it meant to be great within a particular entrepreneurial field.  So I looked it up.   And we're both partly right.

According to, a grand dame is, "a woman, esp. an older one, of great dignity or prestige."

Another take on it, from The Free Dictionary,
grande dame
1. A highly respected elderly or middle-aged woman.
2. A respected woman having extensive experience in her field

Wikipedia has a slightly more colorful definition,
A grande dame (in French: "great lady") is a stock character designed to represent a stereotype of an elderly high society socialite.

In popular culture, the grande dame is usually portrayed as a slightly flamboyant woman, prone to extravagant and eccentric fashion, such as feather boas, large hats, and excessive costume jewelry. She may be overly pre-occupied with the concept of "acting ladylike" and expect all those around her to conform to her own high standards of etiquette.
And lest anyone misunderstand, I'm going with the first or second definitions.

Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) said goodbye to one of its grande dames, Melvina Aaberg.  There is hardly anyone affiliated with Bethany College, Bethany Seminary, the ELS pastorate, or the ELS churches in Mankato and the surrounding areas, whose life was not touched by this great woman. 

I first met Melvina when Joe was going to Bethany Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota.  She was at that time, secretary of the Seminary and synod offices.  She sat behind her desk, always ready with a sparkly smile and a kind word for anyone who happened in.

After our oldest son, Jeremy, was born, I was somewhat unused to being at home most of the day.  Being a little stir crazy some afternoons, I would often take long walks with Jeremy in the stroller.  Often I would end up heading toward Bethany, where Joe would be studying or working in the seminary library.  Sometimes if Joe was out and about when I arrived, I'd plop myself down in the office chair and have a little visit with Melvina.  Looking back, I'm sure she had many things on her secretarial plate.  But she never made me feel unwelcome.  In fact, Melvina had the rare gift of making everyone feel important and special.

One of the most embarrassingly memorable episodes was the time I forgot to change Jeremy's pants before heading out on our walk.  In a cloth diaper that was probably very nearly saturated before we left home, then after an hour long or better walk, Jeremy was definitely very wet when Melvina took him from the stroller to set on her lap.  I realized there was a problem as I watched the wet stain spread across Melvina's skirt.

"Oh, no!"  I exclaimed.  "I'm sorry Melvina.  He seems to be very wet."

But Melvina, being the great lady that she was, was nonplussed.  As I reached to remove the offending bottom from her lap, she simply grabbed a magazine and placed it beneath Jeremy's very soggy pants, and continued to bounce him on her knee, cooing at him and visiting with me, as though nothing at all was the matter.

When I think of her life, especially reading through her obituary, to refresh myself on the many things I used to know about her, I see a constant theme of service to God and man. 

Melvina lost her parents when she was very young and was raised by her aunt and uncle.  I remember we had talked about that, since the two of us had that in common.

Melvina worked as a Christian day school teacher and a mother.  She was a pastor's wife.  She was a wife of a synod and seminary president.  Melvina was a young widow, with her five kids just barely raised when her husband was called to his eternal home. 

Melvina worked as the synod and seminary secretary, and kept things running smoothly and efficiently even in the midst of all the technological changes during her tenure.  She lent a listening ear to, and helped in any way she could, the constant stream of seminary students, and any pastors and laymen who passed through her office for synod meetings.  Melvina was a friend with ready ears and an open heart for all the young seminary wives.

Melvina was a Grandma to four lovely granddaughters, about whom she spoke any chance she got.

After retiring from the Seminary secretary position, Melvina worked at the Bethany archives, keeping her hands and mind busy until her death.  She was active in her church and community and continued to be a friend to the many people whose life she had touched throughout the years.

Thank you, Lord, for allowing me the privilege of knowing this Christian woman.  Blessed be her memory.

No comments: