Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen, a retired Presbyterian minister, died in Portland, Oregon on Sept. 3rd, surrounded by his beloved family.
Born on Jan. 16, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, he studied at the University of Nebraska before serving in the Army in WWII.
Hank was an infantry squad leader, and on Christmas Eve, 1944, he was on the troopship S.S. Leopoldville in the English Channel on the way to Cherbourg, France to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He led a group of 15 or 20 soldiers to go up on the open deck to sing Christmas carols. A German torpedo struck the ship, killing many troops below deck before it sunk. A British destroyer pulled along the sinking ship. Andersen leapt across the gap, and his carol-singing comrades followed. Later on shore, an all-black unit fed and comforted the survivors. One of the carolers and thus saved from death was a Jewish man. This event is commemorated in a Dec. 23, 2011, PBS News Hour report.
This experience along with battle scars; a Purple Heart; and other citations changed the direction of his life from law to the ministry.
After the war, he returned to University of Nebraska, where he finished his undergraduate degree and met and married Mary Esther Dunkin, who survives him. He then went to McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he graduated with honors. Later Hank was on the Board of Trustees at McCormick, which established two annual Henry W. Andersen Awards in Pastoral Ministry and in Preaching. He did post-graduate study at Yale Divinity School and at Mansfield College, Oxford, England. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree by Buena Vista College and received the University of Nebraska and McCormick Seminary Distinguished Alumnus awards.
Over the 40 years following seminary, Hank served four Presbyterian churches as pastor and head of staff: in Ellsworth and Wichita, Kan., LaGrange, Ill. and Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In every church he advocated for racial, economic and social justice. He believed that love and justice were inseparable, that love of God and love of one’s neighbor were necessary to establish a just world, and was committed to working for social change to create a world in which the poor would have justice, not mere charity. He held numerous local, national and international church positions and was active in the greater community.
He inspired international religious, medical and business leaders to work on concrete solutions to problems facing the developing world, and in 1982, he delivered the keynote address at a United Nations conference on developing nations. From 1982 until 1991, he served on the Nestle Infant Formula Commission, chaired by former Senator and Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. In service to this Commission, he engaged in on-site inspections of Nestle’s practices around the world. The Commission’s work led to a lasting change in Nestle’s practices.
Hank wrote many articles for religious journals and wrote and spoke on the German theologian and WWII martyr, Dietrich Bonheoffer, a personal hero. I was privileged to hear one such presentation in Minneapolis.
I got to know Hank and his wife, Mary, when they lived in Minneapolis and attended Westminster Presbyterian Church, where their son, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, was the Senior Pastor.
I can attest that an obituary accurately said, “Hank loved life and sought to engage it fully and faithfully in every role he assumed. His sense of humor and wonderful laugh endeared him to everyone. He was present with each person he met and made each one feel special. He was sweet, kind, and gentle, but powerful for the greater good and for social justice. He was down-to-earth yet filled with an inner light which unceasingly radiated to all. His impact is lasting.”
He is survived by Mary, his wife of 65 years; children Jennifer (Rhys) of Vancouver, B.C.; Henry Thomas (Jessica) of Salem, Oregon; Timothy Dunkin (Elizabeth) of Minneapolis; and Barbara (John) of San Antonio, Texas; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial worship service was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Portland, on September 15th. Other memorial services will be held at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church on Saturday, October 13 at 10 A.M. and on Saturday, October 20, time to be announced, at Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2757 Fairmount Boulevard, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Memorial gifts may be sent to the Henry W. and Mary E. Andersen Global Awareness Fund at McCormick Theological Seminary, 5460 S. University Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60615. This fund helps the seminary increase opportunities for international students and provide all students with opportunities for cross-cultural experiences across the globe.