In loving memory: Rev. Kjell (P.J.) Jordheim

Photo courtesy of Tron Jordheim
Dr. Anne and Rev. Kjell Nordheim were married for over 69 years.

The Rev. Kjell (P.J.) Jordheim, 97, passed away Jan. 16, 2020, surrounded by family at the Lenoir Woods Long Term Care Center in Columbia, Mo.

Born July 3, 1922, to Ole and Ingrid Jordheim, in Oslo, Norway, he spent his youth and young adult life there. The second of three brothers, he was active in the KFUM (Kristelig forening for unge menn, the Norwegian YMCA), church activities and all things outdoors.

He graduated with a degree in divinity from Menighetsfakultetet (the University of Oslo’s Independent School of Theology). Other areas of study included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. His studies were interrupted by the German occupation of Norway during World War II. The University of Oslo was closed by the Germans after civil disobedience against the German occupation by student groups intensified. Kjell’s involvement with the student groups leading the protests made it dangerous for him to remain in Oslo when the Germans rounded up students to be sent to “reeducation camps” in Germany. He evaded arrest by hiding in a church basement for several days and then escaping Oslo to hide at his uncle’s farm in a secluded mountainous region. Kjell returned to Oslo several months later after it had been arranged through members of the resistance within the Oslo Police Department to forge new identity documents for him and many others that erased their student history. He survived the rest of the war as a night watchman at the post office and was later able to finish his studies in 1948.

He spent his year of practical studies in 1949 working with the Norwegian Mission Society and the KFUM. That same year, via a fellowship from the Marshall Fund, he began studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. 1950 saw not only Kjell’s Master’s of Sacred Theology degree, but also the marriage to his beloved Anne Elisabeth Falkenstein, whom he met at a local Lutheran student group activity.

The young couple moved to Norway in 1951, following the completion of Kjell’s internships at the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission in Philadelphia and at Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago. While in Norway, he worked for the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Norwegian Church Relief Agency from 1951 through 1958. He traveled throughout war-torn Europe assisting in the resettlement of refugees from World War II, which influenced much of his thinking in later years.

With post-war Norway having a surplus of Lutheran pastors, and America dealing with a shortage, Kjell’s goal of becoming a pastor of a congregation brought his family back to the United States, this time with two young children in tow. In 1958, he answered the call to serve in rural northwest Wisconsin. After his ordination on March 8, 1959, in Drammen, Wis., Rev. Jordheim served congregations in both Wisconsin and New York.

Rev. Jordheim was given the nickname “P.J.” during his first few months in Wisconsin, which stuck with him for the rest of his life; shorter than Pastor Jordheim and certainly easier to pronounce than Kjell. The year 1959 ushered in a new rural American life and one more child, completing their family. After nine years in Wisconsin, another call came, and P.J. moved his family back to a major city in 1967.

During his 27-year career at Our Saviour’s in Brooklyn, he helped lead fundraising efforts, which allowed the congregation to finish its church building in 1986, after construction had stopped in 1929 due to the Great Depression. One other main source of pride for P.J. was founding a non-religious preschool at the church in 1969, which became a fixture in the community, and becoming a board of education partner, serving all faiths and creeds. The school currently serves more than 250 children and is certified by the Association for the Education of Young Children.

P.J. always enjoyed having dogs and cats for pets. While at Our Saviour’s, his cat Sean would walk over to the church office from the parsonage next door at 5 p.m. each day and stand at the office door meowing. Sean would then ride on P.J.’s shoulders for the short walk home, a daily spectacle and source of amusement for neighbors of all ages.

Kjell was a prominent proponent of the Norwegian-American community in Brooklyn for over 27 years, having served twice as the chair of the Annual Norwegian Day Parade in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Rev. Jordheim was also a recipient of the Medal of St. Olav, awarded to him by King Olav V of Norway in January 1976. This was in recognition of his work in the Norwegian community, promoting connections and good relations between Norway and the United States. Kjell was also given the honor of being a participating clergy member at the official U.S. memorial service held for the late King Olav V on Jan. 30, 1991.

Rev. Jordheim was married for over 69 years to Dr. Anne Jordheim. They shared a love for reading and gardening. Even in their advanced years, as long as their eyes would let them, they would read every page of The New York Times daily and always had a stack of news, science, history, culture, and theology magazines they were reading. They enjoyed tending lush gardens of berries, tomatoes and flowers of all kinds, as well as indoor plants, seemingly always in bloom.

An avid ski enthusiast, P.J. spent time in the 1980s volunteering with Ski for Light, helping blind people enjoy cross-country skiing, and he spent a week each winter in his retirement skiing with his children and grandchildren in Colorado. Some of the fondest family memories are of winters in northern Wisconsin, when P.J. would pack up the kids and the skis after church to ski the old logging roads in the various nearby forests. Cross-country skiing was an oddity in those days, and people would often ask him about those “strange skinny skis.” A Sunday afternoon ski tour almost always included an old coffee can and a few eggs. He would stop, make a fire, boil snow in the can and hard boil a few eggs so the kids had energy to continue. Some of his proudest moments were skiing later in life with his grandchildren, and he was thrilled to know that his great-grandchildren are carrying the tradition forward. His love for and pride in all of his grandchildren was evident in how he spoke with them and about them to others.

P.J. had a love of puns and ironic humor. His friends, colleagues and family were always ready for a humorous observation, a play on words or a silly zinger. He used his humor to try to make friends with everyone he met. This approach helped him be one of those people who always tries to make the best of a situation. Even at an advanced age, when walking became extremely difficult for him, and eventually impossible, he never complained and always tried to find a bright side to things.

Remaining an active scholar and writer throughout his life, P.J. enjoyed languages and was a fluent speaker of Norwegian, German, and English.  He had a good conversational grasp of French, and in his retirement spent time each day studying, reading or watching YouTube videos in each language. He became a fan of online news and video channels, where he could keep up with the world when reading became too difficult, and where he could listen to the languages he loved to speak. His computer also brought him joy by delivering classical music and emails from friends and family from around the world.

His love for theology kept him engaged throughout his life. He was always ready for a spirited discussion over the Christian theological conflicts of the day. He knew when he was 14 years old that he wanted to preach the Good News of the Gospel, and that is what he spent his life doing.

Kjell and Anne spent 12 wonderful years in retirement in New Paltz, N.Y., where they tended their vast gardens, swam three times a day in the summers, biked, hiked, made art, and skied. In 2007, they moved to the Lenoir Woods community in Columbia, Mo., to be near family. Many friendships were built, yet again, and even in his final months of life, he joked with and endeared his caregivers to him as true friends.

Rev. Jordheim is preceded in death by his son, Jon Steffen, his brother, Odd, and his parents. He is survived by his loving wife, Dr. Anne of Lenoir Woods of Columbia, Mo., his daughter Kristin and son Jan (Amy), both of Denver, Colo., his son Tron (Elizabeth) of Columbia, Mo., his five grandchildren, Ellen, Harry, and Ross (Erin) all of Denver, Colo., Helena and Carolyn of Columbia, Mo., and his two great-grandchildren, Camden and Ragan, Ross’ children. His brother, Knut, and seven nieces and nephews live in Norway with their families.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020 at 1 p.m., in the Lenoir Woods Chapel, Columbia, Mo. A clergy funeral will be conducted by the Metro New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Brooklyn, N.Y., 414 80th St., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11209, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at 1 p.m. Receptions will follow both services, and memorial gifts may be made to Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church or to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, More information is available at the Forever Missed memorial website

This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.