Ruben Spannaus photo, about 1970

The Rev. Ruben Edward Spannaus
May 31, 1913 – May 24, 2006

Funeral Service (Adobe pdf file)

 

Obituary

Beloved father, grandfather, and great-grandfather; pastor, carpenter and handyman; and friend and mentor to many, Pastor Ruben Edward Spannaus died in the Lord May 24, 2006, in Seattle, one week short of his 93rd birthday.

Ruben was born May 31, 1913, in Loveland, Colorado, where his parents, Emma Schulenberg Spannaus and Edward Spannaus, had moved a few years earlier from Arlington, Minnesota. In 1920, the family moved to Woodland, California, where Ruben completed high school at age 16; he then enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, in August of 1929, and graduated with honors in 1934. During summers and at other times during the school years, Ruben worked on farms and other odd jobs; he also learned carpentry and woodworking – skills he utilized all his life – from his father Edward, whose own father, Friedrich Spannaus, was a skilled craftsman trained in architecture in Saxony.

At Berkeley, Ruben majored in mathematics, intending to become a math and science teacher. In his junior year, he decided to go to seminary and enter the pastoral ministry. In an unusual move, he took Greek and Hebrew at his beloved “Cal” in preparation for a seminary education, having already studied Latin and French. In order for him to enter Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis in 1934, a special, rather informal, admissions process was improvised, since he was the only entering student in his class who had not graduated from a synodical junior college, but rather from a full four-year public university.

While at Concordia Seminary, Ruben participated in the Mission Society, teaching at the Niedringhaus mission in the slums of St. Louis. He later said that this is where he developed his interest in social ministry. 

During this  time, he met the love of his life, Olive Wise.  It so happened that Ruben was directing a church play in which Olive had a role as a French maid.  Ruben insisted that Olive have private tutoring to perfect her French accent.

In 1936-37, he served his vicarage at Lodi, California, where many Midwesterners had moved during the Depression. The requirements listed in the Lodi congregation's application for a vicar were that the candidate do janitorial work, systematic mission work in the community, and be able to converse and preach in German as well as in English. Ruben excelled at all three.

Ruben graduated from Concordia Seminary in 1938. Because of the Depression, there were few calls, so Ruben went back to California and worked in a sugar beet factory, and within a few months he was invited to teach at Concordia College in Oakland, California, where he taught math and science, history, and other subjects, until late 1939. In late October, Ruben was offered a position serving a new mission in El Monte, California, by the Southern California Board of Missions. In response to his inquiry as to whether he should bring his working library of 200 volumes, Ruben was advised to bring only those "which will assist you in the active service of the ministry."

That was early November, 1939. By the end of November, Ruben wrote to the Board again, advising them that he would be bringing something else with him: a  wife. During his last year at the Seminary, Olive and Ruben had dated steadily and had become engaged. They had been planning to get married early the next year, Ruben explained, but when he found that he would have a few weeks free in December, “we decided to marry now rather than disturb my work later.”

And so, on December 23, 1939, with the blessings of the Mission Board, and after traveling back to St. Louis, Ruben was married to Olive Adelaide Wise. They subsequently had four children: Boots (1940), Edward (1943), Timothy (1946), and Fredric (1947).

Ruben had been promised by the district that he would be ordained in El Monte in January, 1940, but a dispute arose with the district as to whether he should be ordained, since it was not a regular call. The matter was resolved when Ruben accepted a regular call a few months later from a congregation in Livingston, California. The call emphasized the mission responsibilities he would have, for which the Livingston congregation leaders obviously regarded Ruben as being well-suited; these included serving a mission in Merced, and serving as a volunteer chaplain at a sanitarium and at the Merced County Hospital (where, incidentally, daughter Boots was born in September, 1940). Ruben was ordained at Livingston on April 7, 1940.

A major concern during Ruben's tenure in Livingston was the forced relocation of Japanese farmers and farm workers – about one-third of the local population – to detention camps, because of fears induced by the war. Ruben protested this, along with the county ministerial association, but, as he later wrote, “we were unable to make an impression on the government.”

In June of 1942, Ruben received a call to serve as Institutional Missionary for what is now Lutheran Ministry Services Northwest, serving residents of hospitals, jails, and other facilities in the greater Seattle area. The call was issued after a survey of Institutional Mission possibilities in the Seattle area had been conducted by Rev. Frederick Menzel, the San Francisco City Missionary. Rev. Menzel's report identified numerous institutions, public and private, where mission work could be carried out, and also identified the particular qualifications which the Institutional Missionary should possess for dealing with patients and inmates of public institutions, government officials, etc. That Ruben was perhaps lacking in one of those stipulated requirements – “a number of years of pastoral experience” -- was clearly counterbalanced by his other very positive qualifications.

Rev. Menzel urged the Mission Board: “I want to encourage you to be careful and cautious in the calling of your Institutional Missionary. Make sure that you have the right man for the job. This man will make or break your plans regarding the establishment of an Institutional Mission in Seattle.” Significantly, it seems that it was Rev. Menzel himself who recommended Ruben Spannaus for this position, despite some opposition from the California District.

George Schmidt, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in West Seattle, who had taken the lead in the effort to establish mission work in Seattle, was designated to handle arrangements for the arrival of Ruben and family. “There will be plenty of work for you here, and you should not have overly many dull moments,” he wrote to Ruben in August, 1942. He warned Ruben about the extreme tightness of housing, due to the war, and he urged Ruben to let him know when the moving van should appear, “and then hie yourselves northward to God's own country.”

In early September 1942, Ruben, Boots, and Olive (who was pregnant with their second child, Edward) drove to Seattle in their 1936 Chevy, and temporary arrangements were made for their housing by members of Hope – beginning a close relationship of the Spannaus family to Hope, which has endured to this day. (Ruben also became a part-time, volunteer assistant pastor at Hope. After the death of Pastor Schmidt on Pentecost Sunday, 1948, Ruben served as interim pastor at Hope until Pastor Emil Jaech arrived in April, 1949, and more than a half century later he served again as interim prior to the arrival of Pastor Keith Eilers.)

On September 13, 1942, Ruben was installed in his new position as Institutional Missionary , and quickly began to establish volunteer chaplaincy programs at Harborview County Hospital and other facilities and institutions in the area. Over the next two years, Ruben also surveyed eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon for chaplaincy opportunities. Additionally, he devoted considerable time to special war-time services, working with the National Lutheran Council in Seattle. This included establishing temporary congregations at the sites of war housing; Ruben served one such congregation in Duwamish Bend.

In 1944, Ruben served on the organizing committee for the creation of a pan- Lutheran social welfare agency, now known as Lutheran Community Services Northwest but then called Associated Lutheran Welfare. Its mission, as stated in the letter requesting Ruben to become its first Executive Director, was “to perform ... a work that is commanded to all followers of Jesus Christ, viz., to care for the physical, as well as the spiritual needs of the poor and unfortunate ones in our midst....” On January 1, 1945, Ruben became its first Director, over the opposition of the Northwest District President (Paul Winterstein’s grandfather, F.M.L. Nitz!) of the Missouri Synod who raised the specter of “unionism” and other horrors.

As Executive Secretary, it was Ruben's responsibility to build a new agency from scratch. In early 1945 he traveled to the Midwest to visit Lutheran welfare agencies there and learn from them. He had to establish an office, hire staff, qualify for state licensing, and carry out fundraising and public relations for the new agency.  Beginning with foster care, the agency soon included adoption services and in 1947 added Ackerson House, a “home for unmarried mothers.”  By 1957, ALW had also added family counseling services, a relatively new field of service.

In 1951, Ruben was asked to consider becoming the first Secretary for Social Ministry at Missouri Synod headquarters in St. Louis. While in Chicago for interviews and a conference, Ruben became gravely ill, requiring emergency surgery, and a period of convalescence until undergoing further surgery the following year. This ended any consideration of going to St. Louis.

When he was able to return to a full schedule, Ruben continued to travel, around Washington State and the country, even undertaking two speaking trips through Canada in the interest of Lutheran unity. He served two years as president of the Washington Association for Social Welfare, which functioned as a professional conference and a lobbying group.

In 1957, Ruben and family re-located to the Chicago area, where Ruben had been offered the position of Executive Director of the Lutheran Child Welfare Association (now known as Lutheran Child and Family Services) of Illinois, an agency which was in disarray and had lost its state operating license. Under Ruben's leadership, the agency was reorganized and new professional staff hired, and its license and Community Fund participation were restored. During his 21-year tenure, the agency was significantly expanded and its operations upgraded and modernized. Under his leadership the organization constructed a modern children’s home to replace an aging and obsolete “orphanage,” built new headquarters and created a network of satellite offices throughout the state. By the time he left after 21 years service, LCFS was recognized as a model family services agency.

During his time in Chicago, Ruben also completed a manuscript of a book on the history of Lutheran welfare work, entitled “Love Never Fails.” The book traced the origins of Lutheran welfare to the charitable work of the Apostolic Church, the Lutheran Reformation, and Martin Luther's emphasis on welfare work and acts of charity. Ruben  examined subsequent developments in Europe, and the distinctions  between the Orthodox Lutherans and the Pietists, the latter whose views were expressed in the institutions established  by August Hermann Franke in Halle. He discussed the influence those groups had on the attitudes towards welfare work among Lutherans who migrated to America. He also treated the development of the Inner Mission Movement in 19th century Germany, and its impact among Lutherans in the United States. He concluded with chapters on the specific development of Lutheran welfare work in America, and an outline of the tasks and the perspectives facing Lutheran welfare work at that time with specific recommendations. No one was spared from criticism – as constructive and compassionate as it was – in Ruben's manuscript. His comments on the reluctance of the more orthodoxist currents and synods to engage in welfare work apparently ruffled some feathers, and the book, completed in 1962, was never published.

In 1978, Ruben “retired,” and he and Olive moved back to their favorite city, Seattle.

 Throughout his professional career and in retirement, Ruben worked tirelessly at the state and national levels for improvements in the child welfare system and for issues of social justice. He twice served as chair of the Child Welfare League of America, and, in retirement, was a peer reviewer with the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children. He served in leadership positions with United Way of King County and the Seattle/King County Area Council on Aging. Other “retirement” positions included business manager of Seattle Lutheran High School and Coordinator of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, as well as interim positions and preaching and teaching at Lutheran churches throughout the Seattle area. Ruben continued his chaplaincy work as long as he was able.

A special joy in his last years was the West Seattle Text Study group, an ecumenical group which meets weekly to study the lessons for each Sunday.

When he was hospitalized on March 10, 2006, with what was diagnosed as congestive heart failure, he had just outlined a sermon to be given on Sunday, March 12, to the Chapel service at the Kenny Home in West Seattle. Instead, on that date he preached the sermon – from memory, of course – to his family from his intensive care unit bed.

Tests performed when Ruben was hospitalized showed that he had an aggressive, advanced form of prostate cancer, thus beginning the last chapter of what he called his “great adventure.” 

Ruben is survived by his loving wife of 66 years, Olive, and their four children and spouses – Boots and Paul Winterstein, Edward and Nancy Spannaus, Timothy Spannaus and Collette Pariseau, and Fredric – plus nine grandchildren, four great grandchildren, grateful nieces and nephews, and countless others who call him “Uncle Ruben,” “my second father,” and, simply, “Friend.”

The family expresses appreciation to Dr. Ronald Watson and the staffs and caregivers of Providence Hospital and U.W. Medical Center, Cancer Care Alliance, especially Dr. Celestia Higano, Providence Mount St. Vincent, and to their friends from Hope Church and the community.

In place of flowers, memorials may be given to Lutheran Community Services Northwest, designated for the Village at Angle Lake, 433 Minor Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98109; and the Hope Lutheran Church Foundation, 4456 42nd Ave. SW, Seattle, WA 98116; or the University of Washington Urology Prostate Cancer Research Project, Seattle Cancer Alliance, 825 Eastlake Avenue East, Seattle, WA, 98109-1023.

 

“Take my life that I may be
Consecrated, Lord, to thee.” 
Amen!

 

Contributed by Edward Spannaus, building upon Boots’s  initial draft,
and  utilizing  Ruben’s correspondence files and other writings,  

and then criticized and improved by Boots, Tim and Fred