Bob Herhold’s career as a Lutheran pastor has been described by the words “kinetic”, “nomadic”, and “creative”. In addition to being a pastor, he was also the author of several books and plays, a journalist, and an activist for social justice, especially in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Robert Mains Herhold was born on July 24, 1924. in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was baptized and confirmed at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. Bob was the oldest son of George Frederick Herhold, a salesman for a sign company, and Edna Augusta Mains. He described his mother as a “entrepreneurial homemaker”. He had two younger brothers.
Bob had attended Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, before serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He resumed his education at the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1947. On August 28, 1948, he married Muriel Louise Townsend, and embarked on a two-year stint at Yale Divinity School. In 1951, he graduated from Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in Minneapolis and was ordained on July 25 of that year. He continued his education with graduate courses at the University of Minnesota, 1950–1951, where he
studied philosophy of religion; University of Chicago, 1955-1957, with a look at theology, ethics, and counseling; and the Institute for Advanced Pastoral Studies, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1953 and 1974.
Pastor Herhold’s first two pastorates were in inner-city, multi-racial neighborhoods — Bethel Lutheran in Pittsburgh (1951-1954) and Woodlawn Immanuel Lutheran in Chicago (1954–1957) — where he developed programs to serve the whole community. From 1957–1961, he served at St. John Lutheran in Mound, Minnesota. Then he resigned to move to Tucson, Arizona, for the health of his four children.
In Arizona, he worked as a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, and served as a pastor developer for Dove of Peace Lutheran in Tucson. During this time, he was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in the big civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
Pastor Johnstone had officially resigned from First Lutheran in January 1967, but he was still presiding at congregational meetings in February. Unfortunately, the congregational records for this period are scanty, so we don’t have many details. Pastor John Arthur, still the Lutheran chaplain at Stanford University, presided over the congregation during the spring and into the summer of 1967. The
congregation’s second call was to Robert Herhold who accepted and arrived in Palo Alto in September, 1967.
The Herhold family moved into a house at 325 Barklay Court, so the parsonage was sold. Perhaps the two-bedroom house on Middlefield was not big enough for the Herhold family and their four children: Scott, Jan, Joy, and Ted. A few months into Pastor Herhold’s tenure, he requested that an Associate Pastor be called. In April 1968, Pastor Harold Wesley Varner accepted the call and arrived in July. It’s likely that because of his strong interest in inter-racial relationships, Pastor Herhold
preferred an African-American associate. Pastor Varner became active in several organizations in East Palo Alto, and in the summer of 1969, organized an integrated Vacation Bible School at First Lutheran.
Children from First Lutheran and from Jerusalem Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in Palo Alto, attended that two-week session. (See also Pastor Varner’s biography.) Bob Herhold’s son, Scott, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, reminisced later about his father’s down-to-earth style. In a meeting
at one of his early churches, Pastor Herhold was encouraging the idea of an inter-racial congregation. He pointed out that Jesus had dark skin. “Let’s leave Jesus out of this,” bellowed one member. “This is just a question of who should belong to this church.”
During his tenure at Palo Alto, two of Pastor Herhold’s books were published: “The Christian and Politics”, and “Funny, You Don’t Look Christian”. In the latter book, Herhold combined story-telling and quick humor with a deep sense of spirituality.
In December of 1969, Pastor Herhold resigned and he and his wife transferred their membership to University Lutheran in Palo Alto. He planned to spend a couple of months writing. Then, under the auspices of the Ecumenical Ministry of the Lutheran Church in America, he embarked on an experimental outreach to the “swinging singles” in Mountain View. His idea was to form an informal and congenial group among young adults who had fallen away from church or had never
belonged to a church. After nearly five years, the experiment yielded a core group of only about a dozen young people. So Pastor Herhold returned to parish ministry.
From 1975 to 1980, he pastored Resurrection Lutheran in San Bruno. He was an assistant to the Bishop from 1980–1983, and served his last parish, Christ the King in Fremont, from 1983–1986. During his years as a parish pastor, he served on several national and regional Lutheran boards and committees, and took a term as the Dean of the El Camino District of the Lutheran Church in America.
After retirement in 1986, Bob wrote several plays that were performed in local churches. Bob and Muriel Herhold returned as members of First Lutheran and when Bob died on April 18, 2006, his funeral was held at there.