The call process in the 1950s seems to have been somewhat different from the call process in the early 21st century. When Theodore Emanuel Johnstone was called to be the pastor of First Lutheran Church on May 10, 1951, his was the fifth call the congregation had made in the previous eight months. Paul V. Frykman had resigned effective July 31, 1950 (and actually seems to have left in late June). Retired Pastor Julius Lorimer stepped in immediately and shepherded the congregation though the next 15 months until Johnstone arrived at the end of September 1951. The first four pastor candidates were offered $4000 per year, four weeks vacation, moving expenses, and a parsonage. In their call to Pastor Johnstone, the congregation offered the same package except that the salary was raised to $4500 per year. As it turned out, Pastor Johnstone’s pastorate remains as the longest continuous pastorate in First Lutheran’s 100 years.
First a word about Pastor Lorimer. After a long and varied career, Dr. Julius Lorimer had retired in 1947 from Havenscourt congregation in Oakland. He and his wife Anna moved to Mt. Hermon, and they joined First Lutheran Church in Palo Alto. Therefore he was on hand when the 1950-1951 vacancy occurred at First Lutheran and guided the congregation with an experienced hand through the next 15 months. After Pastor Johnstone’s installation, Pastor Lorimer served several other short-term positions, but he and his wife retained their connection with First Lutheran where they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1953, and where Pastor Lorimer’s funeral was held in 1958.
Theodore Emanuel Johnstone was born on August 3, 1906, in Chicago, Illinois, and was baptized a few weeks later by his father, Pastor Theodor Sigfrid Johnston at Ebenezer Lutheran in Chicago. (It’s not known when the final “e” was added to the Johnston(e) name.) Theodore’s mother, Johanna Victoria Johnson, had been born in Sweden and had come to the United States at the age of ten with her family. In 1918 the elder Johnston died and Mrs. Johnston was left as the sole support of Ted and his younger sister, Helen. The family was living in Burlington, Iowa, at the time, and Mrs. Johnston enrolled in a summer library course at the University of Iowa. In the fall of 1919, she obtained a position as a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, a job she held for 24 years.
Since his mother was employed at Gustavus Adolphus, it’s not surprising that Ted received his secondary education at that institution, graduating from the Academy in 1924, and receiving his A.B. from the College in 1928. Through his college years, he worked at odd jobs at the college and in a clothing store in St. Peter. For a year after graduation, he taught science and history in a high school in Arlington, Minnesota. In the summer of 1929, he did parish work at Emanuel Lutheran in Ludington, Michigan, and entered the Augustana seminary that fall.
Theodore Johnstone was ordained on June 12, 1932, in Fargo, North Dakota, and for the next ten years, served parishes in Minneapolis, Minnesota: Hope 1932–1934; Luther Memorial, 1932–1940; and Diamond Lake, 1940–1942. Prior to coming to First Lutheran in Palo Alto, he served Salem Lutheran in Ironwood, Michigan, 1942–1951.
On August 29, 1933, a year after his ordination, Pastor Johnstone married Dagmar Charlotte Ahl at Gloria Dei, Duluth, Minnesota. Their two children were born in Minneapolis: Charlotte Victoria on February 28, 1937, and Theodore, Jr. on November 26, 1939.
The Johnstone family arrived in Palo Alto in September of 1951 and settled into the parsonage at 2015 Middlefield Road. Pastor Johnstone was installed on September 28, and preached his first sermon on September 30. The First Lutheran archive holds an interesting letter from Pastor Johnstone in which he replies to several questions about the family’s move from Michigan to Palo Alto. The congregation had planned to re-paper the walls in three rooms in the parsonage, and there’s a detailed discussion about the choice of colors.
Plans for an education addition to First Lutheran had been underway for a couple of years. On April 23, 1952, the congregation gave the go-ahead to add 5000 square feet to the south east of the Fellowship Hall at a cost of $73,000. By December 1952, construction was well underway on the two-story structure with a basement. On March 8, 1953, the new Parish House was dedicated. It provided 15 small Sunday School rooms to house an average of 140 children each Sunday.
During this period, each auxiliary organization supported its own activities financially. For example, the collection gathered from the Sunday School children paid for the Sunday School teaching supplies. Many of the adult groups seemed to be primarily social in their function, only occasionally organizing an educational program. However, The Ladies’ Aid, by then called The Guild, and the Trustees had a long history of raising money and contributing labor to support the congregation at large. Pastor Johnstone was an enthusiastic supporter of the Scouting movement and Scout Troop 48 and Cub Pack 48 were reactivated at First Lutheran.
Our high-tech members in 2020, will be interested to learn that sermons in 1952 were recorded on a wire reorder.
A few more Displaced Persons trickled in. The Trustees hired some part-time secretarial support. The tower bell was installed in the belfry in February, 1955. The Homer property, consisting of two houses, was purchased in March 1958. In August 1958, Pastor and Mrs. Johnstone were surprised with a reception, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.
Pastor Johnstone was honored on June 9, 1962 with a service to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his ordination. He shared this event with Pastor Carl Segerhammar, president of the California Conference of the Augustana Synod. The two men had been seminary classmates and had been ordained in the same ceremony.
A big change occurred in June 1962 when several Lutheran bodies, including the Augustana Synod, merged to form the Lutheran Church in America. Now joined with other congregations into the Pacific Southwest Synod, a new constitution was written and the standing committees and auxiliary organizations were reorganized and renamed. Most notably, the Ladies’ Aid, the Women’s Missionary Society, and the Dorcas Society were merged into First Lutheran Church Women, and the Lutheran Brotherhood was now called First Lutheran Church Men.
In 1963, the mortgage on the parsonage was paid off. Channing House, a large facility for retired people, was under construction across the street from the church. In 1964, the Sunday School adopted the new LCA curriculum.
On October 2, the first ordination was held at First Lutheran: Theodore Johnstone, Jr., and Theodore Myers were ordained by Pastor Carl Segerhammar, the new president of the Pacific Southwest Synod. The new Pastor Johnstone officiated at his first service and preached his first sermon at First Lutheran on the following Sunday.
The National Lutheran Council was the body that appointed pastors to campus ministries. In the first half of 1964, this position was held at Stanford University by Dr. K. H. Sulston. Later that year Pastor John Arthur took over. Both pastors assisted at First Lutheran as their university schedules permitted. Pastor Arthur was destined to figure more prominently at a later time in the history of First Lutheran
In addition to overseeing a large and active congregation during a time of change, Pastor Johnstone served as the vice president of the California Conference of the Augustana Synod and was a member the executive board of the Pacific Southwest Synod. He held several other offices in the wider church organization and was active in the Boy Scout program, receiving the Silver Beaver award in 1967.
In January 1967, Pastor Theodore E. Johnstone accepted a call to Peace Lutheran in Seattle, Washington. This would be his last pastorate, and he retired in 1973. During his retirement, he served as a chaplain at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, Oregon, retiring completely in 1994. He and his wife returned to First Lutheran for a festival weekend and reunion in August 1987. Theodore Johnstone died in Tacoma, Washington, on September 5, 1998, at the age of 92 years.