Pastor Pfotenhauer came from a long line of pastors that went back to Reformation times, but he stated, “I am not in the pastoral ministry in order to keep up a long-standing tradition. I followed the dictum: ‘Don’t be a pastor unless you can’t help it.'”
Norman Pfotenhauer was born in Wataskiwin, Alberta, Canada on April 6, 1923, the oldest of four boys and two girls. His parents were the Rev. Carl Wilhelm Pfotenhauer and Hannah Kuring, and his grandfather was Rev. Friedrich Pfotenhauer, president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod 1911–1935. All three of Norm’s brothers also became pastors, and one of his sisters married a pastor, so it was indeed, a long-line of Lutheran pastors.
Growing up, he sometimes accompanied his father on mission trips to various places in Canada. His education included two years of public school in Palatine, Illinois, then four years of Junior College at Concordia, Miwaukee, and four years at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. As an intern, he served two congregations on horseback in Alberta, Canada, and spent a year sailing on cattle boats to Europe where he conducted services regularly for the crew.
Pastor Pfotenhauer was ordained in 1948 into the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. On August 1, 1948, he married Dorothy Betty Osness in Camrose, Alberta. His first seven years in the ministry were spent in Nanaimo, British Columbia where he was the first pastor of St. Paul Church and also served two other island congregations in Duncan and Youbou. During this period, three daughters, Vivian, Dorothy, and Jane, were added to the Pfotenhauer family.
In 1955, he was called to start a mission in North Denver. After five years, it had grown to about 600 members. A fourth daughter, Dawn, was born in Denver. The Pfotenhauer family then spent eight years in Hawaii where Norm was the pastor of the Missouri-Synod mother church in Honolulu. This congregation welcomed many oriental and Hawaiian members and the school eventually served over 200 students. The fifth and last daughter, Heather, was born in Honolulu.
The years 1968 to 1980 were spent at Bethany Lutheran in Menlo Park. During this period, Pastor Pfotenhauer took a one-year sabbatical during which time he earned his living painting and remodeling houses.
In 1980, he received a call to serve as the associate pastor of the Evangelical Church of Wittlich, West Germany. Having grown up in a German-speaking household, Pastor Pfotenhauer was able to conduct services in that language. Shortly after he arrived in the parish, the head pastor left, leaving Pastor Pfotenhauer to serve a congregation of 4000 members, spread over 72 villages and a town of 16,000 people. Although there were far fewer than 4000 active members, the church was expected to baptize, marry, and bury most of the population in its parish. Officiating at these rites meant several such services each week. Pastor Pfotenhauer said, “I would not have chosen such a demanding position, but I believe God chose us and then gave us the daily strength to do His will.”
Upon their return to the United States in 1983, Norm and Dorothy moved back to Redwood City, and Norm returned to painting houses while serving as a vacancy pastor at St. Paul Lutheran in Mountain View.
In 1983, he received a call from First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto. To accept this call, Pastor Pfotenhauer, a Missouri Synod pastor, need to transfer his credentials and become a rostered pastor in the Lutheran Church in America. There was also the question of competition with his former congregation in Menlo Park. A letter from Pastor Robert Nicholus, who was then the pastor in Menlo Park, assured the Lutheran Church in America that he supported and strongly recommended the call. Pastor George Spindt served as the interim pastor from August, 1982 until Pastor Pfotenhauer was installed on May 1, 1983.
When Pastor Pfotenhauer accepted the call to First Lutheran in 1983, he stipulated that he would serve for five years, and then retire when he reached the age of 65. During his final period as a full-time pastor, the First Lutheran congregation remodeled the front of the property at 618 Homer, renovated the organ, and merged with two other Lutheran synods to become a member of the ELCA. Pastor Pfotenhauer emphasized worship and learning, visited shut-ins at least once a month, and held a weekly prayer service on Thursday noon. Every fourth Sunday at 3:00 pm he conducted a service in German. Norm and Dorothy led two tours to Israel.
In his spare time, Norm Pfotenhauer enjoyed hiking, reading, and making pottery. During his time at First Lutheran, he took advantage of the near-by St. Patrick seminary to take a few classes and to teach a few. His oldest daughter, Vivian, recalls: “I remember dad as being consistently kind and faithful to God in his private life as well as his public life. He was amazingly disciplined in his Bible and prayer life. Loved his books, his family, and his compost! He was a good listener–had to really coax an opinion out of him. Loved learning – especially new cultures through travels. Bit of a pack-rat… Couldn’t throw much away.”
After his retirement in 1988, Norm and Dorothy moved to Fairfield, then to Auburn, California, to be near some of their daughters. In retirement, Norm assisted at St. Mark Lutheran in Fairfield, served an interim period at St. John in Antioch, and was a member of Bethlehem Lutheran in Auburn.
Pastor Norman Pfotenhauer died March 1, 2011, in Auburn, California.