A Life’s Passion

The Rev. George Orvick has served the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in a number of capacities during his years as a member, pastor, and synodical leader.
Rev. George Orvick in the Ottesen Museum.
Rev. George Orvick in the Ottesen Museum.

It’s a story of conviction, belief, goals, advice, laughter, and the love of a lifetime. When you sit down with a person selected to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from Bethany Lutheran College, you can be assured of a good story. George Orvick, class of 1948 and the 2009 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, is no exception.

Orvick was born in 1929 near Thornton, Iowa, two years after the Evangelical Lutheran Synod purchased Bethany. Orvick’s boyhood pastor, Rev. Arthur Ranzau, saw potential in this young farm boy and urged him to attend Bethany, stating, “I want you to be a minister.” With support from his parents, Orvick traveled to Mankato for experiences that would change his life.

“I fell in love with the place, it felt like home,” Orvick reflected. After just three days at Bethany, Orvick met a group of young ladies by the oak tree in the middle of campus. He sat down next to one of them and in his words, “has been sitting by her ever since.” Ruth (Hoel) taught Christian day school while Orvick continued his schooling at Northwestern College in Watertown, Wisconsin. After graduation, he returned to attend Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary and the couple married. Sixty-three years later, the Orvick’s have four children, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, many of whom have enjoyed years at Bethany themselves.

But remember, this isn’t only about the love of a lifetime and laughter. This is also the story of a man of convictions, belief, and goals. Orvick’s resolve to serve in the ministry demonstrates his steadfast nature: “After deciding to become a minister in high school, I never looked back, and I never changed my mind. I like working with people and I like preaching the gospel.”

Not only did the chapel services and larger-than-life professors such as Ylvisaker, Madson, and Fremder leave an impression on Orvick’s school days, but he was also involved in baseball, choir, and operettas. A quick glimpse of yearbooks during these years show his face sprinkled throughout in the sports pages, choir, and in various theatrical roles including H.M.S. Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance, and the role of Lord High Executioner in Mikado.

As Orvick began full-time service in the ministry, the Lord continued to bless him. After serving for one year at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Amherst Junction, Wisconsin, Orvick accepted a call to Holy Cross in Madison, Wisconsin. Little did he know that he would spend thirty-two years with this congregation and have the opportunity to watch the Holy Spirit’s blessing on his service as the congregation grew. The Lord blessed the congregation with a period of tremendous expansion and they saw a new sanctuary, school, and gymnasium, as well as numerous vicars of the synod pass through their doors. While serving as pastor of Holy Cross, he also took courses in Greek and Hebrew at the University of Wisconsin, which culminated in a six-week study tour in Israel. Orvick humbly comments, “I am happy the Lord provided the opportunity to serve in different ways. I loved working with the wonderful congregation.”

In addition to shepherding this rapidly growing congregation, Orvick served the synod and school that he loved so. He was a member of the Bethany Lutheran College Board of Regents from 1957-1969 and was elected president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in 1970. At that time, the office of the president was part-time with two-year term limits and only three consecutive terms allowed. In 1976, Orvick finished his service but this break was short-lived. In 1980, Orvick was again elected to be president and this service would be different. In 1986, the synod decided to make this a full-time position so the Orvicks moved to the synod headquarters in Mankato, Minnesota.

During his years as President, Orvick had a special affinity for mission work and enjoyed maintaining contact with overseas churches, assisting in the formation of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. Orvick served as president for twenty-eight years and retired in 2002. “The Lord blessed us by allowing the Synod to remain faithful to the doctrine of Holy Scripture and the forefathers while maintaining an especially evangelical spirit.”

And just like that, it’s back to Orvick’s sense of humor. “Old preachers never die, they just put them in museums,” he quipped as we sat together and chatted. And as such, Orvick was appointed the director of museum and archives in the Ottesen Museum on the Bethany campus. Here he works with artifacts and history of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Lutheranism. As the Museum mission states, President Orvick has worked for several years “Preserving the past so that we may have direction for the future.”

President Orvick is an example of what Bethany hopes for our alumni. He has made significant contributions to his community and church, his profession, and shown service and support for Bethany Lutheran College.

“There is a spirit there [Bethany] of family that is meaningful and I wouldn’t trade my years at Bethany for anything,” noted Orvick.

Bethany will present the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award to George Orvick on May 15 during the 2009 commencement service.