The Rev. John Ofstedahl, was the minister and spiritual leader at Grafton Lutheran Church for nearly twenty-three years, accepting the call weeks before North Dakota was admitted to the Union in 1889 – and serving until his untimely death on November 11, 1911.
Rev. Ofstedahl was born near Voss, Norway in 1857, attended teachers school there, emigrated with his parents and sisters to America in 1878, and was in an early class at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota, and graduated from Luther Seminary in Madison, Wisconsin. He married Anna Markuson, daughter of Norwegian immigrants, and went to his first pastorate in Winchester Wisconsin where the first of their ten children were born.
At Grafton he was not just the leader at Grafton Lutheran but also the pastor at the Landstad and St. Thomas Congregations. One of Rev. Ofstedahl’s major accomplishments was his work to establish Deaconess Hospital, which served the Grafton community for many years before becoming a nursing home facility. His portrait hung at the entrance there, and was hanging in the Heritage Village Museum when I visited Grafton in 1995.
Rev. Ofstedahl was instrumental in organizing the building and dedication of the second building of Grafton Lutheran, which celebrated its first service in November 1896, and served until a new one was dedicated in 1953.
In 1994, Grafton Lutheran put me in touch with parishioners who had been children when Rev. Ofstedahl was there. Lucy Lykken Flaat wrote of her 1909 confirmation class, saying, “He was a very nice man and a good teacher. He taught part of the class in Norwegian and the rest in English.” Harry Lykken remembered that Rev. Ofstedahl had a team of horses that would take him to Auburn and St. Thomas to preach on Sundays following services at Grafton Lutheran. Lucy also remembered the “team of fast horses and a buggy”.
A favorite story of my grandfather Carl Ofstedahl was about the Sunday he “cut” church, getting there just as everyone was leaving. His father noted that he had not seen him in church. Carl said he had been there and had been sitting next to two women that he had just seen walking out of the church. It turned out that those two women had sat in the first row. My grandfather said that he got into big trouble over that one.
During his tenure at Grafton Lutheran, Rev. Ofstedahl and his wife had eight of their ten children. John Gerhard, Elmer, and Carl all served in World War I. Just five children survived to adulthood. After Rev. Ofstedahl’s death, the church sold the parsonage to Mrs. Ofstedahl. and one by one family members moved to the West Coast – save Elmer who was Walsh County Clerk of Courts for many years, passing away in Grafton in 1967.
My mother, Dorothy Ofstedahl Laird, is the last of Rev. Ofstedahl’s living grandchildren and will be 96 in August (2020). She has sponsored a reunion of the West Coast descendants every summer for the past twenty years. Rev. John Ofstedahl was a key part of Grafton history, and is well remembered by his family.
Submitted by John Laird
See Family Website at: John Ofstedahl Part One — John Laird Genealogy and