Torkelson, Theodore Racine (1913–2008)

By Cheryl Christo Howson

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Cheryl Christo Howson earned a graduate diploma in computer aided interior designing at the Dr. Bhanuben Nanavati College of Architecture for Women in Pune, India. She co-founded an interior design company in Sri Lanka and worked as a copywriter. She contributed to the morning devotional published by Women’s Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Shepherdess International Journal magazine, and the Adventist Review. She has written several plays. Currently (2020), she lives in Hosur, India while preparing for a piano exam.

Theodore Racine Torkelson was a church administrator, writer and editor who served the Adventist Church in the Southern Asia Division and at the Pacific Press.

Early Life

Theodore Racine Torkelson was born in Atchison City, Kansas, the United States on November 22, 19131 to Torkel Bartinjus Torkelson and Lillian Ruth Hart.2 He was the second son of “the Garden City farmer and his school teacher wife”3 who also had two other sons, Fred and Oscar, and four daughters, Elizabeth, Ann, Esther, and Agnes.4

Although Ted’s parents were not Seventh-day Adventists when he was born, his mother attended the Topeka Camp Meetings and was baptized at the end of the meetings in 1924. The next year Theodore made the decision to be baptized; he was only twelve years old. His father was baptized at a camp meeting in 1941.5 Ted completed grade 12 at Enterprise Academy,6 a non-Adventist school that all his siblings attended before they were baptized.7

Education & Marriage

For tertiary education Ted enrolled in Union College, Lincoln, Nebraska, and graduated in 1939 with a B.A. in religion and history. While at college he met Gwendolyn Ada Longfellow whom he eventually married.8 Gwendolyn was born on May 12, 1915 in Denver, Colorado,9 as the first daughter of Alva E. Longfellow and Lulu Edmonds, a music teacher.10 Gwendolyn was baptized in 1934, the year she enrolled in Union College where she studied business administration for 3 years.11

After their marriage on February 27, 1939 in Lovell, Wyoming, Theodore and Gwendolyn Torkelson left for Nome, North Dakota, where Theodore was employed in pastoral work.12

Career and Ministry

During his student years, Torkelson worked as an evangelist from June 1937 to April 1940 in the North Dakota Conference.13 After his graduation in 1939, the couple accepted a call to be missionaries to India.14 The couple landed in New Delhi on July 9, 1940 and were sent to Lahore, (now in Pakistan) where they worked for nine months and studied Urdu.15 Torkelson crammed a years’ worth of study into six months and still managed to score second highest in all of India on his first language examination.16 He was ordained in New Delhi, on March 8, 1941.17

After Ted’s ordination, the couple moved to Chuharkana, in that part of Punjab which became part of Pakistan after the 1947 partition of British India. Pastor Torkelson worked as a village evangelist for eleven months until March 1942 when the family returned to Hapur, India,18 where he continued working as an evangelist.19 During evangelistic meetings, Gwendolyn would play the accordion.20 A year later the couple moved to India’s capital city of New Delhi, where Ted was temporarily assigned to pastoral work for six months. But he returned to Hapur in September 1943 to serve as principal of the school there for three years and eight months. During this period the couple had their first and only child, a daughter, Sharon Kaye.21 In 1948, the family returned to the United States where Torkelson finished his M.A. in biblical languages at the SDA Theological Seminary (Andrews University). Upon the family’s return to India in March 1949, he was appointed director of Upper Ganges Mission with Lucknow as headquarters—a position he held until their next furlough to the United States in April 1954.22

When Pastor Torkelson returned to India from furlough in December 1954, he was appointed the president of the North West Union.23 His wife and daughter returned some months later and joined Ted on July 14, 1955 at the Union headquarters in Delhi.24 Unfortunately, Mrs. Torkelson required urgent heart surgery in October 1956 and the family made an emergency visit to the United States for six weeks. Upon their return, they continued their work in Delhi until April 1959.25 The family then moved to the Southern Asia Division headquarters at Salisbury Park, Poona (Pune), where Pastor Torkelson took over as chief editor of the Division’s premier Oriental Watchman Publishing House.26 His six-year service at the publishing house was remarkable for his leadership in the production of message-filled literature and in the training of national editors for the future editorial needs and leadership of the publishing house. In the upward push of new development of literature, Torkelson led out in a major revision of Health and Longevity, the Division’s leading health message book, with the revised edition reaching all time sales high not only in Southern Asia Division but also in neighboring countries in Asia and Africa. Subsequently, he was at the forefront of introducing several new books to the colporteur force. Torkelson also took major initiatives in the development of national editors and art editors. One lasting result of his commitment to training national leadership in editing is his foresight and selection of possible trainees who will have theological upgrading and professional training in journalism in both content and methodology in the United States. A visible result was the availability of national editors to take over the editorial leadership of the publishing house when expatriate missionaries returned home.

In May 1965, the family returned to the United States permanently for educational reasons of their daughter.27 Once back in the United States, Torkelson found that the printer’s ink has become too strong a part of his professional life. His search for a satisfying and fulfilling profession led him to serve in the publishing ministry of the church: first as Associate Editor of Signs of the Times, then as associate book editor at the Pacific Press, Mountain View, California. In 1976 he took over as the head book editor of the Pacific Press.28 When he retired in 198029 Torkelson had served the Pacific Press for a total of fifteen years.

Besides authoring many articles in various religious journals, he wrote two books: One Heart, One Vote (1976); and Doctor Upstairs (1970) which was also translated into Spanish and French.30

Later Life

The Torkelsons retired in Sunnyvale, California, but returned to India temporarily in January 1985 to serve as editorial assistant / consultant at the Oriental Watchman Publishing House, Pune.31 Pastor Torkelson passed away in Silverton, Oregon on March 29, 2008,32 a Sabbath, at the age of 94. He was buried in Modesto, California, on April 3, 2008.33

Contribution and Legacy

Theodore Torkelson gave 25 years of service to Southern Asia Division as evangelist, principal of a secondary school, president of missions and unions and as the chief editor of Southern Asia’s lead publishing house, responsible for the production and advancement of health and religious books and publications in Southern Asia Division. In the North American Division, he served for three years as an evangelist before he left for mission service. Upon return to North America, he served for 15 years at Pacific Press as associate editor and head book editor. In sum, a total of 43 years in denominational service stand to the credit of a life well lived and well served.34

Sources

“Announcements: Pacific Press Appoints New Book Editor.” Canadian Adventist Messenger, July 3, 1980.

“Editors In Chief – Farewell.” Southern Asia Tidings, July 1, 1965.

“Golden Cords Hung For Five Unionites.” The Clock Tower, June 30, 1940.

“In Memory of Theodore Torkelson,” Bollman Funeral Home & Dallas Mortuary Tribute Centre, https://memorials.bollmanfuneralhome.com/book-of-memories/178183/Torkelson-Theodore/service-details.php

“Miscellany.” Southern Asia Tidings, August 1, 1955.

“North Dakota Conference: Longfellow-Torkelson.” Northern Union Outlook, March 21, 1939.

“Obituaries: Longfellow, Lulu Edmonds.” Outlook, April 1, 1990.

“Obituaries: Torkelson, Lily Ruth.” Lake Union Herald, September 9, 1969.

“People in Transition: Pacific Press.” Gleaner, August 16, 1976.

Schutt, Mrs. C. A. “Mussoorie Dorcas Sale.” Eastern Tidings, September 15, 1942.

“Theo R. Torkelson.” U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI), myheritage.com.

“Theodore Racine Torkelson” Service Records, Southern Asia Division Archives, TN, India.

“Theodore Torkelson.” My Heritage, https://www.myheritage.com/names/theodore_torkelson

“To New Posts: Theodore Racine Torkelson.” ARH, March 14, 1985.

Torkelson, Oscar, “Kansas: Torkelsons of Everest Celebrate Golden Wedding Anniversary.” The Central Union Reaper, February 7, 1961.

“Wedding: Longfellow – Torkelson.” The Clock Tower, March 10, 1939.

Notes

  1. “Theodore Racine Torkelson,” Service Records, Southern Asia Division Archives, TN, India.

  2. “Theodore Torkelson” My Heritage, accessed April 2019, https://www.myheritage.com/names/theodore_torkelson

  3. Oscar Torkelson, “Kansas: Torkelsons of Everest Celebrate Golden Wedding Anniversary” The Central Union Reaper, February 7, 1961, 7.

  4. “Obituaries – Torkelson, Lily Ruth,” Lake Union Herald, September 9, 1969, 9.

  5. Torkelson, 7.

  6. Service Records.

  7. Torkelson, 7.

  8. Service Records.

  9. Service Records.

  10. “Obituaries: Longfellow, Lulu Edmonds” Outlook, April 1, 1990, 33.

  11. Service Records.

  12. “Wedding: Longfellow – Torkelson” The Clock Tower, March 10, 1939, 3.

  13. Ibid.

  14. “Golden Cords Hung For Five Unionites,” The Clock Tower, June 30, 1940, 3.

  15. Service Records.

  16. “Editors In Chief – Farewell” Southern Asia Tidings, July 1, 1965, 16.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Service Records.

  19. Ibid.

  20. Mrs. C.A. Schutt “Mussoorie Dorcas Sale,” Eastern Tidings, September 15, 1942, 6.

  21. Service Records.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Ibid.

  24. “Miscellany,” Southern Asia Tidings, August 1, 1955, 16.

  25. Service Records.

  26. “Editors In Chief – Farewell.”

  27. Service Records.

  28. “People in Transition: Pacific Press,” Gleaner, August 16, 1976, 18.

  29. “Announcements: Pacific Press Appoints New Book Editor,” Canadian Adventist Messenger, July 3, 1980, 14.

  30. “People in Transition: Pacific Press.”

  31. “To New Posts: Theodore Racine Torkelson,” Adventist Review, March 14, 1985, 22.

  32. “Theo R. Torkelson,” U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI), myheritage.com, accessed May 2019, https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10002-76034458/theo-r-torkelson-in-us-social-security-death-index-ssdi

  33. “In Memory of Theodore Torkelson,” Bollman Funeral Home & Dallas Mortuary Tribute Centre, accessed May 2019, https://memorials.bollmanfuneralhome.com/book-of-memories/178183/Torkelson-Theodore/service-details.php.

  34. “Announcements: Pacific Press Appoints New Book Editor.”

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Howson, Cheryl Christo. "Torkelson, Theodore Racine (1913–2008)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Accessed January 19, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AGV9.

Howson, Cheryl Christo. "Torkelson, Theodore Racine (1913–2008)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Date of access January 19, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AGV9.

Howson, Cheryl Christo (2021, April 28). Torkelson, Theodore Racine (1913–2008). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 19, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AGV9.