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1987 MWA Alumnus of the Year – Vernon Kenneth Burgeson
Born: April 13, 1915 in Clay Co., MN
Death: April 24, 2003 in Wadena, Wadena Co., MN
Burial: Wadena Cemetery, Wadena, Wadena Co., MN
Spouse: Helen Winnifred Temple
Parents: Christian Emil Burgeson and Ingred Mary B. Johnson
Vernon K. Burgeson and Helen Temple Burgeson
Vernon Kenneth Leroy Burgeson was born in western Minnesota in 1917. Helen Temple Burgeson was born in Casper, Wyoming, several years later. When Vernon was about 10, his family moved to the “Advent Settlement” north of Remer, Minnesota. He lived there with his sister Ruth Burgeson and his parents in a one-room log home. His older brothers, Lawrence, Leonard and Rudolph and his sister Lillian Burgeson Dale had left home. Lawrence was the schoolteacher in a Seventh-day Adventist school on the neighboring property. At the time the church school was the second largest Adventist school in Minnesota. Vernon lived there until he went to Maplewood Academy and then Union College, where he took ministerial studies and met Helen Temple.
Helen Winnifred Temple Burgeson grew up in Boulder, Colorado, in a single parent home because her father abandoned the family when she was 3. Her mother Belle Temple had a dream in which an angel spoke to her. She was pushing Helen and her two sons in carriages and was on the edge of a precipice. The angel said “You must take them across”. Belle went to school to become a seamstress and supported her family. Helen went to SDA school in Boulder, then Campion Academy, then Union College, where she met Vernon.
The Advent Settlement in Minnesota thrived for a few years. There was a lot of fun and hard work. Larry Burgeson, Vernon’s nephew, remembers singing with Vernon all the way to the hay fields with a team of horses. There was an active social life for the young people and there are a number of couples that met people within the community and were married.
Vernon’s older sister Ruth Burgeson became a college girl’s dean and later an English Teacher at Walla Walla College. Older brother Lawrence was a teacher and later drove the moving truck for the conference. Rudolph was a teacher and later managed the laundry at Pacific Union College. Several of Vernon’s nephews became ministers. His sister Lillian Burgeson Dale had several sons that became ministers, Wilbur, Dick and Rodney Dale. Lawrence’s son Don became a minister. They were all musical and played guitars and sang. Vernon remembered his first Sabbath as a 10-year-old at the Advent Settlement they sang “Ring the Bells of Heaven”.
Helen and Vernon were married in 1943 and moved to North Dakota to begin as a pastor in the New Rockford church and then Bible Teacher at Sheyenne River Academy. While at Harvey, North Dakota, their first son Gary was born. Tragically, another baby, Tommy, died at birth. The young family then moved to Redfield, South Dakota, where Vernon was Bible teacher and pastor at Plainview Academy. There Bonnie was born in 1952.
From Plainview Academy in South Dakota Vernon left teaching and became the pastor of the Hurley, Yankton and Platte and Mitchell churches. From there the family moved to Glenwood, Minnesota, where Vernon pastored the Alexandria and Artichoke churches as well. The next move was to Willmar where he also pastored New London church and Granite Falls. The next district was Austin, where Vernon’s churches included Albert Lea and Dodge Center. The next and last move was to Wadena. The church in Staples was included.
Helen and Vernon retired in Wadena. Vernon owned the land of his childhood near Remer. The original log home had fallen down under deep snows. Over the years Vernon built two extremely rustic log cabins on the property, a barn and a smaller building. In Wadena, he built a barn to house his team of draft horses, Duke and Dan.
Vernon went into the woods, sawed the trees down with a “Swede saw”, peeled them, got them lugged out of the woods, cut notches off of them so they would fit together, chinked the spaces between the logs with moss from the tamarack swamp. This was hard work but Vernon did it for fun. In earlier years he mowed and raked hay using his horses. In the winter he would hook up his team to a bobsled and give hayrides for church parties.
Vernon was an avid reader – he especially enjoyed nature writing and stories about early days in the Midwest. His sermons reflected his love of nature. He worshipped a God who was the creator of all that is beautiful.
Helen sewed as a hobby. Her mother had been a seamstress and had supported the family that way. Family vacations usually were at Boulder, Colorado or the Remer property. Both Helen and Vernon had a good sense of humor and enjoyed people. Helen had a special interest in children’s Sabbath School. Her mother had been a children’s Sabbath School teacher for many years.
Various aging relatives at times came to stay with the Burgesons. They provided a place for Vernon’s father Christian, Helen’s mother Belle, and Vernon’s brother-in-law Bill Klinger.
Vernon mentored younger ministers that pastored in Wadena. He also was often seen in the Heritage Room during Minnesota camp meetings held at Maplewood Academy, assisting Dr. Adrian Lauritzen in presenting Maplewood and Minnesota Conference Seventh-day Adventist history.
Helen had a stroke and for a while did well, learning how to do things differently. Eventually she went to live at Shady Lane Nursing Home in Wadena. Vernon kept healthy and physically active except for breaking a hip. They both died in 2003 within four months of each other. Several years later their son Gary, who lived in Alexandria, also died. Gary suffered from a chronic mental illness that began in his college years. He kept a positive outlook throughout his life and his favorite saying was “Jesus Never Fails.” Bonnie their daughter has lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for many years, went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from which she got degrees in English and Sociology, and became a writer sometimes published in church magazines. She published a book of her poetry. Bonnie won an award at UN-L for her writing. She now is employed by the State of Nebraska at the Nebraska State Penitentiary as a Word Processing Specialist.
As whole generations of our elders leave us, it is good to remember their legacy. Vernon spoke of being a contemporary of Ellen White in his early years. Vernon was a 2nd generation Adventist and Helen was a 3rd generation Adventist. Their parents were contemporaries of the earliest pioneers of the church. Helen’s grandparents worked and lived at Elk Point Academy in South Dakota. Vernon’s parents met at an early morning service at Minnesota camp meeting. We are told by Ellen White that “We have nothing to fear from the future except as we forget how God has led us in the past.” What a privilege to be descended from the early pioneers of the church.
By Bonnie Burgeson (written in 2012)