Roger Thorstenberg

Obituary of Roger William Thorstenberg

Roger William Thorstenberg was born November 28, 1927 in Salina, Kansas, the only child of Carl and Anna Irene (Nelson) Thorstenberg. He died January 24, 2016 in Lindsborg. Roger spent his earliest childhood years on a farm north of Assaria where he was surrounded by relatives, helped with farm work and began his formal education in a small country school. When he was 10 the family moved to Smolan. With no restaurant in town, school teachers joined the Thorstenbergs at their dinner table three times a week. A year later Carl and Irene received an urgent plea from Mariadahl Children’s Home north of Manhattan. House-parents were needed to care for the children, prepare meals, do laundry and manage the property. Carl and Irene fit the bill. For the next 3 years Roger shared his parents with 20-25 other children. By the close of Roger’s 7th grade his parents were exhausted from the heavy responsibilities and needed a change. Finding employment in Salina, the family moved there for Roger’s last year of junior high. Once again Roger’s parents heeded a plea, this time from Bethany College for a maintenance man and a cook. The family moved into a basement apartment in Old Main, Bethany's original all-purpose building which served also as a men’s dormitory. Irene, who came to be known affectionately as “Mrs. T,” began her long career of managing the college cafeteria, Carl joined the maintenance crew and Roger began his freshman year in high school. The Thorstenbergs continued to live in Old Main for the next 8 years while Roger completed high school and acquired his degree in music education from Bethany College in 1949. It is said that some children are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. For Roger it was a silver trumpet. His mother’s brother, Clarence Nelson, played trumpet and recognized in his young nephew an interest and propensity for music. Roger was only 7 years old when Clarence started teaching him to play the trumpet. There was no turning back. He was so good he played in high school bands while still in grade school. At age 15 he started playing in dance bands, filling in for men who had gone off to war. Technically not old enough to set foot inside some venues, Roger conducted himself so maturely and looking the part at 6 feet, there was never a problem. Playing in dance bands with veteran musicians catapulted Roger into a class of his own. He became a phenomenal sight-reader able to transition instantly from one key to another. He cut himself no slack, determined to play as well as the experienced band members. These musical skills remained his trademark for life. High School was a busy time for Roger as he also played varsity basketball, worked at Runbeck Grocery Store and still maintained top grades. As a freshman he was asked to join a vocal quartet with Verne Reynolds, Vivian Boettcher and Ruth Wallin. Soon he seemed to run into the lovely Ruth everywhere—choir, orchestra, band--and at Messiah Lutheran Church where both were members and sang in the choir. When he enrolled in the music department of Bethany College after high school graduation, there she was, also majoring in music. Ruth was the daughter of Arvid Wallin, music professor at Bethany, and Esther Wallin, a fine vocalist. Her sister Jean was married to his friend Verne Reynolds' brother Leo. The stars were aligning for a perfect match. But first Roger had graduate studies and military service to attend to. He received his Masters of Music degree from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio with additional studies at Denver University in Colorado and later at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It was no wonder that he was often addressed as Dr. Thorstenberg, an honest mistake he graciously and unfailingly corrected. Roger enlisted in the U.S. Army in October of 1950 and was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division Band, which included a 15-month stint in Frankfurt, Germany. He served as clerk for the band, a job to which he was well-suited with his precise printing and attention to detail. Ruth was busy teaching though eagerly awaiting Roger’s return from Germany in October 1952. A month later, on November 26, the two stood before friends and family gathered in Messiah Lutheran Church on a very snowy night, and vowed to love and honor one another “through sickness and health till death do us part.” Seldom have two people kept those vows so well. Roger’s greatest legacy may well be his loving care of Ruth as Multiple Sclerosis took its toll on her body. He personally cared for her at home until his own health declined. Roger began teaching at Bethany College in the fall of 1952, quickly becoming a much sought-after brass instructor. He had been the trumpet soloist for Lindsborg’s performance of Handel’s “The Messiah” while in high school and college and now reclaimed that role. He taught classes such as Counterpoint and Music History and, though hard to imagine, he was also the instructor for baton twirling and the finer points of being a drum majorette. Roger enjoyed many interests throughout the years. He liked playing tennis, going to auctions, and was an avid stamp collector. He specialized in music-related stamps and thought he might have the most complete collection on record. He was also an inveterate collector of music and brass instruments and had arranged music for almost every combination of instruments and every occasion. In the summer of 1960, Roger learned that the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, D.C. needed a trumpet player. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he couldn’t pass up. This was the Kennedy Camelot era and Roger played for the inauguration, state dinners and dances and numerous other occasions. But all paled in comparison to the somber and physically taxing funeral procession after President Kennedy’s assassination. The band marched the full 10-mile parade route and stood at attention for hours. In 1965 Roger and Ruth returned to Lindsborg because both of their mothers were in failing health. Roger was able to step back into his teaching position at Bethany and Ruth gave piano lessons. During the ensuing years Roger was forever in demand as a performer. He particularly enjoyed the Dixieland Six Band. He formed a college brass choir which became a popular performance group. Many of his students became professional musicians and performers, never forgetting the teacher who inspired them to excellence. With no children of their own, Roger and Ruth formed enduring relationships with their students, following them both professionally and personally. Former brass students returned to campus for two reunions after Roger retired from full-time teaching, demonstrating the love and esteem they had for him. In 1993 Roger and Ruth were recognized for their years of dedication to Bethany College by jointly receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award of Merit. Roger’s active service to Bethany College spanned 60 years. Roger was preceded in death by his beloved Ruth on August 30, 2015. He is survived by niece Mary (Reynolds) Jose, nephews Thomas and John Reynolds, “unofficial” niece Helen (Koons) Gragert, and several cousins including Toni Hassell, Sue (Lindgren) Untz, Roger Lindgren, Mary Lindgren and Joan Hopp. Also mourning his death are countless friends, former students and colleagues, and the staff of Bethany Home. Visitation will be Friday, January 29, from 4-7pm with family present from 5-7pm at Christians Funeral Home, Lindsborg. A Funeral Service will be held Saturday, January 30, at 11:00am at Messiah Lutheran Church, Lindsborg, with burial following at Elmwood Cemetery, Lindsborg. Memorials may be designated for the Roger & Ruth Thorstenberg Scholarship Fund at Bethany College or Messiah Lutheran Church in care of Christians Funeral Home 103 N. Washington, PO Box 386, Lindsborg, KS 67456. Online condolences at

Funeral Service

11:00 am
Saturday, January 30, 2016
Messiah Lutheran Church
401 N. 1st St.
Lindsborg, Kansas, United States

Final Resting Place

Elmwood Cemetery
Wells Fargo Rd
Lindsborg, Kansas, United States
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