Prologue: A FAITHFUL SERVANT
"I'm just an ordinary person;
I have no particular talents;
I'm not creative, nor am I an original
At best, I'm a good organizer.
Please don't make me out to be some great
Lillian Torkelson has been a true servant of God all of her life. Like the little boy Samuel, she has listened for the Lord's voice since her earliest childhood. The statement above is what she said to me as we discussed my writing her life's story. I promised her I would not present her as a great person. I don't have to. The realities of her life speak for themselves. She's not perfect. She experiences the same hurts and heartaches, the same regrets and remorse that we all do. The difference perhaps is in her total surrender to the will of God, allowing Him to use her, mistakes and all, to serve others. Her colleagues, her family and friends and her students rise up and call her blessed.
Over and over again you will hear her peers describe her total dedication to
serving God. J.C. Bailey describes her passion for the Lord as the ability
and determination to walk "straight" through the Bible, "handling it
aright", not swerving aside to either legalism or hobbyism. He describes her
as a unique character, "There is only one Miss T. She makes no pretense
of being scholarly, but she is a natural born teacher. Whatever a person
should be in any given situation, she is."
When asked about her influence on her students in particular, and the whole church in general, his immediate response was that the trip to Europe and the Holy Land she was given by those students was visible evidence of their recognition of her impact on their lives. You will read about the extraordinary way her colleagues and students have honoured her on a number of occasions in this book. Following is a portion of the text of the citation that was read when she was named Alumnus of the Year in 1975.
If the true measure of greatness has anything to do with
perseverance, dedication, loyalty and devotion, then we honour
today a truly great person.
Miss Lillian M. Torkelson has demonstrated a singleness of
purpose and commitment to an ideal which raises her above the
ordinary and places her on a level with the truly great persons
of history. Although her activity has been, for the most part,
confined to the southeastern corner of Saskatchewan, there are
people around the world who rise up to call her blessed.
Perhaps Western Christian College would have become a reality
without Miss Torkelson but it was from her desire to get a
Christian education and her determination that other young
people should also, that the first Bible school began in 1931.
Cecil and Lavine Bailey, who dreamed the original dream of a Christian
school with her, told me of their deep respect and love for her:
She has given an ideal of steadfastness that is true to her own
values, and of benefit to the whole church in Western Canada.
She is sound in faith, but never dogmatic or legalistic. She is
creative and imaginative herself, with a great gift for bringing out
the creativity in others.
They know a Lillian few other people do and they're glad of it. With them
she had no image to think about. She could just relax and let her hair down,
laugh, dream, share her deepest feelings.
Dan Wieb, President Emeritus of Western Christian College, recalls his
earliest associations with Lillian:
She was a lady who was self-assured, self-reliant, and very
professional. I remember her willingness to accept the challenge
of administration even though her heart was in the classroom.
I remember her persuasive ability as she encouraged me to
consider a move to Weyburn. I remember her co-operative spirit
when personal feelings ran high and tension increased among
her colleagues. Miss Torkelson, in my opinion, provided
stability throughout her tenure with the college. This stability
enabled others to do their work in a more efficient manner.
As the years passed, my respect for Miss T. grew stronger. Two
adjectives which come to mind are consistent and faithful. In a
forthright manner, she refused to be a part of gossip or rumour-
spreading. She had, and has, the ability to face reality even in
the face of disappointment.
Since our mutual retirement from WCC, we have enjoyed our
relationship as brother and sister in Christ and as friends. We
have shared our concerns for the future of the school and the
church. As always, Lillian is an encourager; she speaks well of
the efforts of others and lends her experience and expertise
whenever and wherever it is needed. I pay tribute to a wonderful
Roger Peterson, retired principal, doesn't remember when he first met
Lillian. He grew up on a farm in the Radville area and does remember the
summer and winter Bible schools in the 30's. His days as first a student and
then a teacher at RCC brought him into daily contact with her. He is
convinced that much of what he has learned about teaching, as well as about
life values came from her. He says:
She has been an excellent example, first as a Christian lady, and
secondly as one totally dedicated to the cause of Christian
education. I have found her to be a constant source of
encouragement. Her deep insight into life and her
understanding of human nature often helped turn my life in the
right direction when the fork in the road appeared.
At times when I felt really down she was always able to help me
see through the fog of the present moment to the light beyond,
and to turn with renewed courage and faith in God, to meet the
challenges of a new day. Over almost fifty years I have
benefitted from her deep insights and Godly wisdom. She
helped me choose a life companion and has been close at hand
as we have tried to raise our family. To her I say - Thank you
for being an inspiration to all of us.
Family is important to Lillian. The love between her and her sisters is strong
and deep. She is proud of her family and keeps in very close contact with all
of them. Similarly Eleanora and Clarice are proud of what Lillian has
achieved and they take delight (as her mother Hulda had done) in the esteem
in which she is held by so many. Both of them talked to me about her loving
concern for them as well as for their children, the help she gave them to
attend teachers college, the many gifts for the nieces and nephews, the
financial, emotional and academic support she provided for several of them
to attend Western Christian College, and untold other evidences of her
commitment to her family. Her sister, Clarice Storle, says:
Words cannot express my feelings and thanks to my sister Lillian
for all the ways she has touched my life and that of my family;
all the times she was there to show how much she cared - as my
high school teacher, mentor, companion, confidante and loving
A nephew, Bob Torkelson, also feels strongly about his Aunt Lill. He says:
My aunt Lill has always been an important part of my life, but
never so much as when she extended her hand to help me
continue my education at Western. She did that again in 1967,
when I started a course in Weyburn. Aunt Lill holds a special
place in my heart and is very much a part of my roots.
Because Clarice's son Orin Storle, his wife Kathy and their children live in
Weyburn, they get to see the most of her . Kathy says:
Aunt Lill is an important person to us. She has been a weekly
visitor at our home for the past 14 years, without fail. She is
included in all our celebrations and the children are very fond
of her. Until just recently, Jesse (2) called her Grandma. She has
always taken an interest in our children and they appreciate
that. She takes them places, and never forgets a birthday! As for
myself, she has been a wonderful companion over the years -
someone to share my Sunday afternoon tea with. She will
always be dear to us.
You will hear much about Lillian's lifelong friends, Clarice Hurlburt
Mooney and Lavine Jelsing Bailey. They both spoke to me at length about
the fineness of their friendships. Lavine talked about Lillian's giving and
forgiving nature; Clarice about her loyalty and good nature; both mentioned
her integrity and faithfulness.
Hazel Straker's introduction to Lillian was through Pearl Perry in the spring
of 1930. When Lillian returned to Perryville again later that summer for
Pearl's wedding to Wilfred Orr, Hazel remembers Lillian as a most
interesting person (as well as a beautiful bridesmaid!). She got to know
Lillian better two years later when she attended summer Bible school in
Radville and remembers well Lillian's skill as she taught the young ladies'
class. Their paths crossed many times over the years and when the Strakers
moved to Weyburn to work at WCC in 1959, they enjoyed almost daily
But it has been primarily since their retirement that they have become so
close. Hazel says:
Since we moved into town Lillian and I have phoned each other
every other day to make sure we were all right. I appreciate that
so much; she has proven to be such a great sister for me. . . . As
long as Lillian lives close by I will feel I have a great sister in the
Lord to give me security. I pray that God will richly bless and
Very early in her career Lillian taught at Model School in the Wawota area
of Saskatchewan. She lived with the Walter Husband family and one of her
students was their son, Bert Husband, now a retired doctor in the Los
Lillian Torkelson was not only an excellent student herself but
she believed and emphasized that to achieve one's goals in life,
both secular and spiritual, one must pursue education. . . In
my late teens and early adulthood, I was extremely frustrated
because I was unable to continue formal education. But, by a
rather circuitous route I finally was able to achieve my secret
longing and goal to become a physician and surgeon. I am sure
that her influence helped me to persist and achieve.
Miss Torkelson studied the Bible and practiced the great
Christian precepts. Her personal life was moral and exemplary.
For instance, she put the kingdom of God first. (Matt. 6:33)
She resigned as a provincial high school teacher; by so doing
and teaching at the Christian high school, she received a much
lower, or no salary, and sacrificed her pension plan. Thus she
studied the scripture and lived her faith.
She spoke of her parents with greatest respect. Her brother,
Elvin, and her two sisters, Eleanora and Clarice were all
important to her. Hence she lived and demonstrated the great
family values that are needed today. I clearly recognize that she
had a profound influence on my life. I would like to thank her
Ruth Nelson Grasley remembers those Model School days as well. She,
like Bert, was one of the correspondence school students Lillian was tutoring
and grading their exams. She says:
I remember Lillian as a teacher who exercised discipline without
resorting to the strap and soon won the respect of her students.
The name of our school was Model, but we weren't exactly model
students, some of us having been strapped numerous times
previously, with little improvement in our behaviour. She
influenced all who knew her to be better students and better
Another Wawota student, Gerald McPherson, remembers Lillian with great
affection. He recently told Doris Husband:
She was the best teacher I ever had. I usually had to work at
harvesting for a time after school started in the fall, so I was
always behind. I heard we had a new teacher, a Miss Torkelson;
I was scared stiff of her. I slipped into the classroom and headed
for a back seat. Miss Torkelson, however, wanted me at the
front! She was different from any other teacher, really caring.
She understood me and helped me get caught up. I liked her so
well I'd often help her with the heavy work after school.
Kathryn Durst Groshong was just into her teens and into the senior room
when Lillian began teaching at Lyndale School in Oungre, Saskatchewan.
The arrival of the first lady principal was a momentous occasion
for the small hamlet and I remember my first impressions. Here
was a small, trim person (who seemed much taller because she
walked with regal bearing), always giving an air of authority,
competence and good sense. However, this was coupled with a
friendly smile, a twinkle in her eyes and a cheerful voice, which
made you want to know her as a friend and not just as a
From the moment school started in the fall, and she walked into
the senior room with approximately twenty-three students in
Grades Eight to Twelve, she was in command. However, though
she was strict, she was not overbearing. You felt she was doing
her best to give you a good education, develop your potential as
a person and help you realize the importance of education as a
She talks about Miss Torkelson's ability to turn a history or a literature
lesson into a flight to another world, about her gift of being a keen,
thoughtful, sympathetic listener, and about her community mindedness. She
believes that Lillian had a great effect in shaping her life.
Some of the attitudes she instilled seem as clear today as when
she taught me over fifty years ago, and have served to guide me
through my own youth, my teaching days, and now, in 1995,
almost fifty years of marriage. My brothers, my sister and I all
agree that she was the best teacher we ever had. She is a true
teacher in every sense of the word and I thank her for the
valuable lessons she has taught me. She is our wonderful friend.
Leo Seibel remembers a cold rainy afternoon in late September, 1946, when
he was greeted at the door by Lillian Torkelson. It was the opening day of
Radville Christian College. He says:
This was the time in my life when I knew everything. In the next
five years that idea diminished. I learned instead, that it was by
hard work, hardship and sacrifice, dominated by Christianity
that success came. Some who sat in her classroom didn't hear
her, but hundreds more of us recognized the realities of life with
her help. She has been my teacher, my mentor and my friend.
May God bless her.
Louis Pauls was a gospel preacher for forty years before his recent
retirement. He and his wife Nellie were early students at Radville Christian
College. In 1949, they left jobs in Toronto to study Bible at Radville. Both
of them worked as well as studied. Nellie operated the kitchen for a time and
Louis fired the furnaces. Miss Torkelson had strict rules about access to the
girls dorm, so he enjoys telling that he was the only male allowed to enter ...
to tend the furnace, that is!
He recalls taking special English classes under her. He believes she was
instrumental in developing his ability to both preach and write, and he still
treasures a textbook he used in her class. He says:
Both Nellie and I feel we owe Lillian a debt of gratitude for her
life and influence during those early years at Radville. Surely her
reward will be great in the world to come with our maker.
Much of what you hear in praise of Lillian concerns her teaching. But there
was much more to who she was than that. Although she seldom displays her
emotions, you will see that she feels very deeply about people. A woman
who was a student of hers in Radville shared the following with me:
I contracted bronchitis while I was living in the dorm at RCC.
I was sent to the local doctor, who then sexually molested me.
My naivete caused me to be unaware of his intent until he told
me what he wanted! At that stage I managed to stop him but I
felt condemned in my own eyes. How could I let him go that
far? I had had complete faith in him, so when he said he needed
to examine me all over, I submitted. But I felt as guilty as I
would have had I encouraged him. Back then, from what I'd
been taught, if anyone made a pass at a girl she must have acted
or dressed in an unbecoming manner and, therefore, must share
Even though I was innocent, I have never experienced such
remorse as I did then. I felt guilty for letting him touch me; I
should have realized what he was doing; things like this only
happened to bad girls; no one would believe that I hadn't
encouraged him. I decided I shouldn't tell anyone. But I could
not sleep at night. I was very depressed and thoughts of suicide
She suffered through this alone for several months, until she started to worry
about other girls in the dorm who might also need to be seen by that doctor.
She finally decided she would have to tell someone, but who? She couldn't
tell any of the girls because surely they would be horrified and would
condemn her. Somehow the only person she could bring herself to tell was
And what did Miss T. do when this young lady said she needed to talk to
her? She took her for one of her well-known walks! And she listened! No
third degree, just acceptance. No condemnation, just understanding. No big
investigation, just a quiet announcement that in future all girls would be
accompanied by a member of the staff or faculty when they visited the
doctor. The woman continues:
I have looked back on that talk (or should I say walk, for very
little was said) hundreds of times over the years when I have
started to condemn myself and have taken strength from Miss
T.'s lack of condemnation. . . . . It was many, many years before
I could bring myself to talk to a professional and begin healing.
Miss T. possibly only rendered a bandaid solution, but that
bandaid kept me together, sometimes precariously, for a large
portion of my life. Without it, I believe I would not have
survived. Miss T. saved my life!
Marilyn Brazle Muller, Dean of Student Life at Western Christian College,
considers herself very fortunate to have had Miss Torkelson as one of her
major teachers when she and her family first arrived in Canada and at WCC.
It was through her that math began to make sense and
trigonometry became almost fun. The world of French was
opened to me even though she considered herself far from
adequate in pronunciation. But it was the world of history
about which I became most enthralled.
It was Miss Torkelson that first introduced me to Canadian
history. Her love for the subject made it come alive - telling us
stories of real people, giving us heroes and heroines, feeding
our imaginations and creating a hunger for more. I will always
be greatly indebted to her for giving me such a powerful love for
the country of my second citizenship.
It is also partly due to Miss T. that I have come to realize that,
in my present work, while it is not essential to be liked by the
students, it is essential to be what they need!
Colleen Buchanan Nelson arrived at Western in the fall of 1965, a very
reluctant student. For the first eleven years of her school career, she had not
been in the habit of doing her homework. With Miss Torkelson's
encouragement that changed rather quickly! By the third reporting period
she was in third place in her Grade Twelve class.
Another thing she had never done was make a public speech:
Public speaking terrified me and I was more stubborn than any
of my teachers; when it came to speech time, I refused to go in
front of the class and had managed to avoid that death
threatening task - until I dealt with Miss T. that is!
There was a duty and honour that went along with third place standing,
reading the class Last Will and Testament at the graduation ceremonies.
When she realized that she panicked:
I informed Miss T. that I couldn't - but she, with one finger
pointed at me, informed me, "Yes, you can!" and instructed me
to come to her office several times to read the paper to her - out
loud! This was at least as scary as a graduation crowd. But you
don't say no to Miss Torkelson.
The big night came and I stood on the stage, shaking and trying to make the words come out. I got one line out and knew I wasn't going to get through it all - when suddenly the tightener on the microphone let go, the mike slipped slowly down to my waist. I froze but then followed the mike down in what appeared to be a stiff bow. The audience laughed; the ice was broken; I relaxed and finished the reading. I - WE - had done it! Thanks Miss T. You had the faith in me I needed. I'll always remember.
Pat Start was one of the last of Lillian's high school students. She had heard
about Miss T. long before she got to Western because three of her brothers
had been to Western before her. They talked about her with great respect
and gratitude; she soon came to realize why. She says:
Miss T. expected the best of her students. It was not considered
a wise move to be late for class, come unprepared, or even think
about goofing off. It did not take long for a new student to
realize that she was there because she cared; each individual
student was special.
I had struggled all the way through school with mathematics. As
a result I arrived at Western with all my fears and mental blocks
about that subject. Shortly after school started, Miss T.
announced that she would stay after school for an hour Monday
to Thursday, for anyone wishing extra help. She did not
embarrass anyone by naming names (we knew who we were) nor
did she make it mandatory.
Miss Torkelson may have looked on that as just another part of
her teaching duties, but it made all the difference in the world
to me. For the first time in my life I was doing more than just
passing math - I was understanding it. When I graduated from
Grade Twelve that year, my math mark was one of my highest.
Thank you, Miss T. You helped me believe in myself!
David Lidbury, retired school administrator, who fits all of the categories
we've described - friend, colleague and student - reflects on all of these
One could reflect on the familiar stance she took at the front of the room, literary club at her house, being campused at least twice a year (being on the river ice too early in the fall and too late in the spring), her consistency in dealing with her students, and above and beyond the call of duty, the dedication she displayed in the way she did her job.
I choose rather to suggest one characteristic she demonstrated in her relationship with me. This characteristic was evident when she was my teacher, when I taught at Western and she was my principal and when she was a teacher and I was her principal. In my multifaceted relationship with Miss T. I always felt I was believed in. I believe she demonstrated unconditional love and as a result empowered me to accomplish things I might not otherwise have accomplished.
Whenever I attend a workshop and someone says, "I want you to think about the teacher that most influenced you in your high school years" my thoughts invariably turn to the old school buildings on the banks of the Souris River and to the dear lady that made those buildings a school. You have been my mentor Lillian Torkelson and for that I thank you.
I can only surmise about the influence Miss Torkelson has had on the church in general but I suspect it is immeasurable. I am confident that there are those ministering or serving the church in various capacities that are doing so because she believed in them and helped them to believe in themselves. I suspect that had she lived in another time and place you might be able to read something like this, "Greet Lillian, my dear friend, who has worked very hard for the Lord."
Where does such a person come from? What has made her who she is? Surely there have been many forces involved in the development of Lillian's character and personality.