Obit: Hong, Edna (1913 - 2007)

Contact: Stan

Surnames: Hatlestad, Hong, Ditmanson, Quam, O’Sulivan, DeWitt

----Source: Newspaper Clipping, Family Records

Hong, Edna (28 Jan. 1913 - 3 Apr. 2007)

Edna Hong died of congestive heart failure on April 3, 2007, at her home on Heath Creek, west of Northfield, Minnesota. She was 94. Pastor Mark Ditmanson conducted the funeral service for her at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hovland, Minnesota, on April 5, 2007, Maundy Thursday. She was buried in the Old Cemetery of Trinity, near both Lake Superior and the place in the woods where she and her family lived in the summer since 1945. Pastor Ditmanson also conducted the graveside service. There was a memorial service for her at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield on April 7, 2007, Easter Saturday, conducted by Pastor John Quam.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Otto and Ida Hatlestad; by her siblings Agnes, Carl, Margaret, Alfred, and Bernard; by a granddaughter, Blitz O’Sullivan; and by a great-grandson, John O’Sullivan.

She is survived by two of her siblings, Joseph Hatlestad and Eleanore DeWitt; by her husband, Howard, and their children (Irena, Erik, Peder, Rolf, Mary, Judith, Theodore, and Nathaniel) and spouses; and by twenty grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren.

Edna Hatlestad was born on January 28, 1913, on a farm near Neillsville in Clark County, Wisconsin. She was the sixth of eight children. Her family later moved to a farm in Holway Township in Taylor County, near Medford. She grew up in Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, three and a half miles from the Hatlestad farm. Our Savior’s formed her: she later wrote that here is where she "learned by heart" Luther’s Small Catechism and Pontoppidan’s Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism. She attended country school near the farm for eight years before renting a room in Medford and attending its high school. She graduated in 1930. She then took a teachers-training course through the Extension Division of the University of Wisconsin to qualify herself for teaching country school, which she did for three years. Her purpose was to save money so that she could attend St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

Edna Hatlestad entered St. Olaf in 1934 and studied chiefly history and literature during her four years there. She also wrote a humor column for the student newspaper, the Manitou Messenger; served as the editor of the St. Olaf Quarterly, a literary journal; and wrote an honors thesis titled "The Nature Tradition in American Literature." According to the college yearbook in her senior year, the 1938 Viking, she wrote "very extensive and original papers in literature," was "keen and intense," had "convictions," and aimed to "live genuinely."

She met Howard Hong in the spring of her junior year. He had graduated from St. Olaf in 1934, had already discovered the nineteenth-century Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard, and was studying at the University of Minnesota. They were married on June 6, 1938, at St. Olaf, in the lounge of Mellby Hall, one day after she graduated. Two months later, after she had typed her husband’s dissertation, they hitchhiked to New York and then sailed to Copenhagen, where they lived for a year and began their study of the Danish language and of Kierkegaard. When they returned to Northfield in 1939, Howard Hong began more than forty years of teaching at St. Olaf College. They raised a family of eight children, two of them Latvian refugees they adopted during the years when the Hongs lived in Germany and worked to resettle displaced persons after World War II.

Edna Hong will be remembered as a Kierkegaard translator. She and her husband worked as a team, first translating For Self-Examination (1940), then Works of Love (1962). Two major translation projects followed: the six volumes of Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, and an index volume (1967-78), and the twenty-six volumes of Kierkegaard’s Writings, also with an index volume (1978-2000). The first two volumes of this last series were published in 1978, when she and her husband were sixty-five, the year that he formally retired. For twenty-two years, they continued to work at top speed, translating all but four of these volumes themselves. Commenting on this last major project, the Times Literary Supplement (London) said, "All honour to the Hongs: Kierkegaard’s Writings is one of the outstanding achievements in the history of philosophical translation."

She will also be remembered as a writer of stories, essays, and books. Some of her twelve books grew out of her early years as a farm girl. One of these is her memoir, From This Good Ground (1974), dedicated to her parents and siblings, and another is Muskego Boy (1943), the latter a work of fiction written with her husband. It portrays the first Norwegian-Lutheran congregation in Wisconsin, Muskego, founded in 1843, only sixty years before the founding of her home congregation. Other books grew out of disturbing experience. One of the best-loved of these is Turn Over Any Stone (1970), in which she struggles with the doubt that gripped her after she saw the "paindom" of a beautiful granddaughter who was profoundly retarded. Another is Bright Valley of Love (1976), which has been published in twelve countries. It tells the story of Bethel, an institution she discovered in Germany after World War II. Bethel was home to epileptics and other damaged human beings, whom the Nazis had planned to exterminate. Pastor Fritz von Bodelschwingh, the courageous director of Bethel, successfully fought the plan and spared the residents a grim fate. The central character in the story is Gunther, a "pilgrim soul" with a "flippering walk" and "crazy crooked hands," who prospered there under von Bodelschwingh’s ministry. The book’s epigraph comes from Kierkegaard’s Works of Love: "To love forth love is to build up. But to love forth love means precisely to presuppose that it is present at the base."

In addition to her work as a translator and writer, Edna Hong will be remembered for the zest and variety of her Northfield life. She tended her large family, befriended the many souls in need who came to her door, and was an active member of St. John’s Lutheran Church. A legendary Sunday-school teacher there for thirty years, she also taught midweek religion classes at the church and wrote the history of the congregation for its centennial: The Book of a Century (1969). She reached beyond St. John’s, when invited, and gave original and highly energetic talks at other churches and larger church convocations.

Edna Hatlestad Hong’s merry spirit flourished at home. She baked whole-wheat bread that she gave away freely, tramped along Heath Creek with friends, fed the birds and squirrels, carried on an extensive correspondence, gardened, and read widely.

Honors came her way, sometimes given jointly to her and her husband. Among these were a National Book Award for volume one of Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers in 1968, knighthoods conferred by the Queen of Denmark in 1978, and the Christus Lux Mundi Award from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1998. She was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters degree by St. Olaf College in 1977 and the Wittenberg Award by the Luther Institute, Washington, D. C., in 1993. The citations that accompanied the most local of these awards, the ones from from St. Olaf College and Luther Seminary, touched on the amplitude of her life, for they recognized not only her achievements as a translator and writer but also her everyday discipline and the works of love that were integral to it.

She ran at full stretch for the whole of her life, until her final illness. In For Self-Examination, Kierkegaard offers a parable that points to what was essential in her. He first depicts a pair of horses who had grown slack, with "dull and drowsy eyes," who had been driven only according to "the horses’ understanding" of their work; but then he shows these horses after they had submitted to the discipline of "the royal coachman," when they were in top form and could go long distances "in a stretch without stopping." Edna Hatlestad first learned the discipline of the royal coachman, of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the home of her parents and at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Taylor County, Wisconsin, and submitted to it for the rest of her long life.

----Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Wis.) date unknown

Edna Hong, an award-winning author whose works ranged from theology and translation to historical fiction, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at her home in Northfield, Minn. She was 94. "Edna was a very unpretentious person. She did not seek attention, but the way she lived life made her the center of attention," said Cynthia Lund, acting curator of a library named after Hong and her husband at their alma mater, St. Olaf College in Northfield. Lund added that Hong had a sense of simplicity that "people always made a connection with, from students to total strangers. She was a very grounded person."

Hong and her husband of 68 years, Howard, a onetime philosophy professor at St. Olaf, are probably best known for spending about seven decades translating the voluminous works of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. They received the National Book Award in 1968 for some their translations. The London Times once said about them, "All honour to the Hongs: 'Kierkegaard's Writings' is one of the outstanding achievements in the history of philosophical translation."In 1976 the couple donated their Kierkegaard collection to St. Olaf; it became part of the Hong Kierkegaard Library."Edna and Howard were pretty much inseparable," said Ed Langerak, a friend and philosophy professor at St. Olaf. "They were very much a team in every sense of the word." Yet, Hong was recognized as an accomplished writer in her own right. She wrote 12 books, many about her early years as a farm girl growing up in Wisconsin. She also wrote about the personal experiences of her grandchildren and even a book loosely based on a friend who was a prisoner of war during World War II. One critic called her works "profound, provocative and utterly absorbing."She thought of herself as a writer, not an academic. Her books were for everybody," Lund said.Helen Gangsei, a friend of more than 50 years, said Hong had an "insatiable thirst for knowledge. She was curious about everything and everyone." In addition to her husband, Hong is also survived by eight children, 20 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and a brother and a sister. Services were held Thursday in Hovland, Minn., where she was buried. Another service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield.

----Source: Engblom, Carole Leigh (8 Apr. 2007)

Edna Hatlestad Hong '38, author, scholar and Kierkegaard translator, passed away on April 3 at home with her husband of 69 years, Howard '34, and family members at her side. She was 94. She was buried on April 5 in the old cemetery of Trinity Lutheran Church, Hovland, Minnesota, near both Lake Superior and the place in the woods where she and her family had spent their summers each year since 1945.

A memorial service for Mrs. Hong was held on Saturday, April 7, at St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield.

"Just as the passing years in Edna's beloved north woods have laid down layers of life and memory over bedrock, obscuring it from sight, so the recent years have slowly hidden the aging Edna Hong from the view of most of us on the St. Olaf campus," said College Pastor Bruce Benson to the St. Olaf community. "So much of what is good, enduring and creative about St. Olaf of the present is built on the rock of those who came before us. Edna Hong was one of those people. She lived such a long lovely life that even though she has been with us, she is also one of those who came before us. Anyone looking for a model of how to live responsibly, generously and graciously with the gifts God has given, could do no better than Edna Hong." Edna Hatlestad was born in 1913 on a North Central Wisconsin farm, the sixth of eight children of Norwegian-American parents. Her childhood was an adventure full of faith and inquisitiveness. "Life with my siblings taught me to love human nature for its loftiness and to grow slowly to understand its lowness," she remarked in 1993, the year she was given The Luther Institute's highest honor, a Wittenberg Award for outstanding service. "A lifelong and unbroken relationship with the Lutheran church provided me with a continuous education in this knowledge."

Valedictorian of her high school class, Edna delayed going to college for lack of money. Her sisters went first while she taught country school near Wausau, Wisconsin. Finally, in 1934, Edna arrived at St. Olaf as a first-year student, supporting herself by working in the student cafeteria for 30 cents an hour. She would earn honors in English, write and edit the college's literary magazine, the St. Olaf Quarterly, and write a regular column for the student newspaper, the Manitou Messenger. Edna and Howard Hong married the day after her graduation from St. Olaf in 1938. That same year, Howard joined the St. Olaf faculty as an instructor in English and philosophy, and immediately went to Copenhagen to study the writings of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Edna went along, studying at the University of Copenhagen and beginning to polish her Danish. Soon, however, she was helping Howard with his Kierkegaard studies. "I went to the Royal Library to work," said Howard in the Winter 2006 St. Olaf Magazine article about their life together. "She had a bicycle. She could have gone anywhere. But she went to the Royal Library, too. So we just worked on the same thing. That's the way it went. Easy combination." Love, companionship and mutual respect infused the shared life of Edna and Howard Hong.

A lifetime of work and service

In 1946, Edna joined Howard when he was working with the World Council of Churches' refugee division in Germany and with Lutheran World Federation's refugee service in Europe from 1947 to 1949. They worked together, caring for Lutheran war refugees, providing food and shelter and trying to help them find permanent homes.

Her first book, Muskego Boy, co-authored with Howard, came out in 1943. It was the first of 12 books by Edna, a prolific and versatile author whose subjects ranged from the philosophical and theological to children's books, historical fiction and poetry. Her early stories, a collection of 14 beautifully illustrated Christmas essays, began appearing in 1939 in the popular Augsburg Publishing House book Christmas: An American Annual of Christmas Literature and Art.

Edna's primary legacy, however, will be her steady hand as co-translator with Howard of all of Kierkegaard's works, a stupendous endeavor encompassing many volumes and seven decades. The Hongs' first Kierkegaard translation appeared in 1940, the latest in 2004. Their first major translation was the seven-volume Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers. In 1968, they won the National Book Award for the first volume in that series.

The result of the Hongs' massive effort is English access worldwide to the complete works of a once obscure Danish scholar, now regarded as one of the most important thinkers of the 19th century.

In 1976, Edna and Howard donated their private Kierkegaard collection, more than 10,000 books, to St. Olaf College, establishing the Howard H. and Edna V. Hong Kierkegaard Library and distinguishing St. Olaf as a rare undergraduate institution with a center for graduate studies. Throughout her life, Edna received many honors and awards, including Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from St. Olaf and Carleton colleges. She and Howard were the first recipients of the Minnesota Humanities Commission's annual Public Lecture Award.

In 1978, the Danish government, on behalf of Denmark's Queen Margrethe, conferred upon them knighthood in the Order of Dannebrog. In 1988, the Martin Luther Schule in Rimbach, Germany honored Edna and Howard. In 1998, the St. Olaf College Board of Regents presented Edna and Howard with a rare Regents Award.

In 1998, Edna and Howard began an aggressive reforestation program on their land in Northern Minnesota and in 2002; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources honored them with the Outstanding Forest Service Award.

"Our greatest life's work isn't our translating," Edna Hong told a reporter in 1998. "It's our eight children." As a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Edna was known for her humor, deep faith, optimism, hospitality and devotion to her family and to Howard, who once noted that she was the "best bread baker in Bridgewater Township and the best syntax smasher in Minnesota."

On April 6, the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune dedicated its main story in the obituary section to her life.

In addition to Howard, Edna is survived by their children, Irena Hong Elveton '60; Peder Hong '63; Erik Hong '66; Howard Rolf Hong; Mary Hong Loe '66; Judy Hong '78; Theodore Hong; and Nathaniel 'Nhat' Hong '74; 20 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren; and two siblings, Joseph Hatlestad and Eleanore DeWitt. She was preceded in death by her parents, Otto and Ida Hatlestad; by her siblings Agnes, Carl, Margaret, Alfred and Bernard; by a granddaughter, Blitz O'Sullivan; and by a great-grandson, John O'Sullivan.



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