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Espe remains one of NR area’s most beloved characters

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BLESSED AND GRATEFUL — That’s how Pastor Charles and Kathy Espe feel to be a part of the New Richland community. The couple recently celebrated their 55th anniversary. (Star Eagle photo by Rachel Rietsema)


By RACHEL RIETSEMA

Staff Writer

He’s a New Richland history buff and a pulpit prodigy. Well, he doesn’t like to think so.

Yes, Pastor Charles Espe is a bit modest, but the fact remains there is a mountain of knowledge tucked away in his brain. All one has to do is prod it.

“There’s the old saying: sometimes God closes some doors and opens others,” Espe said. “This year, I’m actually learning how to shade garden because the LeSueur River parsonage just a block north of here across the river had lots of open space in the sun.”

No longer does Espe tend to his tomatoes, corn, cucumbers and squash in his backyard. He has managed to find a loophole, however.

“Our garden here is going to be mostly flowers,” he said. “Our son owns property at St. Olaf Lake so all the vegetables went out to his place.”

Moved out since November, he is glad to hear the good news about Brian Gegel’s arrival to town. He knows Gegel and his family will enjoy this “old, but very comfortable home.”

“It’s quite exciting to share faith,” he said. “I was at Vista and LeSueur (River Lutheran) for 38 years. They were very patient, loving and kind.”

After his almost four decades there, he decided to not to completely forfeit the role of shepherd. He’s recently preached sermons at the Congregational, St. Peter’s Lutheran and Trinity Churches.

“I do work one day a week at Trinity in Owatonna,” he said. “Every Tuesday, we have a small group Bible studies and I do visitation with shut-ins. I love sharing the good news. Frequently, we have communion too.”

Just a few weeks ago, he also made time for a momentous occasion. All four of his kids even made it down to celebrate.

“Susan, Eric, Brian, Nathan and their families came back last week because we celebrated our 55th anniversary,” he said. “Of course we were just about 6 years old when we got married.”

Both he and his wife Kathy feel truly blessed and grateful to be a part of this lovely community. To this day, he continues his involvement with the New Richland Area Historical Society, Lions, garden club and Sons of Norway.

“I’ve gardened all my life too,” he said. “I can only remember one year that I didn’t raise a garden. That was the year I went out to Cripple Creek to work in a hotel the year after I graduated from college.”

This green-thumbed individual also belongs to the national organization Seed Savers. As a long-time member, he possesses a wide variety of heirloom seeds.

“I’ve sent seeds virtually across the U.S., including the garden of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello out east in Virginia,” he said. “They were restoring the original garden and I had the variety of seed they wanted. It was Romano.”

When not holding a trowel, his fingers make beautiful prose with the computer keyboard. Historical write ups are his specialty.

“I wrote an eight-page booklet called the Saga of the Town called Norway,” he said. “One of my next projects is redoing that because there’s a lot to add in terms of the Winnebago presence here before the year of 1856.”

Also soon to move off the back burner is the task of detailing his family history in print. Mostly researched through the Norwegian Historical Society in Northfield, MN, he has a good handle on where his roots lie.

“When I first began, my two grandmothers were already working on this,” he said. “That said, I have letters that were written by three of my great grandparents. The one my great grandpa wrote was to his wife and family. He was at a tuberculosis sanitarium and died shortly thereafter.”

Although stacks of papers never did intimidate him much, muddling through records via the computer is much easier, he says. What’s even more convenient is recording things he remembers first-hand.

“I grew up in a farming community down in North Central Iowa on the farm,” he said. “The corn my dad planted had to be exactly in a straight line. I can also still remember him getting after me because I didn’t shut the barn door.”

Detailing the completion of chores in the morning and evening hours also tips off his tongue pretty easily as well.

“We had both dairy and beef cattle, chickens and pigs,” he said. “I just had to take care of the pigs and beef in the morning. In the evening, I did all the chores so Dad could stay out in the field and finish the work there.”

Both his dad and uncle together farmed about 500 acres, which also kept his youthful self fairly busy in the spring and fall. 4-H membership kept his hands moving too.

“In those days you raised nice, fat hogs,” he said. “So, the first year that I took animals to the fair, I had a very fine pig. I was a young kid at 11 years old with this prized pig, but sadly on the trip down there, he overheated and died.”

Much of his childhood again focused on the church. He packed his bags many a time for camps and was an active member in Luther League.

“It wasn’t anything we wore on our sleeves,” he said. “Attending St. John’s Lutheran Church and our faith was a way of life.”

But, in terms of pinpointing his life’s career, answers didn’t blow in quick like the wind. He had to do a little soul searching first.

“As it turned out, I went up to St. Olaf thinking that I might go into education,” he said. “In fact, I did end up with a minor in math. But, after two years of calculus, I decided it was beyond me.”

He then shifted his studies to a focus on biology. As luck would have it, looking through the microscope proved difficult with his thick, heavy glasses.

“I could never see in the microscope, so I got involved with history because I always liked that,” he said. “I also took Greek for two years, plus all the religion courses that were required of everyone.”

Bound for seminary with a history major, he let the Lord take both hands on the wheel. And, as a result, he found his first placement with a church in Menagha, Minn. a short while after his graduation ceremony.

“We were there for just about 10 years,” he said. “We started July 5, 1959 and on July 5, 2009, I was invited up to preach. I used the same text, but I didn’t do that same sermon.”

He could just as easily done that though, as he still has just about all his sermons on file in his office.

“I’ve learned to equate faith with trust and trust with confidence in a loving God that has been very gracious and wonderful,” he said. “Every day is a new day. Every day I experience the wonder and beauty of this relationship. It sustains me.”

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