May 31, 2009 - Clara Else Flora Strehlow

The dedication page for In the Footsteps of Phoebe:  A Complete History of the Deaconess Movement in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod reads: “In loving memory of Deaconess Clara Else Flora Strehlow, a humble servant of the Lord, our mentor and encourager.”

When Clara Strehlow (1895-1985) first considered becoming a deaconess she decided that it wasn’t suitable for her because she didn’t want to be a nurse - and at that time all deaconesses were trained to be nurses.  Fortunately, a new deaconess school opened at Bethesda in Watertown, Wisconsin, which did not require deaconess trainees to become nurses.  Along with the rest of her class, Clara was consecrated as a deaconess on May 1, 1927, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Watertown.

Clara’s first assignment was to the Kinderheim in Addison, Illinois (1927-40); followed by the Institute for the Deaf in Detroit, Michigan (1941); and Grace Lutheran Church, St. Louis, Missouri (1941-57).  In every case, Deaconess Clara proved herself to be adept with children, overflowing with love for them and a desire to share her Lord and Savior with His little ones.  When Deaconess Hall was built on property adjoining Valparaiso University in 1958, Clara was called to serve as its first resident housemother.  She remained in this position until her retirement in 1963.

Throughout her 36 years of active deaconess service and 22 years as Deaconess Emeritus, Clara was known as a pioneer in the Lutheran deaconess movement.  A frequent speaker at various conferences, she also wrote articles in many publications, outlining the work that deaconesses could do for their Lord “in His wretched ones and His poor.” 

In 1934, Clara was a founding member of the “Conference for Deaconesses” (which at that time included all deaconesses within the North American Synodical Conference). She served as the first conference president from 1934-38.  Since she was instrumental in initiating this deaconess conference, Clara’s determination to fight for an LCMS deaconess training program, and her decision to resign from the conference that she initiated (later called the “Lutheran Deaconess Conference”) in order to become a charter member of Concordia Deaconess Conference – Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (CDC), were bold and courageous actions that spoke volumes about her commitment to God’s Word and its meaning for her life.

Clara was the oldest of the founding members of Concordia Deaconess Conference.  She brought a rich spectrum of experience to the table as CDC was being formed in 1979-80.  Hence she was a wonderful mentor and encourager to the other founding members, in every possible situation.  When she became too frail to travel, she prayed fervently for the LCMS and the efforts of the deaconess movement in the Synod.  She also wrote or dictated letters of encouragement to sister deaconesses as long as her strength endured.

In spite of her amazing abilities and contributions to the church and its work, Clara was a humble individual who always reminded her friends, “What I have done is not important.  It is what He has done through me that counts!” During an early morning business meeting on April 9, 1983, CDC members surprised Clara by passing a resolution to create a scholarship endowment fund in her honor.  The Deaconess Clara Strehlow Endowment Fund is still providing scholarship support for deaconesses today.  An example of genuine servanthood, both humble and dedicated to her Lord, Clara’s life was an inspiration to all who knew her.

I am grateful to Clara’s nephew, Mr. John Kreuger, for meeting with me in Chicago to discuss Clara and her life.  It is my plan, hopefully sometime this year, to write a little volume titled: “The Life and Writings of Clara Else Flora Strehlow.”