A House, A Road and A Legacy of Generosity
In Mosaic's month of gratitude, we are thankful for the many donors who have generously supported the mission. This story originally appeared in Mosaic's magazine seven years ago. I was able to meet Donald Grundahl once before he died and, even weak and approaching death, he was kind in word and ready to laugh.
Donald Grundahl lived a simple life as a Minnesota farmer and once wrote that he tried to pattern his life after the quote, "Let me live in the house by the side of the road and be a friend to man." He was successful — Grundahl was a great friend to all whom he met and his generous nature was evident in the nearly $2 million in charitable gift annuities and estate gifts he gave to support Mosaic's ministry.
Grundahl, along with his brother Conrad (who also was generous to Mosaic with a nearly $360,000 estate gift) first learned of Mosaic's legacy organization, Bethphage, through his grandmother. With his unique mix of Swedish and Minnesotan, that always came out pronounced, Betfoge.
"Donald's grandmother, Mary Chelgren, was a Sunday School teacher and taught both her grandsons to save their pennies and nickels for those individuals with disabilities at Bethphage Mission in Axtell," said Joe Solomon, a development officer at Mosaic. "Those lessons were imbedded in the thoughts and actions of the Grundahl brothers as they grew up."
Solomon remembers vividly his first meeting with Grundahl.
"As I'm sure is common in most small town restaurants, the voices hushed and all heads gave a quick, careful inspection of me as I strode in the front door," Solomon said. "Donald immediately came up from the back of the restaurant and greeted me with an infectious smile, a warm handshake and a 'Hello, Mr. Solomon.'"
When asked how he knew how the visitor was the man he was expecting, Grundahl's response showed his common sense and his sense of humor: "You're early, you're wearing a tie, and you have a briefcase — three things that no one in this town is famous for."
Before he left the restaurant on that first visit, Solomon was introduced to almost everyone there, including the cook, the dishwasher and the woman who baked the pies. He also learned about their histories.
"Donald had a great memory for people and the facts of their lives and, boy, did he love to visit with them," Solomon said. "His eyes, ears and heart also served him extremely well for his entire life."
From that first meeting, Solomon felt a true affection and friendship grow with this man who had an evident love for life and a perennial smile for others, broken only by bursts of laughter as he shared jokes and stories. Solomon said that in the nine years he knew Grundahl, he never heard the same Sven, Ole and Lena joke twice. That same sense of humor helped him keep a good attitude as he aged. Solomon remembers Grundahl routinely saying he was "good enough to pay taxes for another year" after his medical checkups.
Simplicity was the model in Grundahl's life. He didn't furnish his home with fine things or believe that just because something was old and worn, it needed to be replaced. Solomon noted the simplicity of Grundahl's home on his first visit. The farm house had one lone picture hanging on the wall. It depicted a farmhouse, similar to Grundahl's, near a road, the image of the life Grundahl wanted to live:
Let me live in the house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.
"This picture is how I believe Donald viewed his life and how I am certain we all viewed Donald," Solomon said.
Until he was 87 and moved into assisted living, Grundahl lived all of his life on the farm. The rural church in which he was baptized and confirmed, Stockholm Lutheran in Cokato, was the same church from which he was buried in 2008. For this man who could easily quote chapter and verse from the Bible, it was his faith, inherited through his family and lived through his church, that inspired his life.
"Donald Grundahl may have been a small slight man but he cast a huge shadow of Christian love and service to others," Solomon said. "We were all blessed to know Donald and trust that he inspired other caring persons to also 'live in a house by the side of the road and be good friends to men.'"
Mosaic is grateful for such friends.