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LOVELL – Tom Myhre, 51 years old, grew up in Minnesota and after living in Switzerland for 15 years, he and his family moved to Maine. Tom is the pastor at the Trinity Lutheran Church in South Paris.
He recently took time to tell us about his life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born in Cloquet, Minnesota on Sept 18, 1959. It was a mill town and I was also brought up there in nearby Mahtowa.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I have three brothers; my poor mom, I have no idea how she survived it all. All of my siblings stayed in Minnesota.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My mom worked in an elementary school, back when they did everything. She was the secretary, the nurse and whatever else they needed her to be.
Dad was a personnel manager at the paper mill in Cloquet.
Actually, my dad's story was quite interesting in that he grew up in Mahtowa; on the "wrong side" of the tracks. One side of the tracks had the church and the school and the other side had the Emerald Inn Tavern. My grandmother ran the place and my dad always felt a stigma about living there. He was hand-picked to go to seminary by Dr. S. Hjalmer Swanson and he did go there for a year. During that year (1955) my mom got pregnant, so he went back to the mill. Eventually he went back to school and got his degrees in psychology and sociology and became the plant personnel manager. He supported his family, married his high school sweetheart and came to terms with his fate.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: Mahtowa was a town of less than 100 people and it was about 15 miles south of Clouquet.
We enjoyed fishing and hunting and doing all the things boys aren't suppose to do; all-in-all, it was an idealistic, rural upbringing. Anyone who could walk was commandeered to play basketball, football and baseball. Everyone got a lot of playing time. It was good for the ego as I still have the school record for the longest touchdown run ... 99 yards.
We grew up next to Grandma and Grampa and our entire family was always close. Sometimes it was a blessing and sometimes we were a little too close. We went everywhere on bikes and a friend had horses and we rode those too. We even did some trapping of small game like weasels. We would tan the hides and if it was a nice hide we could sell it.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to write songs, but I wasn't good enough to make it in the gospel choir at church. When I was eight, I would write the titles of songs, not songs, but the titles. It was a foreshadowing of the seed that was there.
It reminds me of when I got a red and yellow plastic guitar for Christmas one year. I had so wanted a real one.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to a small elementary school in Mahtowa. The high school was in Barnum and I graduated from there in 1977.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: Oh yes, but it was more the stories of the pranks from my dad's generation that comes to mind. I lived in a Scandinavian neighborhood and it was just full of characters. There was one guy in town and he was very wealthy, but also a real jerk. When he got his first new car, my dad and his buddies peed in his radiator.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: I worked in a truck stop when I was 13 and then started in the mill. The mill work back then was good and so was the money. They paid me $15 an hour and was working double and triple time. It was hard work but a great way to pay for college.
A: I started at Trinity University in San Antonio. I had an uncle who lived there and I thought it would be fun to get away. I spent one year there and went back to Minnesota and St. Olaf and graduated with a degree in German and religion.
I lived in Jerusalem for one semester and one month in Athens and Rome studying early church history. In Jerusalem we had professors from the Hebrew and Birzeit Universities. We didn't just sit in a classroom, we would walk, say from Jerusalem to Jericho and learn of the great history, geography, Judaism, Islam as well as the modern political situation.
Studying in the Middle East sparked my interest in theology and religion and I went to the Lutheran seminary school in St Paul.
Q: Did you work after?
A: My first job was at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Twig, Minnesota. I was there a short time as part of a graduate school studies being an intern. I felt a pull to go back to Switzerland and went through connections in Germany and got one for a year. I worked at a private school, teaching religion and an interim pastor as well.
Q: When did you meet your spouse?
A: I had known Kim from the seminary. She was in Germany doing theology work while I was in Switzerland. I invited her to come visit and she did ... but with her boyfriend. I invited her back in November and she came alone. We spent a weekend in the Alps and by December we were engaged, via Express Mail. We were married in March of 1990, with only actually spending 20 days together. We decided to move back to Minnesota.
Q: Did you work as a pastor?
A: Yes, I worked as an interim pastor and also worked at the paper mill. Then came a call from Switzerland telling me there was a job as a pastor, so we packed up and moved there.
Q: When did you come to Maine?
A: After 15 years and three children, we decided we wanted to give our kids the experience of their roots. We had great friends in Harrison and thought it would be a great place to live and it was about halfway between Switzerland and Minnesota.
Q: What are their ages now?
A: Esme is 20 and she is in Switzerland working on a farm and going to Minnesota for college in the fall. Simone is 18 and just graduated from Fryeburg Academy and is going to the same college as Esme. Bjorne will be a senior and is 17.
A: Did you find Trinity right away?
A: God works in mysterious ways. We were visiting in Harrison and I asked the Maine bishop if there were any openings in Maine and she mentioned South Paris. What's the chances to visit in Harrison and have an opening a few miles away?
Q: What's it like to be pastor here?
A: It's wonderful, challenging, hard, humbling and such an honor. It's a small congregation, founded by hardworking Finnish immigrants; the salt of the earth. It's being together, joining in the pain and tragedies as well as the dreams and joys of life. It's being involved in all aspects of life; from the life's beginning to its end here on earth. We face the challenges that many, small rural churches face but the Old Story, the Bible stories are all about challenges and impossible odds, unlikely people doing amazing things. We seem most alive when we are helping others.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: I went to Alaska to be a part of a friend's wedding.
During a summer in Seminary, I went to Glazier National Park in Montana and worked in as a bus driver/tour guide. We were known as "Jammers" because of the way we jammed the gears on those old buses. They were red and had canvas tops that you could roll back ... they are still there. It was a dream job – driving the famous Going to the Sun Highway with its spectacular views. I would tell stories about the park and its system, the geology, the wildlife and showed the gorges along the way.
Q: See anything fascinating?
A: We were playing cards late one night at the lodge and it was 3 am. We could hear people applauding ... . We went out and there was just an amazing show of the Northern Lights; they were just dancing in the sky.
Q: Did anyone influence you to the point of changing your direction in life?
A: I have been blessed with a lot of good people that have been a part of my life and the path I've taken; family, strokes of fate, destiny and God. It all remains mysterious. ... You can't really package it; you have to let it be.
Life can challenge you to the core and how do you put that in perspective? That is where religion plays a key role in my life; the sun will rise ... . The story of Jesus gives our smaller stories a bigger context and ray of hope.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: Music and songwriting. Each week, we start off the church service with one of my songs; its not necessary a hymn though. It's rewarding to write songs. When they were building Beth's house, I wrote the theme song.
I also like to hike, fish and play tennis when I get time.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: It was a book of poetry, by Li-Young Lee.
Q: What subject do you wish you knew more about?
A: A lot of subjects, like quantum physics. It just blows your mind also that a particle can appear in two different places at the same time. As Niels Bohr, the great physicist said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." In a spiritual level ... like picking up the phone and calling a friend, when they were about to call you. Unexplainable things that happen; the interconnectedness.
Q: How was it coming back to the church in the states?
A: Wonderful though it was a bit of a challenge to get back into the loop after having been gone for 15 years. I was required to write a 30-page essay on the doctrine of the Trinity. The night before I had to go in with it, I had a dream of a school bus. A long-dead professor at Yale, who was a Lutheran Scholar was there and waving for me to get on the bus. Out of the ground comes like these four elephant trunks blocking me. I get to the meeting the next day and the bishop as well as the professor I was meeting could not make it and so there were just four members present and they had not liked my approach of how the church should be constantly reforming itself. I went back to the drawing board and I used some quotes from the song American Pie. That was on a Thursday and I went to Portland on Friday. I was taking my son to the airport and while I'm in the elevator, this man stumbles in with a guitar. We get out and he is sitting near me and there is no guitar so I asked him about it. Come to find out it was Don McLean ... the Don McLean that wrote American Pie. Just another one of life's mysteries.
Q: What could you not give up?
A: Other than family it would have to be my imagination. The imagination is a wonderful thing ... . When life gets hard or things go wrong, it's nice to be able to imagine it being other than what it is.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: I think I would like to see my uncle who is in Portland. He is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. I would like to thank him for being such a good uncle and a good guy.