Known to all as “Ted,” Theodore Hilpert was born in Bertha, Minnesota on June 7, 1927. Although he was raised in town, Ted loved to work on the nearby farm of his uncle Art, and for most of his life, had a great supply of anecdotes from farm life, including stories of pitching hay into a horse-drawn wagon, riding a draft horse, and various remarkable animals.
When Ted was fourteen, the United States entered the Second World War. Shortly after he graduated as salutatorian from high-school in 1945, Ted joined the army. Just days before he had completed his advanced training as a tank radio operator, the Empire of Japan surrendered, ending the war.
During his time in the army, Ted suffered a crisis of faith, and for a period of time, he was an atheist. However, he eventually returned to a joyous faith, and dedicated his life to ministry. After his service in the Army was complete, Ted enrolled at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. There he made several lifelong friends, with whom he engaged in many shenanigans and practical jokes. At Luther, Ted was the editor of the campus yearbook, and in spite of his busy schedule, he graduated magna cum laude.
Following college he attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. During his summers he worked variously as a cowboy in North Dakota, a lumberjack, and a gold-prospector in Idaho. Although he wanted to be a missionary, when he graduated seminary and was ordained, he was called instead to develop a parish of three congregations in northern Minnesota. He helped all three to grow, in addition to founding another church which still exists today.
He finally got his chance to become a missionary, and he traveled to the remote Pacific Island of New Guinea, where he worked for two years. Upon returning to the United States, Ted began a graduate degree in counseling. At age thirty eight, both Ted and all of his friends were certain that he was a lifelong bachelor. However, while working as a hospital chaplain during this period, he met, and fell in love with, a young woman named Sharyn. They were married in 1966, and Ted began working at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he started their student counseling center. The couple had two children, Jill and Tom.
In 1976 Ted and his family moved to Hong Kong for a temporary mission assignment, and in 1978, they moved to Papua New Guinea for long-term mission work. Ted spent five years teaching at a seminary in Papua New Guinea, after which the Papua New Guinean church asked him to develop programs to address the problem of alcoholism in that country.
After thirteen years in Papua New Guinea, Ted and Sharyn returned to the United States, settling near Portland, Oregon, to care for his ailing mother. There, he worked as an assistant pastor and counselor. At the age of sixty-five, Ted took up downhill skiing and backpacking, making the most of the beauty of Oregon, and his own remarkable vitality.
Later, the couple returned to Minnesota to be near children and grandchildren, and then to Tennessee, where Ted spent the last twenty years of his life.
Ted Hilpert was loving, humble, and open to God and other people. He was remarkably selfless with his time and energy. He was animated by a deep curiosity and childlike wonder at the world, and a love of adventure. His long life and seemingly boundless good health and vitality were a tremendous gift to those who loved him. For most of his life he had more strength and energy than people decades younger than him. He was gifted at listening with his heart, and was always open to admitting his own errors, faults and misunderstandings. He consistently sought the best good of those whom he knew. For these things, and more, he was loved by all who got to know him.
Above all, Ted loved Jesus Christ, and was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Shortly before passing, knowing he was dying, and seeing his loved ones crying, he said, “I’ll be fine.” He died peacefully, full of hope in Jesus Christ, surrounded by his loving family.
Ted Hilpert is survived in death by Sharyn, his wife of 57 years, his sister Janet Anderson (Harold) and his children, Jill (Tim) and Tom (Kari), and grandchildren Noelle (Connor), Isaac, Alana (Matthew), Andrew, Elise and Jack.