Dec 14, 2020 Print This Article

Choosing joy in the face of hardship

Donor ‘adopts’ seminarians

Matter-of-fact and down-to-earth, Warren Solem chose a quiet life, living in a house on the outskirts of a small town. He drove an Amoco Oil truck around the country for his career. His church, Joy Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Minn., was extremely important to him. In his free time, he hunted. He would say he enjoyed the outdoors and the quiet it offered. But a quiet life does not necessarily mean an easy life.

Born in 1933 in Forest Lake, Minn., to Elmer and Sarah Solem, Warren grew up, attended school, and in 1950, joined the United States Air Force. He served in the Korean War and was stationed at a military base in California. He was honorably discharged in 1954, and went to work.

In 1958, he married the love of his life, Phyllis Jean Renner. They had three sons, but tragically, their first son was born drastically disfigured and died.

The couple had two more sons, Dale and Jeffrey, who both appeared to be healthy. But as time passed, they both developed severe mental and physical abnormalities, requiring them to move to a facility where they could receive professional around-the-clock care. The facility was miles away from home, but Warren didn’t allow distance to grow between them. He made a point to visit his sons regularly.

Eventually, doctors traced the boys’ health issues back to the chemicals Warren had been exposed to during the Korean War. Those same chemicals became the cause of cancer that Warren later battled.

His wife, Phyllis, developed Alzheimer’s disease. Warren faithfully cared for her as she struggled through the decade-long illness, before it finally took her life.

“What struck me about Warren was not so much what he went through, but how he handled the struggles afterward,” says Michael Flynn, Concordia Seminary’s director of principal gifts. “It’s fitting that the name of his church was Joy Lutheran Church because in spite of everything that happened to Warren, he had great joy, trust and faith that he knew exactly where he was going.”

Warren understood the church’s need for pastors and recognized the importance of Seminary-trained pastors. “I first met with him in 2008,” Flynn says. “As we talked about his giving, he became very interested in the Seminary’s Adopt-A-Student program.” Through the program, sponsors “adopt” seminarians to help make their ministry formation financially possible.

Warren participated in the program and looked forward to hearing from his “adopted” seminarians. “That meant a lot to him,” Flynn says. “So when he was developing his estate plan, he decided to leave a portion of his estate to the Seminary in support of the Adopt-A-Student program.”

Flynn wonders if Warren thought about his own sons as he corresponded with his adopted seminarians. Despite Warren’s life struggles, he helped propel the sons of others on their ministry journey.

Flynn and David Priebe, the Seminary’s gift planning consultant, walked Warren through the process of planned giving, offering clear guidance. By creating an estate plan, Warren was able to remember the Adopt-A-Student program and future seminarians long after the Lord called him home.

Warren passed away April 21, 2016, at the age of 83, and was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. “Warren was a wonderful example of a donor who shared his financial blessings,” Flynn says. “When a response of gratitude is received and donors like Warren see how they have touched and shaped a student’s life and enhanced a ministry, like the Seminary, they have indescribable joy.”

To learn more about the Adopt-A-Student program, visit