Jan 20, 2023 Print This Article

Looking to the Future

Virginia Slusser. Photo: Courtney Koll

A young mother holds her baby girl close as her husband navigates a bumpy road. Another daughter rides in the backseat. The year is 1918, and the young family is traveling from Missouri to Montana by way of California.

“My mother must have been out of her mind to take off on a road trip across the country with a 6-month-old baby,” said Virginia Hoffman Slusser, who was the baby in the story. She turned 105 this past September.

The trip was long and hard. The speed limit in 1918 was 35 mph. The family stopped for two weeks due to rain. Each night, Virginia and her sister slept in the car and their parents, Benjamin and Emma, slept in a tent just outside the car. By the time they reached California, the trip had taken two and a half months. Emma was weary from travel and declined to make the final leg of the journey to Montana.

Benjamin, a trained jeweler from St. Louis, was able to get a job immediately in Los Angeles. But homesteading was still coursing through his veins. He purchased five acres of raw land in the San Fernando Valley, known as Roscoe at that time, to start a chicken ranch. The young family worked to clear the land of cacti and snakes. Benjamin built the garage first and the family lived there until the house was constructed. He bought chickens and the family sold eggs.

But the most important part of their lives was missing.

“When we moved to Roscoe, there weren’t any nearby Lutheran churches,” Virginia said. “So, my father, along with the Lutheran Laymen’s League, helped found the First Lutheran Church of Burbank. We made lifelong friends in that church.”

Virginia fondly remembers her father and how much he loved serving the church. While he wasn’t trained as a pastor, he stepped in to help wherever he could. “He was the best Christian that I have ever met in my life,” Virginia said.

Perhaps Benjamin’s love for sharing the Gospel could be attributed at least in part to his parents — Virginia’s grandparents — who lived and worked on the campus of Concordia Seminary in the 1800s. Her grandfather served as a custodian at the Seminary and her grandmother was the cook. Virginia’s father was born on the campus in 1886.

When Virginia was 10, her parents traded their California land for an apartment building inside the city of Los Angeles. Virginia attended Hollywood High School with about 500 other students, some of whom went on to stardom in the movie industry. She graduated in 1934 and went to college for a few years until the family needed her to work. In 1938, she took a job as a secretary at Lockheed Martin, an aircraft manufacturing company. It was there that she would eventually meet her future husband, Gerald. They married in 1941.

At the time, Lockheed workers were building airplanes destined for England as the country was deep into World War II. Virginia recalls that screens covered the work yards to camouflage their work.

Virginia remembers that Gerald met Howard Hughes and Amelia Earhart because they brought their airplanes into the plant to get them repaired. Virginia worked as a secretary at Lockheed for five and a half years until she became pregnant with their son, Ronald, who became a physicist and worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 30 years.

In 2007, Ronald died in a car accident. Six months later, Gerald also died.

In May 2021, Virginia contacted the Seminary to share the meaningful connections that she had with the Seminary throughout her life: her grandparents who had worked at the Seminary so long ago; her father who lovingly taught her about the faith and helped start the First Lutheran Church of Burbank; and the practical care and ministry that Rev. Mike Harnack (’09) and his wife, Dawn, provide to her and others in the congregation today.

Each of these connections encouraged Virginia to look to the future by remembering the Seminary in her estate plan. With the help of the Seminary’s Director of Principal Gifts Mike Flynn, she established a charitable remainder trust. By doing so, she has become a member of the Seminary’s Legacy Society, which honors those donors who have chosen to remember the Seminary in their will or estate plan. Virginia’s life so far has been an adventurous one and her planned giving will help further Concordia Seminary’s ongoing mission of forming future pastors, deaconesses and missionaries to shepherd congregations and share the Gospel worldwide for generations to come.

Sarah Maney is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.