In 1971, while attending a Lutheran church in St. Louis Park, Tom and Pat Hallstrom decided to invest time through Kinsman ministry in two little boys living in desperate conditions in NE Minneapolis. They were assigned brothers, Jerry and Jeff, ages 6 and 4. Mixed – race, desperately poor, a deaf and mute mother and no father on the scene, these brothers were on a trajectory for troubled lives. Just meeting them for the first time in the NE Minneapolis ghetto was unnerving. Their mother was deaf, mute, and bruised. Learning to communicate in sign language was the easier part for Tom and Pat. Dealing with the bruised spirit was more challenging. Pat still tears up when she remembers Sophie having Jerry ask his teacher what a Valentine was. And since you can’t give away what you don’t have, Jerry and Jeff were bruised.
Pat remembers Jerry this way: “He was a mischievous kid, but delightful and bright and clever. I could tell that Jerry’s tremendous amount of energy, if channeled rightly, would benefit many.” He looked up to Tom even though Tom had to keep a tight rein on him. Nearly every Saturday for three years, Tom and Pat brought these brothers into their home and hearts for a weekly deposit of presence and stability. Thanks to reports required by Kinsman, and the curled edged carbon paper copies Tom saved (it was the 70’s after all), Tom and Pat do not need to rely on memory of these unforgettable boys.
Tom and Pat loved Jerry and Jeff like their own, even when their own, Chris, was born in 1968. They did more than “be there”. They bought them bikes and taught them to ride. At his 6 th birthday party, they gave Jerry his first birthday cake. Then Tom and Pat got Jerry and Jeff into Immanuel Lutheran School. At age 6, Jerry didn’t even know his alphabet. When absenteeism became a problem, they helped the family find better housing within walking distance. When skipping the school down the street continued to be a problem, Tom hunted the boys down and stepped in with tough love. Evidence of Tom’s role as an early innovator in family equipping comes screaming off these carbon copy letters. In one letter, Tom scolds Sophie for caving to let Jerry stay home from school. At least once, when Tom heard from the school, at noon he left his office, found Jerry playing in the park, gave him a swat across the seat of his pants, and returned him to school. One has to wonder if the teacher was actually happy about this. After all, she couldn’t leave this lovable but unbridled little boy unattended or he would pick fights with 8 th graders or disassemble the room. In another letter, Tom gives Jerry’s mom a loving lecture about homework, bedtimes, and her role as a cheerleader for helping Jerry do better at school.
With a little rudder applied to Jerry’s wind – filled sails, Jerry’s progress was remarkable. In less than a year, Jerry had learned the alphabet and caught up with the rest of his class. Tom and Pat did their part in educating these lads…and their mother. W hen Tom told Sophie he would like to take the boys to the Art and Science Museum in St. Paul, Sophie asked what a museum was and was whisked off with the boys for the answer. They also cared for Jerry’s soul. Jerry was baptized at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in St. Paul on April 13, 1969, with Tom and Pat as sponsors.
In June, 1969, Prudential recognized Tom for an esteemed community service award for his investment in the boys’ lives. In 1 973 , now employed by EDS, Tom was moved to California, ending the hands – on involvement in these boys’ lives. Still tender about it today, no Prudential community service award in 1969 could assuage the guilt of moving away from this highly needy, now precious family. As time went on, occasional tidbits of good news seeped through, lessening the guilt just a bit, though deep inside Tom and Pat feared the next bit of news being one of these boys dying in inner – city violence.
But the Prudential Principle was working — invest and let it grow. Forty – five years later, Tom and Pat were about to see just h ow much that faithful, regular, modest investment had grown. In mid – July last summer, Tom’s phone rang. It was Jerry’s sister. Over the years, she had heard about Tom and Pat Hallstrom, so she tracked them to Rochester, then called through the “Hallstroms” until she came to Tom. After introducing herself she said, “Jerry passed away from cancer. His funeral is in Chicago on Wednesday (J uly 27). Jerry would want you to know.”
Neither Chicago traffic nor tolls would keep them away. From the funeral, Tom texted a friend, “God has exceeded our expectations again!” He later added, “God just dropped every detail and everybody in our laps that we needed to hear or meet.” In an apostolic black church in North Chicago, Tom and Pat were hard to miss, as was the overwhelming flow of love from Jerry’s family and friends. Throughout the day, the blanks to the past 44 missing years of Jerry’s life story were slowly filled in – Master’s degree, hard – working, happily married, devoted father, rabid Vikings fan, man of God. “I think my greatest thrill was hearing at the funeral what a devoted friend, father, and husband Jerry was,” Pat states.
Tom and Pat’s view changed from an initial phone call that a life precious to them had been cut short at 53, to a post – funeral confidence that Terry’s 53 years had been well – lived. Life is not evaluated in duration, but donation. Sounds like something a guy who spent his career working for an investment company might say.
Don’t think your regular deposits in the lives of others will pay dividends? Maybe you should seek out Tom and Pat in Coffee Connection some Sunday morning and hear for yourself the return they saw for their three years of Saturdays with little Jerry.