Suzann Bendetta Nelson 1946-2021

And so it is, one of Those Lutheran Ladies has gone to reunite with her Music Man. This is Most Certainly True.

Suzann Bendetta (Johnson) Nelson passed away suddenly March 14, 2021 at the age of 74 in Grand Rapids, Minn.

Suzann was born in Alexandria, Minn. on October 31 (of course!), 1946, to the most amazing parents—Theodore and Bendetta Johnson. She, along with her older brothers Deloyd and Arlynn, were raised as solid, hard-working farm kids in rural Evansville. Suzann later “moved to town, then” to become a graduate of Evansville High School in 1964.

Suzann next ventured out to The Cities as a Scandinavian Studies Major at Augsburg College. While there, she met one of the best, Ronald Nelson, who undoubtedly wooed her with his versatile voice, guitar skills, and wavy red hair. In March 1967 the two were united in marriage, only three months after feisty and tenacious Suzann proposed to Ron in order to liven up a “boring New Year’s Eve” party. The rest is history. They were the loves of each others’ lives.

While still near The Cities following college and marriage, Suzann was the dean of the Norwegian Camp (Skogfjorden) at the Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, Minn. while Ron ran the music scene. Suzann was the dean through most of the 70s, and her staff members have proclaimed those summers as simply “The Best.” When camp was not in session, Suzann served as the Carver City Clerk and worked at Green Giant.

During summer 1979, wanderlust got the best of Suzann and Ron, and they scoured the lakes of Northern Minnesota with their daughters and dog bouncing along in the back of their Chevy pickup. While some of these escapades didn’t end well, they eventually found a gem of a piece of land between two lakes near Marcell, with a little red cabin that is still a fixer-upper. Suzann put her fear of snakes mostly aside and raised her daughters as fearless dock divers while she floated about in her blue and white chair, paddled her leaky canoe, and sang songs around the campfire with gusto.

Realizing they were over life in The Cities, they found a home in Grand Rapids. Suzann began working as the executive director of the Northern Minnesota Citizens’ League on long term projects to better the community of Grand Rapids. She was an advocate who fought for equality and who vouched for the arts.

Then, in 1994, an epiphany struck Suzann and college roommate Janet Letnes Martin while having coffee. Suzann realized she didn’t want to put on pantyhose anymore, and Lo and Behold— “Those Lutheran Ladies” was born around the very table at which this obituary is being written. Within a couple of years, they pumped out four books, and in 1997 wrote “Growing Up Lutheran” which, after earning the duo awards and speaking engagements galore, led to creation of the first Church Basement Ladies Musical in 2005. The Ladies went on to write nine books and eight musicals that have been enjoyed by over 3.5 million people nationwide.

In November 2001, Suzann’s life was altered forever, as Ron passed all too early. She had gained one son-in-law (Chris Morque) and one soon after (Anthony Prato). The success and thrill of the musicals continued to carry her, but it was the energy provided by her four grandchildren, Liam (Prato), Ren (Morque), Eleanor (Prato) and Anders (Morque) who held her captive, and each for very different reasons. 

Suzann was most proud of Liam, Ren, Eleanor and Anders. She was their number one fan for math masters, district spelling bees, karate, theatre, soccer, piano, violin, band, choir, hockey, basketball, track, and baseball. But first and foremost—she was their Grandma.  All the texts, the “visits for no reason,” the pontoon swims, the game nights—those were her driving forces. Her grandkids simply were her people. We will continue to hear “Go Thunderhawks!! Go Huskies!!” in the years to come.

Suzann was preceded in death by her husband, Ron, her parents Theodore and Bendetta, her brother Deloyd, her sisters-in-law, Lorraine, Joyce, and Phyllis, her nephew Mike and her in-laws Bernhard and Alvhild.

She is survived by her daughters Senja (Chris Morque), Siri (Anthony Prato), sister-in-law Valerie Johnson, former sister-in-law Mary Johnson, brother Arlynn (Susie) Johnson, grandchildren Liam, Ren, Eleanor, Anders and a ginormous amount of in-laws, nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, and great-great nieces and nephews.

And, of course, by her feline friends who “Saved the Day” in their own right—Doots and Moose.

Stay tuned for details for a proper Lutheran Ladies parting. The family will hold a private burial at a later date. 

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to any of the following: The Reif Center, The Edge Center for the Arts, Thunderhawk Sports Boosters, Huskies Girls’ sports, Amherst College, Zion Lutheran Church or Skogfjorden.  Takk skall du ha!

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