Ask anyone at Trinity if they have met Colleen Dutcher, and the answer would most definitely be a resounding “Yes!” Not many have been members for almost 60 years, but as of October 29, Colleen will have officially been a Trinity member for six decades.
I recently had the pleasure of talking to her to catch up on her memories from the past as well as what she is currently doing. Colleen’s love of life is apparent in her comments and her beautiful cadence of speaking, peppered with soft laughter as we spoke on the phone. She remarked that it was only 110 degrees that day in Arizona, where she shares a home with her two daughters, a son-in-law, and two college-aged grandkids…a 3-generation home!
A person who has seen a little bit of everything, Colleen shares her secrets to her longevity: “I have a good positive outlook. I love my Lord and He takes care of me every day!” December will mark her 94th birthday, and she has spent 37 of those years widowed from the love of her life, Bob, who passed away due to an aneurysm.
Let’s go back to her early days before Trinity when she and Bob were living in California with their kids, Mike and Nancy (before their 3rd child, Jane, was born). Bob and Colleen happened to see in the paper that a new Lutheran church was starting in their town of East Whittier, which is about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles. “We were charter members of St. Andrew Lutheran Church, and we’d go early to set up the church in the country club,” Colleen explained. Set-up required moving a piano and an altar, but it was worth it as the country club charged very low rent for the church to use their space.
After about a year, the church built a small educational building, and now they have several thousand members and a much bigger space. Of course, Colleen has been back to visit since those early days. “It’s a delight to see how the church has grown!” she exclaimed.
The Dutcher family moved to Mason City in 1961 and made Meadow Lane their new address. “The first two people who visited us at our new home were Lavern Hanson and Blackie Espinosa,” Colleen chuckled. Hanson was the senior pastor at Trinity at the time, and the Dutcher family joined the church only a couple of months after their move to Iowa.
Not only were they members, but Colleen and Bob jumped right into being part of the Sunday School ministry. Colleen taught and was the worship leader for the 3, 4, and 5-year-olds, and Bob soon became Superintendent of Sunday School for 22 years. Colleen has such wonderful memories which include “such devoted Sunday School teachers…such as Margie Baack!” She continued, “It was a delightful experience to work with everybody and such fun to work with the accompanists.”
Colleen remarked, “Every place we ever lived, I taught Sunday School!” She also directed Sugar Plum preschool for 14 years, finishing out her last year when her husband died. Later, Colleen was one of the first people to start the God Squad, where it was her responsibility to take communion to shut-ins and nursing homes. “What a blessing through the years to visit those sweet, sweet ladies!” she reminisced.
When asked to choose one Trinity memory that sticks out over the years, Colleen had a difficult time because “everybody was just great to work with!” She talked about how dynamic a pastor Lavern Hanson was. “He was very dedicated and never took a day off,” she said. “He was devoted to his ministry and just such an exceptional pastor.”
Even now from Arizona, Colleen watches Trinity church services every Sunday. “I watch on a 65-inch TV…it’s just like sitting in the front row!” she laughed. “I’m so thankful I can watch the church service and funerals on YouTube.”
For a vivacious almost 94-year-old, Colleen is still on top of her game, remembering people and their stories in much more vivid detail than most teenagers could. The love of her life is still very much a part of her as she relayed with pride the establishment of the Robert Dutcher Scholarship Fund, started by Larry Kollman, Education Director at the time of Bob’s death. Established 36 years ago, this fund has been responsible for giving hundreds of scholarships. Last spring, 10 scholarships were given in Bob’s name. Colleen prefers to still share the limelight with him after all these years.
For a self-professed “Chatty Cathy,” Colleen chuckled, “I think everybody pretty much knows me!” When you’ve been a member of a church family for so long, that’s a pretty accurate statement. “We go back a long way,” she said. “It’s been such a blessing in my life to be a member of Trinity for 60 years! Trinity will always be my church home!”