MOOSE LAKE, Minn. - Antti A. I. Lepisto was born August 31, 1932, in Moose Lake, Minn., son of Pastor Antti and Sigrid (Hakola) Lepisto. He died at his home in Duluth on August 10, 2012.
Raised in a bilingual home, his Finnish was a gift that prepared him for many years of ministry. He graduated from Denfeld High School and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. During the Cold War, he was a Hungarian and Finnish translator for the National Security Agency, translating intercepted messages between Russia and Hungary.
Antti received a Master of Divinity degree from Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in Minneapolis in 1961 and accepted his first call to serve a five-point bilingual parish in Mass City, Mich. A year of graduate study at the University of Helsinki was followed by parish ministry in Centuria, Wis. During this time, he provided Finnish-language ministry in Wisconsin and did additional graduate study at Luther Seminary. Training at Hazelden prepared him for his next ministry, which was to serve Finnish-speaking immigrants in Western Canada from Vancouver Island to Winnipeg and north to Kitimat. Here he provided pastoral care, organized language schools and AA groups, and helped the immigrants connect to local parishes. After a year of Clinical Pastoral Education at the State Hospital in Jamestown, N.D., he founded an inpatient drug and alcohol program in Grand Forks, N.D., where his master addiction counselor training was utilized. He then served a three-point parish in Alvarado/Tabor, Minn., before moving to DeKalb, Ill., to serve as the last bilingual pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. As a referral consultant with the Alban Institute, he provided leadership to clergy in transitions and to churches in conflict situations and in long-range planning. In his retirement, he continued Finnish-language ministry to local Lutherans and did interim ministry in Canada. He was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Finlandia University in Hancock, Mich., in 2005.
In 1993, Antti was elected president of the Suomi (Finnish) Special Interest Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a position he held until his death. His heart for mission and his Finnish-language skills served the Church as he led the Conference to establish a relationship with the re-emerging Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and then helped to form a companion relationship between the Ingrian Church and the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
As a young man, Antti owned and piloted his own airplanes. He loved all things that had wheels, from soapbox derby cars to sports cars. When he lived in Illinois, he pedaled his bicycle almost daily past the corn fields and, when he was 56, he and a friend rode their bicycles from New Orleans to Minneapolis, 100 miles a day for 14 days. Study, reading and sharing what he read with others were his passions. He took great joy in the activities and accomplishments of his children and grandchildren.
Antti was preceded in death by his parents and his first wife Nancy (Roper) Lepisto. He is survived by his wife Jane (Hill Saarinen) Lepisto; his children, Andreas Lepisto, Paul (Christine) Lepisto, Sara (Todd) Gmitro, Susann (Rimmer) de Vries, Elizabeth (Travis) Johnson, Christine Ali (Heriberto David-Martinez); Jane's children, Sara Jane (William) Mize, Michael (Bernadette) Saarinen; 19 grandchildren; sisters, Aino Husen and Helmi Hammer; and brother, Veikko (Karen) Lepisto.
Funeral services were held at First Lutheran Church, Duluth, on Wednesday, August 15, with burial in Park Hill Cemetery. If desired, memorials are suggested to Finlandia University, Hancock, MI 49930 or the Suomi Conference, PO Box 1065, Proctor, MN 55810, for the ministries of the Petrozavodsk congregation in Russian Karelia.