Erling Jørgensen Grumstrup died peacefully following a stroke on September 8, 2020 at Atterdag Village, Solvang, California. He was 100 years old. The month and day of his death is also the month and day of the birth of the renowned Dane N.F.S. Grundtvig in whose spiritual tradition Erling lived. A man of diverse interests and activities, Erling sustained an exuberant joy for living right up until the end of his life.
Born on January 26, 1920 to Aage and Kamma (Jørgensen) Grumstrup, Erling grew up on the family farm in southwestern Minnesota with five sisters. He attended grammar school at the rural Star School in Lincoln County and graduated from Tyler High School in 1939. The Grumstrup’s were a musical family, and when Erling’s high school music teacher encouraged him to study music after graduation, this spark led him to develop a lifelong avocation in solo and choral voice.
The Grumstrup’s rich social and religious life centered around the campus of “Danebod,” a church, folk school, and gymnastics hall established by Danish immigrants at the south end of their railroad town. At age nineteen, when Erling’s parents lost their farm during the Great Depression, he moved with the family to West Denmark, Wisconsin, another Danish settlement, where they became active in the West Denmark Lutheran Church. Here he met his future wife of sixty-three years, Selma Utoft Henriksen. They married in 1944.
Besides farming with his father, Erling also worked in nearby Luck for his brother-in-law Alf at Utoft Feed & Seed and later moved to Superior, Wisconsin to learn the machinist/toolmaker trade.
When World War II broke out, Erling enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the South Pacific with the 5th Marines. He was wounded in action during the invasion of Iwo Jima, followed by hospitalization and recovery in Guam and Hawaii. He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps with a Purple Heart in 1946.
Erling and Selma then began their long marriage and family life in Circle Pines, Minnesota, which originated as a cooperative community in the Danish tradition. There, just north of the Twin Cities, Erling helped develop and build a new church, St. Mark Lutheran, and he served as the congregation’s first president. Professionally, Erling worked first as a machinist and toolmaker, then for the remainder of his career as a quality assurance representative for the federal government. Meanwhile, his wife Selma cared for the home and growing family of five children.
Using the GI Bill, Erling followed his call to study voice by attending the Minneapolis College of Music. Over the years, he sang in many choirs, including the Minneapolis Choralaires and the Minnesota Chorale. He also sang countless solos throughout the region for weddings, funerals, and other events.
After retirement in 1976, Erling and Selma moved back to West Denmark and enjoyed thirty-one more years together, actively participating in the West Denmark Church and other community organizations, building a cabin in a remote area of Colorado, and enjoying the outdoors as they camped and hiked.
Erling’s hobbies and activities were numerous and diverse, especially after he retired. He stayed active year-round with long-distance running, cross-country skiing, bicycling, and hiking. He took up poetry writing and opened a blacksmith shop in his garage, creating decorative iron pieces.
Following Selma’s death after a long illness in 2007, Erling moved to Atterdag Village in Solvang, California. This was a burst of new life for Erling for the next eleven years: living with other seniors in a comfortable and dynamic setting and traveling extensively with his friend Bente Ellis to gatherings of Danish-Americans, concerts, and even New York City. In 2018, Erling was particularly grateful to fly with other veterans to Washington D.C. for the “Tour of Honor.”
The surviving family includes Erling and Selma’s five children: Phillip Grumstrup (Birte), Paul Grumstrup (Mary Lou), Judy Grumstrup-Scott (Tom Scott), Karin Grumstrup, and Kathy Grumstrup (Michael Bing), eleven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. A celebration of Erling’s life will be held at West Denmark Lutheran Church at a future date.
Suggested memorials are the Danebod Folk Meeting, c/o Danebod Lutheran Church, 107 Danebod Court, Tyler, MN 56178 or the West Denmark Lutheran Church, 2478 170th Street, Luck, WI 54853.
Bridget Lois Jensen