Remembering Rev. William Hyllengren

Recently, I picked up an older issue of “Time” magazine and read an interesting article about the most important people who pioneered America.

I’m sure there were many more than the 100 people the issue listed.

You will always hear from someone who says, “What about so and so?”

This started me thinking about the many men and women who pioneered Anoka and Anoka County.

Much has been written about business leaders, politicians, medical people, teachers, pastors and others.

Since everything that happened just yesterday is now history, one does not have to go very far back to remember many of our leaders, from all walks of life.

One such leader that comes to my mind is the Rev. William Hyllengren of Anoka’s Zion Lutheran Church.

Zion had about 900 members when it built their new building in 1954.

Rev. Hyllengren came to the congregation in 1956.

He proceeded to use his (secret) weapon and built the membership at Zion to about 8,000 by 1985.

In 1985, Arch Pease wrote in this paper, “Gustavus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, honored Reverend Hyllengren in their quarterly magazine for his work in church affairs. He graduated and was ordained there in 1934.”

According to Pease, this kind of honor usually went to a theologian who had published an important work and rarely went to a parish pastor like Hyllengren.

Arch Pease also said he can well remember attending the Reverend’s 25th anniversary in 1981 when he had built the membership to well over 6,000.

The late Robert W. Johnson, Anoka County’s longest serving county attorney, when interviewed by the Star Tribune, said, “He is just a delight to be with.

“He can be as philosophic as you want to be; he can be as witty as Bob Hope…. He’s as quick as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Johnson also said that the wit was a side of a lot of people didn’t get to know.

What a lot of people did see was when Reverend Hyllengren showed up at their door and invited them to come to church.

I have spoken with several members of Zion who said the first person at their door after moving to the area was the Reverend with his famous sales pitch: “I’m selling insurance — eternal life.”

What I remember so well is some of the talk around the area.

People said he had a secret insider working for the city of Anoka or Anoka County that let him know when someone new moved into the area.

Some thought maybe he had an insider at the Carpenter’s Hall that let him know when somebody new was building a new house in the area.

It turns out his secret weapon was just to knock on every door in the whole area.

Reverend Hyllengren passed away in 2005 at the age of 93.

They just don’t make notables like him very often.

Editor’s note: Tom Ward is on the board of the directors of the Anoka County Historical Society.


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