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Merill Otto Herder

Merill Otto Herder


Merill Otto Herder, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, died Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, at Benedictine Manor.

He was born April 29, 1928, in Drake, N.D. Merill’s forefathers were all of German heritage. All four of his grandparents migrated to America between 1884 and 1891. His parents were Pastor Otto and Eda (Stoeber) Herder. After graduating from high school in Buffalo, Minn., Merill attended and received his BA in 1950, from Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, and a Master of Divinity degree in 1954, from Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.

Merill was ordained into the ministerium of the former American Lutheran Church on June 6, 1954. During his years of ministry, he served the following congregations: Trinity (assistant pastor) Waterloo, Iowa, 1954-55; Christ, Duluth, 1955-61, East Koshkonong, Cambridge, Wis., 1961-67; St. Paul, Mayville, Wis., 1967-82; Central and Modena, Mondovi, Wis., 1982-91; Good Shepherd (visitation pastor) La Crosse, 1991-97; Bethel (interim pastor) La Crosse, 1997-98; Middle Coon Valley (interim pastor) Chaseburg, Wis., 2003-04.

From 1974 to 1987, Merill participated enthusiastically on the national board of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, serving three years as its chairman and nine years as its secretary. He also served on the board of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, for six years, one year as its chairman.

On June 2, 1953, Merill and Irma Kessler were married at St. John Lutheran Church, Belle Plaine, Minn. This marriage ended in divorce in 1988. On June 29, 1991, Merill was united in marriage to Lilly Kvam Dahlberg at Central Lutheran Church, Mondovi. Lilly died April 17, 1997. On Oct. 14, 2000, Merill and Bernice Fortney Crook Berg were married at Trinity Lutheran Church, La Crosse. In retirement, Bernice and Merill have made their home in Onalaska and have been members of Bethel Lutheran Church, La Crosse, and First Lutheran Church, Onalaska.

In addition to his wife, Bernice, Merill is survived by four sons and their wives, John (Jeanne) of Stevens Point, Wis., Paul (Joan) of Spencer, Wis., Mark (Jody) of Lannon, Wis., David (Ellen) of Rochester, Minn.; 12 grandchildren, Rachel, Elizabeth (Brent) Tice, Laura, Emily (Justin) Hagen, Samuel (Kendra), Daniel, Amanda (Evan) Petrie, Luke, Joshua, Juliane (fiance Michael Winters), Andrew (fiance Kalyn Jacobsen) and Philip; two great-granddaughters, Megan Ticeand Sylvia Petrie; three stepchildren and their spouses; seven stepgrandchildren; and five step-great-grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, Bishop Emeritus Robert (Mildred) Herder; a sister, Mary Ann (John) Mantey; a stepbrother, Raymond Fortney; stepsisters, Sandra Fortney and Carroll (Doyle) Lombard; a sister-in-law, Shirley Fortney; and a brother-in-law, Arne (Ruth) Kvam.

He was preceded in death by his parents; his two former wives; a sister-in-law and her husband, Myrtle (George) Wadsworth; and brother-in-law and his wife, Kenneth (Helen) Fortney; brother-in-law, Donald Fortney; and sister-in-law, Emma Fortney.

A celebration of God’s promise of resurrection will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 31, at First Lutheran Church, 410 Main St., Onalaska. The Rev. Jason Stanton will officiate, and burial will be Monday in Oak Wood Cemetery, Bell Plaine, Minn. Friends may visit with the family from 9:30 a.m. until time of services Thursday at the church. Information and online condolences may be given to the family at

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to the Herder Scholarship Fund of Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, to First Lutheran Church or another charity of your choice.

Dickinson Family Funeral Home is assisting the family.


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Emily Pyrek covers health, human interest stories and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at

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