Every year, Pastor Marty Silseth, LSS’s director of church relations from 1955 to 1988, would put nearly 75,000 miles on his car. He traveled through Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, visiting Lutheran congregations, preaching to their membersand urging them to contribute to LSS. By the time he wrapped up his career at LSS, he drove more than 1.5 million miles, wearing out 15 different cars!
His passion for the Gospel and taking care of others was sparked in World War II. As a U.S. Army soldier, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He spent Christmas of 1945 in a cathedral in Germany and was surrounded by local families agonizing over their lost sons. It affected him profoundly, and he realized the Lord loved all of His children, no matter what side they were on. He returned home, went into the seminary after college, married his wife, Vera, and then returned to the battlefield to serve as an Army chaplain in the Korean War.
One night in Korea, a group of soldiers returned to their barracks to find their blankets missing. It was cold, so they stomped outside only to see Marty carrying the blankets away, heading for a nearby orphanage. His response? “They need these more than you do.”
Marty and Vera raised three children, teaching and modeling to them this faith. Their son, John Silseth, who is a current LSS Foundation board member, reflected that, in fact, his dad’s life verse was Micah 6:8: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Whether he was meeting potential donors for breakfast, lunch or dinner (sometimes all three in one day) or making 100 phone calls (sometimes all in one day), Marty was tireless in urging congregations and others to give to LSS. His fundraising style was unorthodox: he simply asked – and asked – and asked.
“My dad would call up and say, ‘I can save 10 lives if you give me a certain number of dollars. I can even tell you their names!’” laughed Silseth.
Service was woven into the fabric of Marty and Vera's everyday lives. Marty raised more than $20 million for LSS; created Operation Christmas, which has delivered hundreds of thousands of gifts; filled boxcars for Lutheran World Relief and remained in the Army Reserve until retiring as a colonel in 1985. Vera, who is 96 years old and still enjoys a good joke, worked as a nurse, was active in their local church and also at Luther Manor. John followed in his father’s footsteps and has been deeply involved in supporting and guiding LSS in a variety of capacities since 1996. He helped fund the Martinus and Vera Silseth Fund, created in 1988, to provide ongoing resources to help children and families.
John said his father, who passed away in 1996 at age 71, was thrilled about the creation of the fund. “Dad always wanted to do things of significance in his life. I think he always wondered if he had made a difference.”