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Obituary: Linda Jane Vogel

Deacon, great-grandmother, author, LGBTQI, healthcare advocate

Linda Jane Vogel, 77, died bravely and peacefully November 8, 2017 at Pilgrim Place Health Center in Claremont, California, just six weeks after a surprise diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. 

A service of love and thanksgiving is set for 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, November 18, at Pilgrim Place’s Decker Hall, 665 Avery Rd., Claremont. A reception will follow.

 Ms. Vogel was an ordained deacon of the United Methodist Church and had a distinguished career as a minister, professor of Christian education, activist and author. She and the Rev. Dwight Vogel were married for 58 years. They moved to Claremont in 2005 after Ms. Vogel’s retirement as professor emerita of Christian education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary near Chicago.

Locally, she was a leader in sustainability and ecological stewardship, and was deeply involved in the work of the Reconciling Ministries movement, which advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQI persons in the church and in society.

At Pilgrim Place, she co-organized a major program, training and assigning patient advocates to assist seniors in coping with their health care. This advocacy affected systems as well as individuals, as she worked for patient first approaches to health care for seniors, and improvements in the culture of medical facilities. She served at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center as a member of the facility’s Patient and Family Advisory Council, and worked closely there on new protocols in trauma and emergency care.

She was born Linda Jane Baker, into a Santa Fe Railroad family. She was raised in Topeka, Kansas, the eldest of three daughters, and graduated from Boston University School of Education in 1963. Her advanced theological work was at both Garrett Theological Seminary and Andover Newton. She earned a master of religious education degree, cum laude, in 1964. Her PhD, in adult education/gerontology from the University of Iowa, was completed in 1981.

In September 1965, the Vogels moved to LeMars, Iowa, where they both taught at Westmar College. That year they adopted their first child, Peter Jonathan. They became legal guardians of their second, but eldest son, Mark Stephen, in 1966, and adopted their daughter, Kristin Deborah, in 1967.

One of many grateful Westmar students, Cynthia Woods, remembered Ms. Vogel as a gifted teacher and learner. “Linda invited people to join her on paths of discovery,” Ms. Wood said. “She was never just doing her job as a professor, she fully lived into her work and encouraged her students to be engaged with life. Whether someone was shy or over the top, Linda was always asking questions. She wanted to understand what people had experienced in their lives and what possibilities they saw for the future.  Without hesitation, as a disciple of Christ, Linda offered the ultimate gift of friendship and grace.”

While living in Le Mars, Ms. Vogel was one of the original organizers of a rural hospice—one of the first in the country—as well as being one of the original founders and first president of the city’s League of Women Voters chapter.

She and Mr. Vogel were appointed together to minister to the people of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque, Iowa. They then joined the faculty at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary.

Her published books include Helping a Child Understand Death, The Religious Education of Older Adults, Rituals for Resurrection and Teaching and Learning in Communities of Faith. With her husband, she published Sacramental Living: Falling Stars and Coloring Outside the Lines and Syncopated Grace: Times and Seasons with God.

In her book, Rituals for Resurrection, Ms. Vogel wrote, “When others are preparing for death and for going to the life we believe is there for them beyond this life, we offer our presence, and we do what we can to help them embrace the pain. We also do our own grief work so that together we might be and become that realm of God on earth, knowing that God cries with us and embraces us with love.”

Ms. Vogel was known for her inclusive hospitality going back to her days at Westmar, where her house was called “the home with the smiling front door.” Her many open houses in all her homes have been deeply treasured and are symbols of her extended inclusive family, her family shared. One of Ms. Vogel’s sons reacted thusly to the many tributes, social media comments and personal visits surrounding his mother’s passing: “It isn’t the letters after your name or the books you’ve written or the honors you’ve received that’s the really important thing,” he said. “It’s how many people feel you’ve included them as a part of your family.”

She was a member of the Order of Saint Luke and served as the local prior of the order. Her abbot, Elizabeth Moore, wrote that she was “a wise teacher and a source of great encouragement. Watching her with Dwight was an inspiration. They were clearly as in love with each other as they had been 50 years ago. They worked together as a team, each making the other greater than they could have been alone. Linda drew the circle wide, welcoming many people into the warmth of her friendship. We were made better by her love.”

Lallene Rector, president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, described Ms. Vogel as a friend, a colleague and a mentor. “Linda looked after all students, vigilant and alert, in a sort of low-key manner, for any injustice or discrimination that might befall us, faculty colleagues, female staff and students,” she said. “And when there was a matter of justice to be considered, the low-key manner was left behind in favor of strategic intervention that always included speaking truth to power. It is always refreshing to benefit from the direct speaking and the truth telling that Linda has embodied so beautifully. And Linda had a fun-loving, playful side, evidenced in a big smile and sparkling eyes—sometimes with a hint of gleeful mischief—and an even-keeled personality.”

Ms. Vogel’s life partner, Dwight Vogel, said, “Linda embodied the commitments of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary that faith matters, truth matters and justice matters. As you incarnate those values in these days when all three are threatened, you will incarnate her spirit and live out in gratitude the gift she has given all of us by her presence in our lives.”

She is survived by her husband Dwight; her sisters, Helen Bliege and Kathy Thornburg; her three children and their families, including three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, as well as a host of other “adopted” family members, and a great many former students and close friends from around the world.

Ms. Vogel requested memorial gifts be made to a scholarship program for LGBTQI youth administered by Claremont United Methodist Church at claremontumc.net; Pilgrim Place Residents Health and Support Fund at pilgrimplace.org; or the Dwight and Linda Vogel Scholarship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at garrett.edu.

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