Sam Schmitthenner Passes Away


Reverend Samuel William Schmitthenner, passed away at the age of 87 at SpiriTrust Lutheran (previously Gettysburg Lutheran Home) on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Sam was born to missionary parents Marian and August Schmitthenner on February 23, 1928 in Rajahmundry, India. He had most of his early education at Kodaikanal School, a boarding school in south India then for mostly missionary children.  After his graduation from Kodai School in 1944, he came to the U.S. to attend Gettysburg College, completing his B.A. there in 1948.  Sam then attended the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, receiving his B.D. in 1951.  In 1950, he married his Kodai School sweetheart, Ruth Gosselink.

After Sam graduated from seminary, he and Ruth were called by the Lutheran Church in America to serve the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC) in India.  During his thirty years as a missionary to India, Sam served as a parish pastor, an evangelistic missionary, and a surveyor of parishes throughout the five synods of the AELC.  He was most proud of his accomplishments of selecting, training, and licensing 60 catechists to serve in smaller rural congregations and in helping to establish new congregations associated with massive dam construction projects along the Krishna River. He served as President of the AELC during his final 12 years in India (1969-1981). The AELC was then one of the largest Lutheran churches in Asia, with a membership of over 300,000 members with 2000 congregations served by 250 pastors. In honor of his distinguished career as a missionary, Gettysburg College conferred on him an honorary D.D. in 1977.

In 1982, a year after he and Ruth had left India, Sam accepted a call to be pastor of Faith United Lutheran Parish in Claysburg, Pennsylvania.  He served there until his retirement in 1991.  Sam and Ruth then moved to Pennsdale, Pennsylvania. They had been married for 45 years when Ruth passed away in their Pennsdale home in 1996.

In 1997, Sam married Barbara Kolumban and they have lived in Gettysburg ever since. Barbara and her late husband Steve had served as medical missionaries for the ELCA in southern India. Sam joined Barbara as a member of St. James Lutheran Church, Gettysburg. Though officially retired, Sam remained active for many years as a supply pastor for the Central Pennsylvania Synod and he regularly taught Sunday school at St. James.

Beyond his dedication to church and mission work, Sam was well known for his humor and story telling.  His stories, never repetitive, captivated children and adults alike. During his retirement, he published several books of his stories. He maintained a deep understanding and affection for Telugu people and their culture, and he could converse and tell stories in Telugu like a native speaker.  Sam also had a deep commitment to and love of the greater Kodai School community. In 2013, he received the Margaret Eddy Award in honor of his varied service to the school as an alumnus. Sam was perhaps most in his element at Bella Sylva, his family's ancestral home in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.  There he enjoyed the outdoors - hiking, fishing, swimming, and hunting - sawing and chopping firewood, doing various projects to maintain the 19th century log cabin, and communing with his extended family.   

Besides his beloved first wife Ruth, Sam was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Katherine Marie, and his brother Jerry and spouse Shurlee.  He is survived by many in his Schmitthenner and Kolumban families, who include: brother Fritz and his wife Alice; sister Molly and her husband Alan; children Bill, Hans and his wife Joan, Chris, Pete and his wife Pam; grandchildren Joe, Dave, Hillary, Russel, and Jenna; great-grandchildren Sean, Lauren, and Aiden, and others in his extended Schmitthenner family; Barbara, his devoted wife of 17 years; Barbara's children Mike and his wife Evelyn, Paul, Karl and his wife Robin, and Kathy and her husband Jamie; and Barbara's grandchildren Kathleen, Steven, Sushma, Ahana, Eliana, and Eddie.  Sam is also remembered fondly by his two brothers-in-law Jim (recently deceased) and Chuck Gosselink, their respective spouses Jean and Char, and his Gosselink nieces and nephews.

The Schmitthenner and Kolumban families wish to extend their thanks and appreciation to the dedicated and caring staff of the Gettysburg Lutheran Home and Hospice.

Professional services are entrusted to Dugan Funeral Home and Crematory, Inc., 51 Asper Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257. A Memorial Service for Sam will be held at St. James Lutheran Church, Gettysburg, on  Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 2:00 PM. A visitation will follow. Contributions in Sam's memory can be made to St. James Lutheran Church-Emmaus Ministry, 109 York St., Gettysburg, PA 17325 or Lutheran World Relief, 700 Light St., Baltimore, MD 21230. 

  Pete Schmitthenner (70) on behalf of Bill, Hans and Chris