Pastor Roger Leonhardt, a longtime resident of Devils Lake, died early Monday morning Jan. 7, 2019, at Bethany Homes on University, surrounded by his loving family. Roger was 79 years old.
Roger Jerry Leonhardt was born Aug. 1, 1939, to Oscar and Louise (Hofsass) Leonhardt in Providence, R.I., the youngest of two sons. Roger grew up and attended elementary school and high school just outside of Providence in Warwick, R.I. After his high school graduation, he began his studies to become a pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. In September 1957, he began his theological studies at Concordia College, Bronxville, N.Y., where he met his future wife, Sonja Vorbeck of New York City. He continued his studies and graduated from Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, Ind. In the fall of 1961, Roger went to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., to begin the last four years of the eight-year theological program. He graduated from Concordia Seminary in 1965.
On June 22, 1963, he married Sonja Vorbeck at Immanuel Lutheran Church in New York City. They moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, for Vicarage, working with a congregation of people who were deaf. During this internship year their son Tad was born in 1964. After his graduation from the seminary, he was ordained June 6, 1965, in his home congregation, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Providence. A few days later, their daughter Lorinda was born in 1965.
Shortly after his ordination, the family of four took off from Rhode Island for their first parish assignment in Devils Lake, where Roger was a Lutheran pastor of 12 North Dakota and western Minnesota preaching stations serving deaf congregations, and was Chaplain at the North Dakota School for the Deaf (NDSD) for the next 17 years. During this time, Roger became the first, and at the time, the only certified interpreter for the deaf in the state of North Dakota. In 1981, Roger remained serving the students at NDSD, the deaf congregation in Devils Lake, and became the pastor at a dual-parish congregation serving St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Devils Lake and Grace Lutheran Church in Lakota until 2001 when Roger retired.
Roger was always a hands-on dad and grandpa. He loved spending time with his wife and family, traveling to the East Coast, and around North Dakota in their motorhome. His love for the Lord, his wife Sonja, and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren was always first and foremost in his life. This love and devotion was apparent to everyone who knew him. He touched the lives of countless children and adults of the deaf community throughout his ministry and throughout his life. Rev. Leonhardt celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod June 6, 2015. He lived his life as a good and faithful servant.
Roger is survived by his wife of 55 years, Sonja Leonhardt, Fargo; his son and daughter-in-law, Tad and Kris Leonhardt, Sioux Falls, S.D., and their six children and families; Anthony (Emmaleigh) Leonhardt, Canton, S.D.; Benjamin (Charlotte) Leonhardt and their children Charis and Gideon, Lincolnton, N.C.; Kassia Leonhardt and daughter Bailee, Sioux Falls; and Tabetha, Zane and Eli Leonhardt, Sioux Falls. Roger is also survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Mitch and Lorinda Semanko, Fargo, and their five children and families; Zachary Idland and daughter, McKynlea Kitsch, Fargo; Alexandra (Kellen) Bubach and their daughter Masen, Ankeny, Iowa; Cassidy Semanko (Renier Salas) and daughter Blakely, Santa Ana, Calif.; Martha Semanko, River Forest, Ill.; and Sophie Semanko, Fargo.
He is also survived by two sisters-in-law, Cindy Leonhardt, Vero Beach, Fla., and Marianne Vorbeck, Colts Neck, N.J.; several nieces and nephews and their families.
Roger was preceded in death by his parents, Oscar and Louise Leonhardt; his brother, Oscar Leonhardt; his mother and father-in-law, Karl and Martha Vorbeck; grandchildren, Karl Leonhardt and Stephanie Leonhardt; and great-grandson, Luca Brooks Bubach.
The family of Rev. Roger Leonhardt would like to thank the nurses, CNAs and the entire staff at Bethany Homes on University for their loving care of Roger. You are all greatly appreciated.
Visitation for Roger will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday with a prayer service at 7 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1258 N. Broadway, Fargo. The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, also at Immanuel Lutheran Church. Interment will be at Devils Lake Cemetery at a later date.
Arrangements are entrusted to the care of Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home, Fargo. Online memories and condolences may be shared at www.hansonrunsvold.com.