Fred Gonnerman

Fred Gonnerman

Surely few would have guessed that a child born to a farming family in 1935 would grow up to be a leader in the development of the field of public relations in the church, but that is exactly where one of the Religion Communicators Council's lifetime members started.

Rev. Frederick (Fred) Gonnerman worked in church communications and public relations for 36 years. After his first call as a parish pastor in Painesville, Ohio, he spent five years as the Assistant Director of Public Information for The American Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minn. He went on to establish the Office of Information Services at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., where he worked from 1966-1989. He finished out his career by establishing and directing the Office of Public Relations at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

Gonnerman’s ministry in communications began when he graduated from Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, with a major in English, Speech, and Journalism. His background earned him a position as an editorial assistant for the Lutheran Standard, bringing him into the field just as public relations was coming into the church.

Gonnerman says of his early years, "I got in on the ground floor of public relations in the church, of evangelism and mission and all that comes with that."

At the encouragement of those who benefited from workshops that he led during his career, Gonnerman published a book, Getting the Word Out: The Alban Guide to Church Communications, in 2003. The book earned a DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial Best in Class award for writing in 2004.

Throughout his career, Gonnerman felt strongly about being an active member of the Religion Communicators Council. Over the years he received numerous DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial awards, served as the president of the Twin Cities (Minn.) Chapter, and served on the national board. He was presented with lifetime membership in 1998. The membership certificate remains on his wall. "I'm very proud of that," he says.

Since retirement, Gonnerman has remained active with the interests he fostered over his professional career including teaching photography classes to local seniors, serving on a regional public relations committee for senior living cooperatives, and serving his own cooperative on the board of directors, fine arts committee, and garden and landscape committee. He is currently working on a book of his family's history and many of the cultural influences that shaped many families in the twentieth century such as the farming revolution and ethnic histories.

He and his wife Ruth have lived in Northfield, Minn., for over 40 years. They raised four successful children. In his spare time, Gonnerman nurtured a garden at his home featuring over 3,000 tulip bulbs, a hobby born of a childhood on his family's farm.

Fred Gonnerman died August 28, 2019. His obituary was published by Benson & Langehough Funeral Home and in the Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN.

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