501 Leona Marjorie Wigen Ericson

Leona Marjorie (Wigen) Ericson (1925-1981)

Teacher, missionary, homemaker, Leona Ericson was born in Ogle County, Illinois, on October 1, 1925. Her parents, Bert and Lillie Wigen, were farmers. Always an avid reader, Leona was valedictorian of her high school class in Rochelle, Illinois, and earned a scholarship to Northern Illinois Normal College in Dekalb (now Northern Illinois University), the first in her family to attend college. After two years of study, she received a wartime teachers certificate and, for two years, taught grades one through eight in a one-room schoolhouse where her younger sister, Jeanette, was a student.

In 1946, while visiting a cousin in Los Angeles, she decided to enroll in the Lutheran Bible Institute (now part of Concordia University in Irvine, California). There she met Wilbert Martin Ericson, who had recently returned from wartime service in the Coast Guard in the Asian theater. They married in 1948. She gave birth to their first child, Mark David, in 1949, while Wilbert was finishing his BA at what is now Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Their second child, Joan Elaine, was born in 1951, while Wilbert was at Augustana Theological Seminary in Rock Island, Illinois. Wilbert and Leona were called to Japan as missionaries in 1953. The family arrived by ship in Yokohama on August 21, 1953, the hottest day on record. A month later Leona gave birth to a third child, Steven John, in Tokyo. The family lived in an apartment in Denenchofu, and Leona attended the Naganuma Language School for one year.

Wilbert and Leona had their first field assignment in Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, where they served nine years. Leona would play the small pump organ at church services; she was an excellent organist. She offered cooking classes for women in every place she served, always including Bible study as part of the lesson. She developed many close friendships with her cooking students as well as with the women at church. In Hakodate, Hokkaido, she taught cooking on T.V. She was always creative with limited resources: she sewed much of her children's clothing and improvised, from scratch, recipes that could be baked with available ingredients. She was known for rising to the occasion, as called upon, baking a wedding cake or hosting visitors at a moment's notice.

Learning and reading were a major part of her life. Leona educated her children at home through the sixth grade. She was a constant reader and read widely; she greatly enjoyed playing games, in particular word games, and instilled a love both of reading and of games in her children. During a home leave in 1964-65, she attended Sacramento City College. Back in Japan, she taught English classes at middle schools and universities in Okayama and Hakodate, where she and Wilbert served from 1965 to 1980. Therefore it is fitting that her name be remembered on a university campus where learning takes place in many forms.

Leona loved her missionary service in Japan and the Japanese people with whom she had the pleasure to work and worship. She was a gentle, unassuming person, well respected by her students and her fellow missionaries and parishioners for her sound judgment, articulate expression, and warm and sometimes wry sense of humor. After a battle with cancer during the last year of her life, on January 5, 1981, Leona passed into God's glory. She was buried in a rural churchyard outside Creston, Illinois, less than one mile from where she was born; her tombstone reads "Christ's Servant in Japan."
  • Joan Ericson
  • Mark Ericson
  • Wilbert Ericson
  • Steven Ericson
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