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The Saints of St. Marks

In 2009 when Pastor Faith Whitmore suggested that we share our talents in order to donate the increase from them to the benefit of the St. Marks treasury, I settled on writing profiles of St. Marks’ members, a generation older than myself, whom I admired. The following articles resulted from the interviews I conducted at that time. I have chosen to discuss Oscar Winje first, with his approval.

I first met Oscar and Winifred Winje in the late 1970s when they hosted a swimming party at their home on Winding Way. At that time, I had no concept of the history of the Winje family or the story of their acquisition of major land holdings in North Highlands. Oscar’s father, Olaf Karl Winje, had migrated to the United States in the early years of the twentieth century from Trunheins fjord on Yteroi Island, Norway. Oscar’s mother, Metta Kjonstad, traveled to Franklin, CA, from Levangertown on the Norwegian mainland. The parents met here in Sacramento and set up housekeeping on land Olaf leased in North highlands behind Breuners’ location off of Highway 80. Some of the farm buildings from the original ranch can still be seen near the corner of Palm and Date avenues north of Madison.

Oscar grew up on this North Highlands ranch crossing the two lane highway to attend Carmichael School from first to eighth grades and then attended Grant High School. He worked on his father‘s grain farm along with his older brother, Karl. Oscar’s sister Marian was second oldest making Oscar the baby of the family. He was not coddled, however, being employed as the “header” on the grain harvesters when he was younger and as a grain bale “bucker” when he became big enough to heft the bales of grain. Brother Karl performed the job of “sewer” stitching the bags of grain shut to be stored. Oscar’s father prospered on his grain farm and bought the acreage he had originally leased. During World War II he acquired 800 additional acres from a farmer and friend for $15 an acre. The proceeds from the sale of this land have provided a rich legacy for the family’s financial security since that time.

Oscar‘s high school years paralleled America’s involvement in World War II. These were confusing times for a young man and Oscar dropped out of high school briefly before returning to complete his diploma in 1943. His favorite activities in high school were his French class and playing on the tennis team. In spite of this odd educational preparation, Oscar successfully joined the US Air Force in December of 1943 and was accepted for training as a navigator. He took courses in Cedar City, Utah, and at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. He graduated from navigator’s training in March of 1945 earning his officer’s blue bar. He and his classmates were sent to Carlsbad, New Mexico to learn radar and later to Yuma, Arizona for more bombing training. Unfortunately for his Air Force career, the war was over by the fall of 1945 and Oscar was mustered out at Beale AFB.

With the war over, Oscar’s mother was anxious to make an extended visit to her hometown in Norway. She invited Oscar to join her, which he did. He took advantage of this opportunity and enrolled in university in Oslo where his Norwegian language skills were strengthened so that he could not only speak but read and write the language. He can still read Norwegian today. While at university he made a friend named Sven Swenson and they bicycled together all over Norway in 1947. Oscar’s brother and sister joined the family later that year and began a tour of Europe making up their own itinerary traveling by train. Marian and Oscar made good traveling companions even when they got kicked off of a train in Paris because they did not have proper tickets. They simply caught another train to Dusseldorf, Germany, this time with proper 2nd class tickets. The whole family returned to Sacramento in 1948 when Oscar enrolled at Sacramento State College.

Because of his training at university in Oslo and his schooling in navigation with the Air Force, Oscar was given credits for 3 1/2 years worth of college coursework toward his degree. He focused his attention on earning a teaching credential which he completed in 1950 along with a lovely classmate named Winifred. She also earned a teaching credential and they both started work in the classroom at the same time in different districts. Oscar worked in San Juan USD and Winifred in Sacramento City USD. He had met Winifred in an art class and never looked further. They were married over Thanksgiving in 1952. Where to go to church was a question for Oscar raised Lutheran and Winifred the Baptist. They heard wonderful reports of the faith community being assembled by David McMurdo at St. Marks United Methodist Church and soon joined in. Oscar is still among us with his wonderful gentleness.

When their children arrived, Winifred stayed home to raise them while Oscar taught at several elementary schools over a long, rich career as an educator. Arcade, Del Paso Manor, Whitney, and Pasadena elementary schools enjoyed Oscar’s teaching skills. In 1964, Oscar was awarded a Fullbright Fellowship as an exchange teacher to Auckland, New Zealand and Winifred accompanied him. They exchanged homes as well, allowing New Zealanders Desmond and Shirley Bodley to reside in their Winding Way home on an acre of land. The three Winje boys had been born in the 50s: Eric in 1954; David in 1955; Kurt in 1959. They were ready for this foreign adventure to New Zealand and benefited from a widening of their world.

Eric and Kurt became civil engineers and worked on the restoration of the capitol building. David bought the Winding Way house from his father when he married and had a family of his own. Oscar has a small home on the property and has nvested the other sons’ shares of the land sale in a fund which has provided financing for the grandchildren’s college educations. Two of the nine have graduated from UC Berkeley and one is pursuing medical training of which Oscar is rightly proud. It was the privilege of this author to teach one of Oscar’s grandsons, Matt, at Bella Vista High School. Unfortunately, Matthew succumbed to cancer a few years ago, breaking the bond of companionship Oscar had formed with him living on the same acre parcel. Oscar misses him sorely.

If Oscar is in attendance at worship on Sunday morning, you will find him seated on his high stool on the right side of the sanctuary. With his 86 years, he is pleased to still be able to drive and get from here to there. Ask him about Norway, New Zealand or his art collection including sketches of places he has been.

You will be delighted.

Jayne Allen Nichols

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