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Attempts to make life brighter in a World War II prison camp served Mary Hinderlie well later in life when she became program director of Holden Village, a Christian retreat center in Washington state.

Hinderlie, an outstanding lay theologian in what is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, died Monday of complications from pneumonia and asthma in Pepin, Wis. She was 88.

As the daughter of Dr. J. A. Aasgaard, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (formerly the Norwegian Lutheran Church), she grew up in a home where the leading theologians of the Lutheran church met to talk. She met her future husband, the Rev. Carroll Hinderlie, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and married him in 1939.

They were studying in Norway when Germany invaded in 1940, but they escaped. In late 1941, they were waiting in the Philippines to enter China for missionary work when Mary Hinderlie gave birth to a daughter, Maren. The baby was 3 weeks old when the family was captured by the Japanese and interned.

During 1,137 days in prison camps, Carroll Hinderlie was sometimes tortured as a suspected spy. But boredom also was a major problem for prisoners, said the Hinderlies' daughter Mary Alette Davis of Minneapolis. So the couple organized political and theological forums and discussions for them, most of whom were well-educated engineers and missionaries. Since they were starving, a common topic was scenes from books that involved food, Davis said.

The sense of building community through dialogue later guided Mary Hinderlie at Holden Village, a retreat center that had so many ties to Minnesota through its staff and participants that it was sometimes called "Minnesota in the Mountains."

As program director in the 1960s and 1970s, she helped shape the center's direction. Among other things, it became a welcoming place for young people who were questioning the church.

Edna Hong, a Lutheran author, called Carroll and Mary Hinderlie "the prime human shapers of the soul of Holden Village." The center was sponsored by the Hinderlies' denomination, which had become the American Lutheran Church in the early 1960s. Hong wrote that the center "played a significant role in shaping the youthful new church body into an exciting new church that gave women full status, did not undersell its young people, and was not scared of theological discussion."

Hinderlie's husband, who died in 1992, was director of the center from 1963 to 1977, so it's often hard to separate which Hinderlie contributed what to the center, Davis said. "They really did have a common vision."

She said the Christian Century magazine named her mother as one of the top theologians in North America in the 1960s.

Said Charles Lutz, a retired Lutheran magazine editor: "She was an outstanding leader wherever she happened to be."

Her daughter said, "She loved to celebrate. She had a very intense mind yet was very goofy and fun."

In addition to Davis and Maren Hinderlie of Minneapolis, survivors include another daughter, Elise Grabber of Stockholm, Wis.; sons Paul of Stockholm, Wis.; the Rev. Johan of Robbinsdale, and the Rev. Andrew, a missionary in Africa, and 14 grandchildren.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. today at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Pepin. Visitation will begin at 11 a.m.

Trudi Hahn is at