In his 27 years as pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church in Lakeville, the Rev. Dallas Blenkush delivered countless thought-provoking sermons, but none may have had more of an impact than the message he modeled in October 1979 after a drunken driver hit and killed his wife, Sharon.
In the midst of the tragedy, which left him a widower and his three children without their mother, Blenkush went to the hospital bed of the drunken driver to tell her that she had been forgiven.
"That was a strong testament about who he was," said Blenkush's daughter Mary Jane Konnad, of Lakeville.
Blenkush died of lung cancer April 16 at the Lodge on Summit Oaks in Burnsville. He was 74.
He was involved in youth ministries of the then-Minnesota Synod of the Lutheran Church of America with church camps, leadership training, ski trips and canoe outings to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, said the Rev. Daniel Olson, who served with Blenkush from 1977 to 1982 at St. John's Lutheran. Blenkush began serving at St. John's in 1969. He led youth group retreats and taught confirmation, and was respected for his dynamic teaching and preaching.
"People truly listened to him and admired him for his strong speaking," Konnad said. "People always left thinking about what he said."
Blenkush didn't set out to be in the pulpit. He was born in Shakopee and graduated from Shakopee High School in 1952. He majored in secondary education at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., then taught English and speech for one year at Evansville (Minn.) High School.
Blenkush was drafted into the Army and while there led Bible studies. Others had heard him speak and suggested that he go into the ministry, and "he wondered if that was something God was calling him to do," said another daughter, Anne Rykken, of St. Paul.
Blenkush graduated from Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Ill., in 1963 and served at Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Mounds View and Prince of Glory Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis before becoming senior pastor at St. John's in Lakeville. His down-to-earth speaking style and challenging messages attracted members to St. John's, family members said.
"A lot of people who would not attend church, but when they heard him, they started going to his church," Rykken said. "His messages were clear and understandable."
Blenkush also was a big supporter of missions work and cared deeply for his staff and making the church a family. He also was known for his sense of humor and spontaneity.
"Dallas had no desire to create a megachurch," Olson said. "He treasured the feeling that everyone knows your name. Church was a family, in Dallas' vision. That family was there to help when hard times struck."
Blenkush made sure his congregation had strong youth and family ministries, said the Rev. John Rogers, who served with him for eight years at St. John's in the 1980s.
Blenkush retired from St. John's in 1996, but then served for several years as a fill-in pastor at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Eagan.
Outside the pulpit, Blenkush was a Golden Gloves boxer and liked to play golf. He also was a member of the Board of Trustees of Gustavus Adolphus and involved in Dollars for Scholars, a program that provided college scholarships to students in need.
In addition to his daughters Konnad and Rykken, Blenkush is survived by a son, Stephen, of Milaca, Minn.; two brothers, Richard, of Shakopee, and Eugene, of Menominee, Mich., and seven grandchildren.
Services have been held.