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Bexell was 'Cottage Grove's pastor'

Joel Bexell lived and served as a Lutheran pastor in Cottage Grove for decades. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Joel Bexell was the pastor for St. Luke's Lutheran Church from 1978 to 2003. This photo was taken during his last year as pastor. (Photo courtesy of St. Luke's Lutheran Church) 2 / 2

Like Cottage Grove's own Saint Peter, the Rev. Dr. Joel Bexell was the rock upon which St. Luke's Lutheran Church was built.

After serving 27 years at St. Luke's and remaining an active part of the community and ministry after retiring, Bexell died March 27 at 71.

Bexell came to Cottage Grove from Hastings in the late-1970s and knocked on doors to launch a congregation in the city.

"He started the task of building the church," longtime neighbor and St. Luke's member Dick Hammero said. "A number of people joined rather quickly. ... The LCA (Lutheran Church in America) didn't have a Lutheran church of that flavor in Cottage Grove then."

Bexell was so integral in growing the congregation and in the community, he became known as "Cottage Grove's pastor."

"He was at all the sporting events, got to know all the kids," St. Luke's member Melinda Weber said. "He was always very, very involved, especially in activities at the high school." He was active in District 833's Education Foundation and supported many other school events, said St. Luke's member Natalie Seim.

"He was always excited to help promote our school district and help the students," she said.

Weber said he was known to welcome students to his home, especially when his daughters were in high school.

"He would have 50 to100 pairs of shoes at the door," she said. "He always had his door open on the weekends."

People of all ages were drawn to him, Hammero said, and he had an immensely outgoing personality.

"He would talk to anybody," he said.

Bexell was very creative and energetic as a pastor, especially when he brought out his character "Amos the garbage man" to teach kids about giving, Weber said

He was also relatable, she said, because he has spent five years working as a photographic chemist at 3M before attending seminary.

"He knows some of the challenges we are facing out in the business world," Weber said.

He didn't stop serving after retirement, spending two years at a church in Moline, Illinois, and one year at Farmington Lutheran Church.

"He was very friendly, very engaged in all parts of the ministry," Weber said. "He will be very missed by the community."

He was known for singing as well, especially the Hallelujah chorus at Easter that he returned to sing in the past few years, Weber said. St. Luke's choir members were requested to sing it for his funeral, which was held Saturday, April 1.

Bexell is survived by his wife Donna, his four daughters Wendy, Julie, Laurie and Barbie, and 11 grandchildren.