Margaret was born to Peter Birkedal and Sara (born Siri Christine Motland) Birkedal, on April 4, 1925, in Cedar Twp, Iowa. Growing up in rural Osage Iowa, she went to Rock Creek Lutheran Church with her family, including her older siblings, Marie and Palmer. At a young age, she heard a missionary from China speak and decided that she too wanted to become a missionary.
Soon after, they moved briefly to nearby Otranto, 1934-1935 where she thought she was getting good practice for going to the ends of the earth.
Graduating from Osage High School in 1943, she went straight to Saint Olaf college and studied music and sociology. Doing solo work and singing in the Saint Olaf Choir was a highlight. Before her senior recital she went to see the nurse, Katherine Ericksen. Little did they know that later, their children would also go to St. Olaf and get married (Stephen and Elizabeth). When the Von Trapp family came to sing at St. Olaf, she got to meet them personally, when they showed them her room. She thought, someday maybe I’ll start my own family singers.
In the summer 1947 after she graduated, she went to do parish work in suburban Chicago and met some girls who became lifelong friends including Alma Hagan. She had a list of about 10 places to choose from to work in the Fall, and at the bottom of the list was being parish worker at Oak Knoll Lutheran Church. Somehow she felt God was telling her to go there, even though it didn’t seem logical.
The choir director/organist really liked her and wrote to her son Philip at Suomi College, “when you come back you’ll see that the scenery has changed at church“. It was love at first sight, or should we say first sing! Once, they started singing the same song at the same time in the same key. It didn’t take long for him to pop the question, “Could I keep my clarinet on your piano?“
Her home church Rock Creek Lutheran Church was bursting with joy as friends and relatives gathered to tie the knot on June 30, 1948. One last year for Phil at St. Olaf college in Northfield, Minnesota and they moved up to Minneapolis where Karen was born, July 10, 1949. They lived with Phil‘s folks, Vaino & Lempi, in the house they built at 208 Sunnyville Ln. near Oak Knoll in Wayzata. Phil finished Luther seminary in three years but not before Steve was born December 4, 1951. 1952 brought many changes: graduation from seminary, ordination, getting ready to go to Japan, saying goodbyes and taking a train all the way out to the West Coast. It was the first time for Margaret to see any mountains or the ocean and she thought it would be the last time she would ever taste Iowa corn or watermelon. They arrived on August 15, 1952, exactly 403 years after Francisco Xavier, the first missionary to Japan, and exactly 2 years before Miriam was born. Mark was born on January 24, 1958.
Margaret was like an assistant pastor to Phil, helping with teaching, reaching, praying and even preaching at the churches they worked with. She served as church musician, prayer leader, project manager and outreach chair among so many other things.
They served churches mainly between Tokyo and Nagoya: Tokiwadai,Tokyo 52-53, Omori 53-54, Yokosuka 54-55, Handa 55-58. Then it was St. Paul, MN for furlough 58-59, Shimada 59-64, home leave in Mpls. 64-65, after which they returned to Tokyo 65-67. The first year, 65-66 they were dorm parents for missionary kids while Phil took Japanese classes at ICU. The second, 66-67 they worked at the Todai Student Center at Tokyo University.
They served in Nagoya from 1967-1970 and then after home leave, returned to Tokyo where they worked from 1971-1982 with Rev. Kojima at Koishikawa Church where half of the members were deaf. Their last assignment was in Toyohashi from 1982-1989. She was instrumental in starting women’s aglow, Japan in the late 70s and 80s.
Margaret, and Phil used their musical, artistic talents in evangelism, involving their four children from the time they were young.
During their 1970-1971 furlough year, they made a professional recording and traveled about 10,000 miles around the perimeter of the United States and Canada. They all returned to Japan in 1972 to do music evangelism. Some was on radio and TV, but mainly it was live in churches, schools and civic centers from Hokkaido to Kyushu.
In 1977 they joined with a Japanese family for multimedia musical evangelism traveling 12,000 miles throughout the United States.
After 37 years of ministry in Japan, Margaret and Phil retired in San Pedro, CA where they lived for 31 years. She continued to play the piano with Phil on the clarinet. She would also accompany her daughter, Miriam and her violin students for recitals as well. She enjoyed tennis, walking, and jogging with Phil.
They ministered and traveled all over the world and she would be a wonderful host to a near constant stream of visitors from all over. Whenever anyone needed serious prayer, she was the go-to person.
She spent lots of quality time with their children, grandchildren, and growing great-grandchildren. For their last decade in CA, they received extensive care from their daughter Miriam with help from their granddaughter Kristina. They also enjoyed time with their son Mark and his family in Florida as well as Steve and Elizabeth who lived with them for a year.
In August of 2020 they moved to Roseville, MN to live in the home of their daughter Karen and her husband Paul, receiving care from them, their daughter Naomi, and Phil’s son Steve. Miriam and Mark visited as often as they could. Phil passed away 12/7/20. She escaped any major mishaps until she fell on 5/24/23. She spent a week in the hospital, three weeks in rehab and a little over three weeks in memory care before she slipped peacefully away to her new home on 7/14/23.
She is survived by her four children Karen Anderson (Paul. Circle Pines MN), Stephen Luttio (Elizabeth. Blaine, MN), Miriam Varvais (Tim. Rancho Palos Verdes, CA), and Mark Luttio (Shirley. Davis, CA).
She also is fondly remembered by her 14 grandchildren, Andrew Anderson, Naomi Anderson, Gabriel Anderson, Erikka Shepp, Israel Anderson, Karis Alexopoulos; Rachel Wolff, Sara Johnstone, Rebecca Luttio; Kristina Varvais; Jacob Luttio, Marcia Pistotti, Isaac Luttio, Melissa Campbell; 30 great-grandchildren along with many nieces and nephews.
Together with Philip, they have 65 descendants now if you include the spouses. We are thankful for the life and legacy of Margaret: a “loving, caring, prayer warrior.”
We would like to invite you to a service celebrating the life of Margaret Clarine Birkedal Luttio
April 4, 1925 - July 14, 2023.
Date: Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Time: 2:00 PM.
Location: Our Saviors Lutheran Church 9185 Lexington Ave. N Circle Pines, MN 55014
We invite you to stay for light refreshments and fellowship following the service. We hope to have an open mic to share your thoughts at the reception.
The prelude will start about 15 minutes before the service.
For those of you unable to come in person, we will be providing a livestream broadcast. The direct link is:
Otherwise anyone can go to the church’s YouTube channel and should be able to watch the video under the “live” tab during the service and after. If you search for our saviors in circle pines, it is easy to find.
If any of you have the time and would like to send in your thoughts and memories of Margaret, we would love it. This could be anything from things you want people to remember, perhaps how she inspired you, interesting stories, sayings, idiosyncrasies, etc. You can post it to the Memory Wall attached to the obituary.
In lieu of flowers and gifts, please honor Margaret, by supporting your favorite Christian ministry or charity.
The four children:
Karen (Luttio) Anderson, Stephen Luttio,
Miriam (Luttio) Varvais,