Virginia Culver Elsen quietly slipped away to her eternal home in the presence of Jesus Saturday evening, Jan. 23, 2021, surrounded by her children and family at her beloved Northwoods home.

Known as Mom to 13, Grandma to 40 and Great- grandma to 63, she was affectionately known as Aunt Ginny to hundreds over four generations, now scattered around the world. 

Born to Eleonora and Andrew Clinton Culver in Hartford, Conn., on Nov. 20, 1920, she was blessed with faith-filled, attentive parents.

Growing up in Hartford, she enjoyed summers at the family’s rustic cabin in the Berkshire Mountains where she loved to fish and pick berries. Her lifelong love of animals was kindled in Brier, where the postmaster supplied her with a kitten each summer. 

Because of her inquisitive mind, her parents pointed her to Wheaton College in Illinois, where she thrived in the chemistry program and attracted the undivided attention of classmate, John Elsen. Though a chemical reaction was in motion by their graduation in 1942, they temporarily went their separate ways.

They were married in West Hartford, Conn., in 1944, after Virginia completed a Master’s in Chemistry at Rutgers University while John was attending Northwestern University Medical School. Virginia worked in the labs at Continental Can and Chicago Lying-In Hospital until their first child was born. 

While living in a basement studio apartment in downtown Chicago, Ill., the call for housing for missionaries at the annual Moody Church Missions Conference provided an opportunity that changed their lives. John came home with two Army surplus cots and they took in two mission­aries for the week. That decision set in motion a pattern and passion that expanded throughout their lives. 

Virginia also determined that life as an only child, though pleasant, was not the home that she wanted. Two boys were born and a third on the way when they moved out of their basement apartment to Evanston, Ill., in 1949, where John established a medical practice.

Virginia’s aptitude for ordered reactions translated into household management and cooking. Twin girls were born in 1951. Two more girls, age 10 and 14, moved in while their mother finished nursing school and all three quickly became a permanent part of the family.

Missionaries and their families found a warm welcome under the busy roof. It was clear that John and Virginia’s modest home was not large enough for its growing crowd.

In God’s providential timing, a formally elegant “mansion” around the corner became affordable. Mom moved the kitchen and the rest of the family did their part with wagons, suitcases, boxes and automobiles. 

Virginia brought four more children into the world at Elinor Place, accompanied by numerous foster children and an adopted son. Virginia’s father joined the family in 1957, when the sudden death of his wife altered his planned retirement. Grandpa Culver became an indispensible pres­ence in every facet of family life until his death in 1977. Virginia’s Aunt Erma also spent the last four years of her life in Virginia’s care.

Missionary families on “furlough,” unwed mothers, mis­sionary children needing a place for high school in the U.S., and international students, all found a place in the Elsen home, some for days, weeks, months and even years.

Under her supervision the children straightened their bedrooms every day, set dining tables, served meals, washed dishes, ironed their own clothes, and once a week cleaned the entire house: five bathrooms and 14 bedrooms, as well as the kitchen, etc.

Sunday dinner was its own event with china dishes, formal glassware and a sumptuous feast with Grandpa Culver’s fruit salad, finishing with coffee in chi­na cups and dessert, though Virginia never drank coffee. College presidents sat across from the homeless. Missionaries or Northwestern University international students from countries with exotic names mingled with neighborhood kids. There were never less than 20 and occasionally more than 30 at the tables and always room for one more. 

December found Virginia and Grandpa in the kitchen, making hundreds of decorated fruit­cakes for family, friends, neighbors and teachers. The children helped with decorating and wrap­ping. On Christmas night the family caroled throughout the neighborhood, musical instruments and all, handing out the fruitcakes and celebrating the good news of the Christ child’s birth. 

While her household kept her in constant motion, Virginia found time to work at Moody Church with the 2- and 3-year-olds and she and John led the College and Career Club. For many years she served on the Dewey School PTA and on the Evanston Township High School Combined Studies Committee. Dewey School teachers looked forward to the annual luncheon she hosted for them. She enjoyed reading to her children and parlayed that pleasure into record­ing books on tape for ETHS students with reading disabilities. 

In 1969 Virginia and John were able to purchase the empty White Buck Lodge in Three Lakes, Wis. The lodge building itself was not habitable for a number of years, but that first year Virginia set up housekeeping with her family in an outbuilding on the property for a Thanksgiv­ing weekend with no running water or plumbing, 18 inches of snow and single-digit temperatures. “The Lodge” became home away from home whenever school was out. It also became a getaway for countless friends of all ages, missionaries, groups from the inner cities, international students, and assorted organizations. “Aunt Ginny” managed to find a plate and a bed for them all.

What was the driving force motivating and energizing this extraordinary but unassuming woman? As a “sinner saved by Grace” she lived with an uncomplicated trust in the Jesus of the Bible and took his exhortation to serve and care for others seriously. As she did what she could, God would do his part and supply the resources and the energy to complete the tasks. She found fulfillment and joy in serving.

As a young mother she enjoyed ice skating and sledding with her children in the winter and picnicking and water activities in the summer. But, as she grew older, the hours walking her dog, preparing meals and folding laundry were occupied with prayer.

May­be that’s why she knew the names and ages of all her 100-plus children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She prayed for them every day. She knew the status of the hundreds of names in her address book, which she updated and prayed for even at the age of 100.

Her absence will leave an unfillable hole in our lives, but we celebrate an amazing life devoutly and consistently lived, her entrance into heavenly realms, and the approval of the God she loved. 

Virginia was predeceased by her parents; John, her husband of 71 years; two sons, John III and David Carl; a foster daughter, Sharon Muir (the Rev. James); a daughter-in-law, Susan Heather; and a granddaughter, Aana Elsen Blalock. 

She is survived by eight children, Andrew (Carol) of Missoula, Mont., Paul (Mary Beth) of Win­nebago, Ill., Sylvia Lovett (Michael) of White Bear Lake, Minn., Patricia Hubbard (Philip) of North­field, Ill., Kimberley Klamm (Thomas) of Evans­ton, Edward of Evans­ton, Virginia (Jose Ocariz) of Spooner, Wis., Carol (Peter Jourdain) of Whitewater, Wis., a foster daughter, Jo Nell Hargrave (Albion) of Phoenix, Ariz.; and many grandchildren, their spouses and children. 

Burial will be in Rockford, Ill. A Memorial worship/celebration gathering will be held in Three Lakes, at Three Lakes Evangelical Free Church. Memorial gifts may be sent to the Moody Church Missions Department, 1635 N LaSalle, Chicago, IL 60614 or Three Lakes Evangelical Free Church Mis­sions Department, 1614 State Hwy 32, Three Lakes, WI 54562. 

Arrangements by Gaff­ney-Busha Funeral Home, Eagle River. Online condolences may be expressed at gaffney-busha.com.

PAID OBITUARY