Arne Bakken: Lifting with Love in Norway


Elsie Bakken sat meditating in the London Temple Visitors’ Center. The year was 1957, and she had traveled from Norway to the temple dedication alone because her husband, Arne, wasn’t a member. She pondered the comment made years ago by her mission president when she had asked him about Arne Bakken, a young man who fit her ideal in every way but was not a Latter-day Saint. There were so very few LDS young men in her country at the time. “He will be a member,” the mission president had said.

At first, things looked promising. Since marrying Elsie on 13 July 1940, Arne Bakken had attended church every Sunday, contributed generously to the building fund, and participated wholeheartedly in family history research. He had even accepted a Church calling. But it took many years for this stubborn Norwegian to accept the gospel and be baptized.

Arne Bakken was born on 11 November 1911 in a rural town in the Telemark region of Norway, where perseverance played as much a part of tradition as outdoor life. Fiercely proud of his Norwegian heritage, Arne grew up with determination and self-sufficiency, deciding as a young boy that he would never break his word.

Later, while he was serving as a neutrality guard when World War II broke out, he was captured by the Nazis. During the occupation, he worked in the resistance movement. As an engineer in the Oslo city planning office, Arne had access to plans of buildings where the Nazis were headquartered; and, despite threats against his life, he disclosed helpful information to the resistance. At times when his life was endangered, he hid in the long supply lines, slipping to the back of the line again and again whenever he got close to the front.

After the war, Arne worked for an employers’ association, representing employers in negotiations with workers. The laborers soon learned that Arne played fair. They valued his advice and often considered their employers’ viewpoints; they would say, “Bakken said this is a fair wage. We’ll stop at that.” People came to trust and rely upon Arne’s intelligence and discipline.

Although Elsie, a third-generation Latter-day Saint, missed the priesthood leadership she had known in her own home, she knew that her husband was a good and upright man. Arne dedicated himself to his daughter, Bente, and son, Borre, teaching them his love of the outdoors through hikes and downhill and cross-country skiing outings. He helped them with their schoolwork, patiently answering questions and expecting them to excel. Bente says, “If you came home with an accomplishment and did good work, but not superior, he would praise you, of course, but you were disappointed in yourself.”

But he was not emotionless. Arne cried when eight-year-old Bente was baptized by someone other than her father; Bente looked up at Arne in innocent faith and said, “I hope you can do it for Borre.” Arne would later confess that he had had a testimony of the gospel for years before he was baptized, but “wasn’t humble enough” to accept it.

Finally, Arne decided to fast—although pride kept him from admitting to anyone else that he was doing so. He received a confirmation that the gospel was true. In June 1960, Arne surprised Elsie with the news that he would be baptized the following day.

Once Arne had earnestly humbled himself and willingly entered the waters of baptism, he experienced a great change of heart. In his first expressed testimony, he spoke of the guards of the city gate, discovered at the remains of Pompeii. They alone remained at their posts while the rest of the city ran from the disaster.

Arne was similarly diligent. Within a year after his baptism, Arne was called to be a branch president, and soon afterward, he served as a counselor to Norway’s mission president. In this calling, Arne traveled all over Norway and learned to love and serve the people.

His genuine interest in others endeared him to many. The story of his own resistance to joining the Church softened the hearts of those who wavered, especially less-active members and nonmember men whose wives were members. As a home teacher, he faithfully visited one member for four years until, finally, the man opened the door to let Arne in. After becoming Arne’s friend, the man came back to church and eventually served as a branch president.

Arne’s commitment to gospel principles also helped those who needed encouragement. One brother listened to him testify about tithing, but still insisted that he couldn’t pay it: his wife had given him a list of Christmas presents for the children that would leave them without the money to do so. Arne promised him that things would work out if he could exercise the faith to pay tithing. His friend later told Arne that shortly after the family had paid their tithing, an aunt they hadn’t heard from in years sent an unexpected Christmas package—filled with items his wife had put on the list.

In 1961, Elsie Bakken returned to the London Temple. This time she entered the temple, but she still sat with tears in her eyes. The tears, however, were tears of joy as she watched her husband officiate for a Norwegian session—a session made up entirely of names he had searched for before joining the Church. Arne’s love of family history had led him to find more than six thousand names to submit for temple work.

While he was serving as a counselor in the mission presidency under five successive mission presidents, Arne enjoyed temple trips to London for Norwegian Saints. When the Stockholm Temple was constructed, Arne Bakken was called as the first counselor in the temple presidency. He served diligently despite health problems. He once commented about a pain in his leg. Well aware of her husband’s high threshold for pain, Elsie convinced him to have his leg checked. The doctor told Arne he had been walking on a broken leg for months!

In 1986 he developed cancer of the connective tissues. Arne continued to put religious devotion ahead of personal comfort until he finally had no choice. He had to enter the hospital. His last act performed before leaving the temple typified Arne’s sense of duty. All alone, he walked through the temple to make sure everything was in order, locked the temple doors, and consented to have Elsie drive him to the hospital.

Arne’s illness brought suffering and submission. He felt he needed such an experience to make up for his own discipline and determination, and he considered the illness a phase of completion that, in a sense, rounded out his life.

During Arne’s last months of mortality, a feeling of peace pervaded the Bakken home. The family grew closer than ever before, speaking openly of death and of their love for each other. Visitors sensed their love and Arne’s calm faith. Many business and military associates who came to visit told Elsie, “We came with heavy hearts, and Arne uplifted us.”

Arne Bakken died on 11 October 1986, but Church members still talk of his influence—the way he fellowshipped them, encouraged them, helped them. They remember the proud Norwegian who humbled himself before God and served Him throughout his life.

Arne’s family remembers a devoted husband and father whose love of family extended beyond the veil. His dedication to the gospel influenced generations—those who came before and those who are yet to come.

[photos] Arne as a young military cadet (left); Arne and Elsie at Stockholm Sweden Temple dedication, June 1985; Arne and Elsie with their children and grandchildren, also in June 1985. (Photography by Philip S. Shurtleff.)

Kimberly Jacobs Wagner, who serves as Relief Society Spiritual Living teacher in the Brigham Young University Fifth Ward, BYU Eleventh Stake, collected this information while visiting Oslo, Norway.