Centenarian served as missionary, teacher, and pastor

Staff writer

Arthur “Art” Unrau of Hillsboro knows what it means to live by faith. In their early years as missionaries, he and his wife, Isabelle, had no outside support and did not know how they would survive from year to year.

“We were young and eager, and God provided,” he said.

Unrau turned 100 on Feb. 15. Isabel died in 2005 after almost 67 years of marriage. The couple had moved to Hillsboro in 1975. Art now resides with his daughter, Elvera, and her husband, Charles Rempel.

Exhibiting a sharp memory, Unrau recently shared the story of his life. He was born near Harvey, N.D., and grew up in eastern Montana where his parents homesteaded in 1916.

He met his wife while attending Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis, Minn. They were married in 1938 and eventually had four children.

Unrau had finished one year of seminary when he and his wife were called to mission work at the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. They had decided as a couple that they wanted to serve the Lord as Bible teachers, so they accepted the call.

Unrau received a minister’s license, but they had no monetary support. They moved their trailer house to the reservation and heated it with wood cut from surrounding forests.

“It was war time, and schools couldn’t get teachers,” he said. “So they hired me to teach for one year even though I didn’t have a teacher’s certificate.”

The school district provided a furnished cottage. Unrau rode the bus to the school every day, which was on the other side of a large lake.

When his teaching job was finished, the couple moved again, to a log cabin that had no well. They got their water from the lake.

The lake would freeze over with three or four feet of ice in winter, so Unrau had to devise a way of getting water. He made a hand-dug well and figured out a way to draw water from the well using a rope and pulley. The water never froze.

After one year, they moved to another cabin, and Unrau served as postmaster for the community for two years.

At first, Unrau held services in the homes of the Chippewa natives. Later, when the couple had a larger cottage, services were held there. The community sometimes allowed the Unraus to hold special meetings in the schoolhouse.

After eight years, the couple transferred to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southern South Dakota, where the Central District of the Mennonite Brethren Church Conference sought to establish a mission.

They arrived in 1948 and built a church in Pine Ridge in 1950. Several years later, they built a church in the outlying community of Porcupine. As in Minnesota, Unrau also conducted home services.

One of the homes he visited was 15 miles west of Pine Ridge. He conducted Monday services there to bring in some who went elsewhere on Sunday. Those services produced a rewarding result. A grandchild of the couple living there was converted and now serves at Pine Ridge with his wife and family.

Teaching and preaching

After 18 years at Pine Ridge, the Unraus moved to Montana, where he taught a Bible class at Lustre Bible Academy and also served as a custodian and bus driver. Isabelle worked as a cook for boarders. They spent two years there.

Before moving to Hillsboro in 1975, they served pastorates in Montana and Colorado for seven years.

Unrau remained active after moving to Hillsboro. He served the Church of God at Durham for two years. He was the custodian at the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church for 11 years. He also was chairman of the Hillsboro Senior Citizens organization for nine years.

Unrau enjoyed leading services at nursing homes and the Wichita Rescue Mission. His wife always accompanied him. He is still a member of the rescue mission board and recently attended a meeting of the board. He is a member of the Hillsboro Lions Club.

Unrau said his work among Native Americans was challenging but was received well by some.

“Some people were interested in the truth of the Word,” he said.

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