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Awana's Winnie Rorheim Passes Away at 97

12-22-2015

Winnie Rorheim, wife of Awana Co-Founder Art Rorheim, died Tuesday morning at 2 a.m. in Rockford, Illinois. She was 97.

Mrs. Rorheim is known best for serving for years alongside her husband as he created and pioneered the Awana program for children.

Today, Awana is a global ministry that reaches around 2.9 million children and youth in more than a 100 countries with the gospel message of Christ.

"We knew God called us to this ministry together," Art Rorheim said. "I could never have done anything without her. Whatever she was asked to do, she did with excellence and a humble spirit. And she did a wonderful job of nurturing our children and running our home."

Winnie was born on March 8, 1918 in Chicago to her parents Carl and Kate Hofmann. During her childhood, her parents divorced. She had to care for her two younger sisters while her mother worked long days to support them.

During that time, she attended a youth club meeting in Chicago and gave her life to Christ. She later met her husband Art at another youth club. They married in 1939.

Art had a prosperous job in a machine shop when they first married. However, he went into ministry fulltime leaving that lucrative job behind.

He became youth director at the North Side Gospel Center. He started a program there that was the foundation for the program that would later be known as Awana.

At one point their income dropped from $150 to $40 a week despite the club's popularity.

"I took care of the money," Winnie said in telling their story. "One day I told Art, 'We aren't going to make it."

They converted part of their home into apartments and took in tenants to make ends meet. They saw that as a way God provided for their ministry.

They both agreed God provided ways to meet their needs throughout the years.

The Awana Youth Association was officially founded in 1950 by Art Rorheim and Lance Latham as a national organization assisting churches in starting their own clubs.

"I knew God had called Art to have a part in beginning Awana," Winnie said. "As his wife, I, too, wanted to share God's calling."

Winnie served alongside her husband for more than 40 years to grow the club. Sometimes, she was a volunteer and other times an employee, helping wherever needed.

When asked about preparing for ministry, she said neither she nor Art had any special preparation for a life of ministry.

"Just get out there and do things for God," she would advise. "He will use you. He always provides what you need."

"Winnie not only enabled Art to serve as he did, but also made an eternal impact through her own ministry," Awana President/CEO Jack Eggar said. "No individual is more responsible for the success of Awana than Art Rorheim, and much of that is due to Winnie's support."

She is survived by her husband, Art, two adult children, four granddaughters, 10 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at North Love Baptist Church, 5301 East Riverside Boulevard, Rockford, Illinois, on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016.

Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and the service will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be donated to the Awana Winnie Rorheim Memorial Fund at winnierorheim.org.

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