Arthur R. “Art” Rorheim, Co-founder of Awana®, a leading global organization ministering to children and youth, passed away on Friday, January 5, 2018 in Oregon, Illinois. He was 99.
Mr. Rorheim was born May 7, 1918 to Norwegian immigrants who eventually settled in Chicago near the future site of the North Side Gospel Center, the church where Awana would be born. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior at age 10, just days after his older brother, Roy, passed away from a bout of spinal meningitis. Mr. Rorheim soon began attending the Tabernacle Scouts weekly program (a precursor to Awana), at the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle, a church founded by national evangelist Paul Rader.
While at the Tabernacle, Mr. Rorheim met Lance “Doc” Latham and joined Mr. Latham’s White Shirt Brigade, a traveling musical group affiliated with the church. He then followed Mr. Latham to the North Side Gospel Center upon Mr. Latham’s appointment as senior pastor. Mr. Rorheim became director of the church’s weekly Pals club for boys where he discovered his gift and passion for children’s and youth ministry. His heart’s desire was to evangelize children when they were young and equip them with the knowledge to become leaders in the faith.
After short stints in the photography business and as a lathe turret machinist, Mr. Rorheim became the full-time youth director at the North Side Gospel Center (1943). He then began to conceive many of the features that distinguish Awana clubs and youth programs: curriculum handbooks, outreach events that appealed to non-churched children, a system of awards to motivate handbook completion, uniforms and a Game Square to capture children’s interest. He eventually named the program Awana, based on its key verse: 2 Timothy 2:15 (Approved workmen are not ashamed.)
Awana soon began to reach more than 500 children weekly and attracted the attention of other churches around the Midwest. In 1950, Mr. Rorheim and Mr. Latham took the weekly club concept beyond their church and founded the Awana Youth Association as a non-profit provider of curriculum and training materials. Mr. Rorheim guided the organization as executive director, developing Bible-based handbooks, game competitions, summer camps and leader training conferences for church volunteers. Awana serviced 220 U.S. churches by 1960 and 900 by 1970. Mr. Rorheim also spent 40 years directing Camp Awana, which served as a precursor for Awana Scholarship Camps across the nation.
Awana became a global organization in 1972 when Mr. Rorheim started the first international club in Bolivia. He continued to lead the global and national expansion of Awana until retiring as executive director in 1990. He then served as Awana President until 1999 before assuming the role of Co-founder/president emeritus until his passing. Today, Awana has a weekly outreach of more than 4 million children in more than 100 countries.
Art was the beloved husband of the late Winnie Rorheim (nee Hofmann). He is survived by his son and daughter-in-law Ken and Katie; his daughter Kathlyn Brock; four granddaughters, Amy (Gary) Roedding, Julie (Joel) Bales, Kim Ahlgrim, and Kerry (Rich) Gwaltney, 10 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. Mr. Rorheim is preceded in death by his parents, Olaus and Alida and two brothers, Roy and Leif and beloved son-in-law, Dennis Brock.
The visitation/memorial service will take place at Quentin Road Bible Baptist Church, 60 Quentin Road, Lake Zurich, Illinois on Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. Visitation will be held from 9:30 to 11 a.m. followed by the memorial service. Art’s close friend Dr. James Scudder, Sr. will officiate. A luncheon will be served.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Rorheim Legacy Fund, 1 East Bode Road, Streamwood, IL 60107.