Forum writers share how their mothers modeled faith and goodness

Roxane Salonen's "Faith Conversations" feature for Mother's Day explores the impact on some Forum staff members and columnists.

FARGO — The gift of motherhood is one women uniquely bring to the Body of Christ, says University of St. Thomas professor and author Elizabeth M. Kelly.

“Our dignity is tied up in being the keepers of life.”

Through our mothers, we first glimpse the face of God. In celebration of Mother’s Day 2020, these Forum staff members and columnists share how their moms have influenced their faith.

Editor-in-Chief Matthew Von Pinnon describes his mother, Elaine, as having been fairly quiet, but with a “strong sense of empathy for the less fortunate and underrepresented.”

“She taught my older sister and me to consider ourselves fortunate, and that we should not judge anyone until we walked a mile in their shoes,” Von Pinnon says. “My sister and I both became journalists, and I believe we are both driven in part to provide voice to the voiceless and look out for the underdog.”


Matt Von Pinnon and his mother, Elaine, at his college graduation from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1994. Special to The Forum

He recalls her “great soul and appreciation of art,” along with her love of music of all kinds. Elaine died unexpectedly on Mother’s Day in 2010, after they enjoyed the day together and “parted with a hug,” Von Pinnon shares.

“I miss her kind and gentle presence all the time.”

Nicole Phillips, “Kindness is Contagious” columnist, says faith lessons from her mother were “more caught than taught.”

“She’s one of those people who looks at everything as a miracle.”

Sometimes, Phillips would roll her eyes at this, saying, “Mom, it’s not a miracle that the garbage people come on garbage day,” she shares. Yet, “she taught me to be grateful for the everyday little ways.”


Nicole Phillips with her mother, Jean McGovern, in October 2017. Special to The Forum

Her mom’s attentiveness to outcasts and appreciation for other cultures also modeled a compassionate faith.

“There was always this sense that people who are different from us aren’t to be feared but learned from.”

Phillips says becoming a mother herself has softened her perspective, helping her “see with new eyes.” She considers her mom her “original kindness teacher,” adding, “She’s always been so gentle in her words about others, and I appreciate that so much.”

Katie Pinke, Agweek's publisher and a columnist, says when she became pregnant at 18, her mother, Jane Lukens, jumped in to help care for her baby so she could continue with college.

And recently, when a skiing accident left that same child, now 22, paralyzed from his chest down, Lukens returned with a ready heart.

“We’re actually living with my parents right now,” Pinke says. “During this transition (of pandemic and recovery), they’ve humbly opened their doors to us.”


Katie Pinke and her mother, Jane Lukens, on Mother's Day 2018. Special to The Forum

Though mom and daughter vary in personality, Pinke says, they’ve always been “loyal friends.”

“She will quietly encourage while pushing me to improve myself,” whether in her role as mother, professional or wife.

Pinke says when it comes to cooking and serving, her mom is “better than Martha Stewart.”

“She’s filled our freezer with pans of homemade meals and taught me how to can and garden and bake.”

Katie Pinke and her mother, Jane Lukens, and daughters, Elizabeth and Anika Pinke, during barley harvest in August 2019 on the farm where Jane grew up near Aneta, N.D. Special to The Forum

And in all times, her mother’s constant faith in God has offered a sure path.


“The most important thing I’ve learned from her is loving and caring for others. It comes from that farm-woman resilience — just doing the next thing.”

Forum reporter Barry Amundson says his mother, Rita, 87, makes all seven of her kids feel like the favorite.

“She’s always been very understanding, very giving,” he says, noting how tenderly she cared for his father in his final years.

Rita and Barry Amundson at Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church in Walcott, N.D. Special to The Forum

At Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church in Walcott, N.D., which her own grandfather helped build more than 100 years ago, his mom takes tickets at their lutefisk dinner every year, while he “just serves the smelly stuff.”

Calling her cooking — and especially her homemade lefse — “amazing,” Amundson says after saying grace, “We used to eat so fast. With seven, you had to try to get as much as you could.”

This Mother’s Day, she’ll likely cook for him again, sharing stories along the way.


“She has an amazing memory, remembering things from way back in her childhood.”

Including the day he was born.

“She wanted my grandma to know, so she had (my birth) announced at noon on the radio.”

Emma Vatnsdal, a features reporter, recently had a marathon FaceTime session with her mom, Mary, “sitting together” from their respective spots and working — she on her latest article, and her mother, on her online art class.

“I got to hear her getting frustrated with a student,” Vatnsdal giggles.

Emma Vatnsdal, age 6, with her mother, Mary, in Grand Rapids, Minn., where they used to go every year to get their Christmas tree and go on sleigh rides with their family. Special to The Forum

Her mom has always been one to roll up her sleeves, she says, initially working as an architectural draftswoman, returning to college while pregnant with Vatnsdal’s little brother to become an art teacher.


“Her first day of teaching was my first day of kindergarten.”

Vatnsdal says her mother’s faith is simple but certain.

“She’s always been part of the church body. She helped teach Sunday school, and made church a place that felt like home,” she says, adding, “She’s my best friend. I can tell her anything about anything, without judgment. She’s just one of the greatest people I’ve ever known.”

Emma Vatnsdal and her mother, Mary, in November 2019. Courtesy of Jordan Leslie Photography / Special to The Forum

“Neighbors” columnist Bob Lind says his mother, Iva Lind, modeled gentleness to him and his two sisters growing up.

“I can’t ever remember her bawling us out. If she had to correct us — and yes, she sometimes needed to — it was in a gentle way.”

She also exhibited a warm attentiveness and “would listen quietly and take it all in,” Lind says. When his father, who worked at the grain elevator in the small town of Niagara, N.D., came home each night, he would find a neat, calm home with a wife who, in Lind’s memory, “was just marvelous — patient and calm” and “cranked out some great dishes.”

Lind lives with one regret, however.

“I still kick myself for not having told her how much I appreciated her,” he says. “If you’ve still got your mom, I would encourage you to tell her sometimes you appreciate her for all that she does.”

Forum columnist Bob Lind (far left) was 15 when this photo was taken in July 1948 with his mother, Iva Lind, and mother's uncle Jim Beckley in front of the house in Niagara, N.D., where Lind grew up. Special to The Forum

Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage,

What To Read Next
Get Local