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Pastor with a Past: Minneota man was ‘in a downward spiral’ of drugs & crime, before he committed his life to God.

By Scott Thoma

Pastor Tom Nomeland has collected over 6,000 theological books in the library office at his home in Minneota. Nomeland has been a pastor in Minneota since 1982. Prior to the seminary and committing his life to God, Nomeland was a troubled teen, using drugs and having run-ins with the police. Photo by Scott Thoma.

As a pastor in Minneota for the past 42 years, Tom Nomeland often tried to help others who may be facing adversity or trying to make a better life for themselves.

Who better to understand their situation than Nomeland, who has come full circle with his life.

“I started smoking when I was five years old,” he said, managing to laugh about it now.

As a young boy, Nomeland befriended several older boys and began smoking and drinking, eventually being introduced to drugs and other wrongdoings as he got older.

“I had five run-ins with the police when I was around 12 years old,” he admitted. “I am certainly not proud of any of this, but it led me to where I am today -- at peace with myself and a much better person.”

Most community members know of some of the trials and tribulations that he has gone through in his life. His eagerness and willingness to turn his life around has made him a respected man in the community.

Nomeland grew up in Minneota. His mother, Agnes, was the city administrator for many years. She and her first husband, Everett Kjorness, had three children, Steve, Paula and Donna. Everett was killed during World War II, however, and Agnes eventually married Kenny Nomeland in 1947, and they had two children, Amy and Tom.

“My dad worked for a heavy equipment company and he was gone a lot,” Nomeland said. “My mom worked full time and had five kids to raise. We were not well off and we struggled, as a lot of families did back then. All seven of us lived in a one-bedroom house.”

Because of the limited supervision, Nomeland was free to roam around town.

“My brother, Steve (Kjorness) was 15 years older than me, and the other kids in the family were girls, so when I was four or five years old, I started hanging around some older boys who were 12 or 13 and thought it was ‘cool’ to smoke.”

When Nomeland was only seven years old, his mother found a pack of cigarettes in his jacket pocket, although the punishment he received was unexpected.

“Mom pulled me in the house and dad happened to be home that day,” Nomeland recalled. “My parents both smoked, so they each lit a cigarette and told me to ‘light up’ and smoke with them.”

Nomeland often went down to the creek to smoke and his mother insisted that as long as he smoked when they weren’t around, he might as well smoke along with them.

“I knew it was wrong,” Nomeland said. “I was very sensitive to bad things, so I quit. I caused my mother so much heartache. She was afraid to take me places even when I was only four years old because of my (colorful) language. I would do anything just to see if I could get away with it. My mother gave the other kids in the family a curfew, but she never gave me one ... she probably figured it wasn’t worth it.”

Nomeland also admittedly had a “flash temper,” but getting into athletics helped to keep that somewhat in check.

“I got into a few fights because of my temper,” he said. “When I started playing football, I was able to let out some of that aggression. I loved the physical contact of hitting and getting hit.”

He also joined the wrestling team, which he credits with helping him become more disciplined. Because Nomeland had asthma back then, tragedy almost struck him twice in the weight room and forced him to quit the team.

“I almost died twice at wrestling practice,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe. There were no inhalers back then. The practice room is musty and smelly and it was hard for me to breathe, so the doctor told me I needed to quit.”

Tom Nomeland, back row, second from left, was an outfielder with the elite Red Eyes softball team in the 1970s. Contributed photo.

Nomeland also played on the high school baseball team as an outfielder.

Upon graduation in 1970, Nomeland’s plan was to enlist in the U.S. Navy.

“We didn’t have any money as a family for me to go to college,” he said. “I really didn’t like school anyway. My dad and brother were both in the Navy, so I thought I would join. Computers were becoming a big thing and I wanted to do something with that in the Navy.”

Eventually, though, that dream was curtailed when Nomeland failed his physical and was given a 4-F classification because of his asthma.

“I felt like my life was over because I had no idea what to do,” he said. “I lived in Minneapolis for a year and worked in a hardware store. It turned out to be the loneliest year of my life, so I came back to Minneota.”

He started hanging out with some of the guys he grew up with and started smoking pot, taking drugs, and drinking with them.

“It started a downward spiral,” Nomeland said. “I was smoking pot and drinking all the time. I had the longest hair in town for a guy too.”

Because he and his buddies were also stellar athletes, they played on a men’s slow-pitch softball team that Nomeland was credited with naming the “Red Eyes,” a reference to the players’ habit of often smoking pot.

“We even got an older Swift’s Hatchery truck and made it into a team bus,” said Nomeland. “We painted it red and had a big bloodshot eye on the side of it.”

The team became nearly unbeatable, not losing a single game in the league for three years. They won most of the weekend tournaments they entered too.

Because of his family’s religious background, Nomeland was always sensitive about sin and afraid he might go to hell because of the way he had lived his life.

“My plan was to give my life to Christ when I turned 65,” he said. “That way, I felt I  could still have some fun in the meantime, but not end up in hell.”

Three members of the Red Eyes softball team became what Nomeland had referred to as “Jesus Freaks.” Some members of the team began picking on them for choosing a religious path.

“Those three guys started sharing the Gospel with me and I found it very interesting,” Nomeland said. “I was ready to give my life to Christ then, but I knew if I did that, I would have to give up smoking pot, some other drugs, booze, loud music, and clean up my language. I was contemplating all those things and I came across a verse, which is my life verse now.”

That verse is Mark 10:29-30, which reads: “No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

Pastor Tom Nomeland preaching at Bethel Fellowship Church. Photo by Scott Thoma.

“Basically, you lose everything but gain a relationship with God,” Nomeland explained. “What you give up is given back to you when you find God.”

Nomeland laid on his bed that night in 1973 with his eyes closed and thought about everything.

“There was a window to my right and I was praying and I saw in my mind’s eye a black mass sailing over to the window. I jerked up in bed because it scared me. The next morning when I woke up, I knew I had surrendered myself to Christ. I had peace in my heart, I loved people, had no desire to do drugs or drink. It felt great.”

Nomeland started attending church on a regular basis, absorbed every religious reading material he could get his hands on, and became fully committed to God.

Nomeland married his wife, Elana in 1974. They have one daughter, Rebekah. Tom and Elana will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

In 1982, Nomeland became the pastor at Bethel Fellowship Church, a non-denominational church in Minneota, and has been there ever since. The congregation built the current church that same year.

For 36 years, Nomeland was the general manager for Superior Truss and later Universal Forest Products; 27 of those while he was also pastor of Bethel Fellowship.

Nomeland has been on eight mission trips in Africa and Asia. Elana traveled with him to some of those mission trips.

Nomeland’s church has also been giving to the people of Minneota, offering free Thanksgiving meals to the public each year, as well as providing a meal each year for the school teachers, administrators and other staff members as a way of thanking them for their work with the children.

“I’m very much at peace,” he said. “I chose the path I was meant to choose. It took getting around a few roadblocks along the way, but I chose the path I was meant to follow.”

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