Hugo Wilbert Norton

Published 10:46 am Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Missionary and leader in theological education Hugo Wilbert “Will” Norton died February 20, 2017 at his residence in Go Ye Village, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Born Feb. 14, 1915, he was 102.

Norton’s passion to serve led him to many nations. He was a missionary in the Congo for 10 years and later founded a Bible institute in Zaire and a seminary in Nigeria. He and Colene, his wife of 77 years, had lived in Tahlequah since February 2004.

Norton’s work in education included serving as professor of missions, dean of education, and president of Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 1950-1964 in Bannockburn, Ill. During his administration Trinity Seminary and Bible College became a liberal arts college, Trinity College.  The seminary was named Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  The transformation included purchase of 79 acres for a campus in Bannockburn.  His tenure included faculty and enrollment increases.

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In 1965 Norton joined the faculty of Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Illinois. He was named dean in 1971, leading nine years of growth and program development. The number of fulltime equivalent students increased nearly 500 percent to more than 400.

He was the second General Secretary of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship (SFMF) that became the Missions Department of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

He was the founder of the Bible Institute of the Ubangi (now Goyongo Theological Seminary), the missions program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and at Wheaton Graduate School.  He also helped found the doctoral program in missions at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1989 and was the founding principal of the Jos/ECWA Theological Seminary in Nigeria, 1980. He served three years in that role.

From 1940 to 1949, Norton was a missionary in the Belgian Congo. While on furlough in 1945-47, he was asked by Christy Wilson, then general secretary of the SFMF, to help plan the first InterVarsity Missions conference in Toronto, Canada. It later would be known as the triennial Urbana Missions Conference at the University of Illinois, later in St. Louis.

His service in the Belgian Congo ended in 1949 when Colene became ill after the death of their fourth son, Timothy Lambie Norton. Dr. Robert McQuilkin hired him for a semester as a visiting professor at Columbia Bible College before he joined the faculty at Trinity Seminary and Bible College in the fall of 1950.

He fostered advancement in theological education in the third world as executive director of the Committee to Assist Ministry Education Overseas, 1983-1989.  He was Professor of Missions at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, 1989 to 1993; and Distinguished Professor of Missions at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, 1994 through 2003.

Norton co-authored the influential missiology volume, What’s Gone Wrong with the Harvest?

Norton was awarded honorary doctorates from Jos Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1995 and Columbia International University in 2012. He was named Alumnus of the Year for Distinguished Service to Society by Wheaton College in 1986 and Distinguished Alumnus of Columbia International University in 1987. He received the Faithful and Able Ministries Award from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1978.

Norton spoke English, Swedish, Lingala, and Mbaka and had reading knowledge of Norwegian and Danish. He was a specialist on the history of the Scandinavian and the Scandinavian-American church.  He spoke widely at mission conferences and was an itinerant speaker throughout the upper Midwest, the South, and all continents except Antarctica.

He was born on February 14, 1915 to Axel Hugo Norton and Victoria Carlson Norton.  His parents were Swedish immigrants, and he grew up in a Swedish neighborhood in Chicago where he attended public schools.  He graduated from Senn High School as vice president of the more than 500-member Class of 1932. He attended Chicago’s Crane Junior College for a year, with author Saul Bellow as a classmate.  He transferred to Wheaton College and graduated in the class of 1936 with a Bachelor of Arts in History/Anthropology.

After Wheaton, Norton enrolled at the newly founded Columbia Biblical Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, where, with several former Wheaton alumni and seminary president McQuilken, the SFMF was founded.

  Norton met his wife, Colene Woodard, at Columbia.  They married in 1939.  In 1940, they traveled to the Belgian Congo for missionary work with the Mission Evangelique de L’Ubangi.

On furlough, Norton began doctoral studies at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. His major professors were Carl F. H. Henry, Charles W. Koller and Peder Stianson. He completed his Th.D. in church history in 1955 and took post-doctoral studies at the University of Chicago in 1964, with R. Pierce Beaver and Paul Tillich.  Tillich had joined the Chicago faculty after his tenure at Harvard.

Survivors include three sons, Will, Jr. (Susan), Peter (Jean) and Seth (Linda); grandchildren: Kathryn Vaughan, Inga Norton, Elisabeth Taylor, Marta Klock, Caroline Smith, William Norton, Mary Margaret Norton and Laine Norton; great-grandchildren: Coal Taylor, Will Taylor, Aria Taylor, Connor Vaughan, Carson Vaughan, Bella Smith, Noah Smith, Kinsey Lee Klock and Ellie Olson Klock.  In addition to his wife Colene and his son, Timothy, Norton was preceded in death by a daughter, Betsy Lynn and two great grandsons, Austin Kinsey Vaughan and Walker Lewis Vaughan.

Hultgren Funeral Home, 304 Main Street, Wheaton, Illinois, is handling funeral arrangements.  In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Norton Scholarship funds at Columbia International University, Reform Theological Seminary, Trinity International University or Wheaton College.