As Al Quie is laid to rest, another family remembers enduring bond of faith, friendship

Future Minnesota governor recruited Latino pastor to serve small-town congregation

Four people gather around a dining room table
Pastor Mishael Hernandez (left) with Albert and Gretchen Quie in their dining room near Nerstrand, Minn., in the 1950s. Al Quie -- who later served as governor of Minnesota -- recruited Hernandez to serve as interim pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Nerstrand.
Courtesy of Miriam Hernandez

Al Quie will be remembered at funeral services this weekend as a former governor, a longtime member of Congress — and above all, a statesman.

But it was in his role as a church committeeman, a lifetime ago when he was a southern Minnesota dairy farmer, that he reached out to a stranger — and formed an unexpected family bond that endures to this day.

In the 1950s, Mishael Hernandez was a son of Mexican immigrants in California, his dad a Methodist minister. He had a wife and four kids in the Central Valley, he loved music, worked as a church choir director and was going to school to be a teacher.

But Hernandez decided he had a different destiny — as a Lutheran pastor. He liked the music better.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

A black and white portrait of a man in a suit and tie
Mishael Hernandez, who served as interim pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Nerstrand, Minn., in the late 1950s.
Courtesy of Miriam Hernandez

“I don’t know how he made the connection. If he wrote a letter first, or if he just turned up at the seminary. I don’t know. But he packed us up in just a Chevy, a convertible of all things, and we traveled to Minnesota,” recalled his daughter, Miriam, who was a preschooler when the family drove onto campus at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

The Hernandez family toughed out a Minnesota winter while Mishael — flattened out to Michael in Minnesota — studied at the seminary.

Then one day in 1956, Al Quie showed up at the Hernandez family’s duplex on Larpenteur Avenue. He was a dairy farmer and state senator from near Nerstrand — where he was also on the “call committee” of Grace Lutheran Church, which traced its roots to his own family’s arrival in Minnesota.

Quie was looking for an interim pastor to serve the community and congregation that had been founded by Norwegian immigrants.

“He loved committees and legislation, no matter if it was civic or ecclesiastic,” recalled his son, Joel Quie, the now-retired longtime pastor of Prairie Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie.

Miriam Hernandez remembered the visit.

“I don’t know how many other people might have been interviewed or looked at, but Al Quie seemed to be intent on having my dad,” she said.

A church stands next to a water tower
Grace Lutheran Church in Nerstrand, Minn., photographed in August 2019.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

And Quie got him: Hernandez, his wife Virginia, and their children moved into the church parsonage in Nerstrand and into the congregation. The Quie family, descendants of Norwegian farmers, and the Hernandezes, children of Mexican migrants from the farm fields of California, became friends and fellows in faith.

A yellow pitcher sits on a table
This yellow Melmac pitcher was given as a gift from Gretchen Quie to Virginia Hernandez when the Quies hosted the Hernandez family for a dinner in the 1950s. The Hernandez family still has it, decades later.
Courtesy of Miriam Hernandez

Miriam Hernandez remembered a dinner party where her mom admired the Quies’ oh-so-modern yellow Melmac table pitcher — which Gretchen Quie promptly handed over as a gift. And the Hernandez family still has it, more than six decades later.

Joel Quie said he isn’t surprised his dad championed a Latino pastor in rural Minnesota during the Eisenhower era. Quie doesn’t believe his dad saw anything but a man of faith in Hernandez.

“Just sort of an amazing turn of events that all these Lutheran farmers and townspeople had the vision and the understanding to call this wonderful Pastor Hernandez, and then the families just sort of blended, because of our parents,” he said.

A family in fresh snow in a black and white photo from the 1950s
The Hernandez family at the Grace Lutheran Church parsonage in Nerstrand, Minn., during a winter in the late 1950s.
Courtesy of Miriam Hernandez

Sadly, that initial connection was short-lived: Al Quie won election to Congress in 1958, and the family moved to Washington, D.C. Mishael Hernandez and his family moved on to another congregation, in Glendorado, west of Princeton. His daughter said that congregation eventually voted him out — “he believed it was for racial reasons,” she said.

The Lutheran church sent him to Arizona, then tried to get him to move to Brazil as a missionary, which he did not want. His daughter said he eventually gave up.

“He was profoundly disappointed when he had to leave the church. He went on to teach music and create art, and work as a social worker. But he was kind of a broken man after that,” she said. He died of liver cancer at age 50, in 1972.

While the Hernandez family had moved out-of-state, several of the children — including Miriam — came back to attend the University of Minnesota, and went on to long careers making a positive impact on the lives of Minnesotans.

But the connection between the two families waned for years. Then about a decade ago, Joel Quie asked his dad about the Latino name on his baptismal record — and heard the story of that year in Nerstrand, long overshadowed by the rise of Al Quie’s political career. Al Quie was once even considered by Gerald Ford as a potential vice president.

Albert H. Quie
Al Quie, former Minnesota governor and congressman, photographed in 1979.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Miriam and Joel re-connected on Facebook about five years ago, and consider each other family. They are remembering their shared Minnesota childhoods again, in the wake of Al Quie’s death in August at age 99. The former governor will lie in state at the Minnesota Capitol on Friday, be celebrated at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis on Saturday, and be buried in Valley Grove Cemetery.

He’ll be buried with the rest of his family near what was their farm — and near Mishael Hernandez.

The former pastor chose, of all places, to be buried back in 1972 among the Quies and other Nerstrand residents, in rural Minnesota.

“It’s a lovely place on a little hilltop,” Miriam Hernandez said, just down the road from where her dad found an enduring happiness and a fast friend.

“They will be together again.”

Two church buildings atop a hill
The Valley Grove church buildings -- 1862 stone church on the left, 1894 wood church on the right -- stand atop a hill amid farm fields near Nerstrand, Minn. This view is from August 2019.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News