Just Passin Through: Clergyman heading west for winter

By Ryan Lengerich

Editor’s note: Just Passin’ Through is a weekly feature profiling the interesting people who stay only briefly in the community.
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For the past five years, Clergyman Les Niemi and his wife Marsha have made a night stay at the Holiday Inn on Tucumcari Blvd. a routine on their way to their winter house in Lake Havusu, Colo.

On trip number six they did not — at least not on purpose.
“It is God’s will,” Niemi said. “You can’t go through here without stopping.”

The Niemi’s, traveling from their summer home in Au Train, Mich., stopped at Love’s Country Stop on Mountain Road to fill up for gas. They were attempting for the first time to bypass the hotel, but when they shut the car off and filled up, the car wouldn’t start.

The Niemi’s said they may be forced to spend the night as they have the past several years.

Niemi is a clergyman with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, a body of about 5 million people. A man of Finnish decent, Niemi represents the Finnish Lutheran aspect of the church.

After years of preaching, Niemi worked at Suami College in Michigan. Niemi played basketball at the school as a student and said he is the leading scorer in school history and the only Suami player ever to have a jersey retired.

“I shot a lot,” he said. “The guards just threw me the ball and I never passed back.”

Four years ago Suami, which means “Finland,” changed its name to Finlandia University.

“It thought it would do a better job at recruitment with the name of a vodka,” he said. “We affectionately call it “FU.”

Niemi has no preference as far as where he prefers to live, because he feels bad when he has to leave both places.

“We have mothers up there, and we leave them in the snow,” he said. “My 94 year old mother shovels snow in the winter, and she lives alone.”

Niemi will spend much of the time in Lake Havusu playing softball with his wife in an over 50 league. He jokes about having the ability to stay warm throughout the year.

“I took this vow of poverty and now God gave us two houses, one on both ends,” he said. “We don’t understand that.”