She wrote: A poem … is a little pool of quietness.
Alice was born in 1898 into a loving, Christian family. Her father was a successful farmer who worked with university researchers to develop a disease-resistant cabbage seed. She was the third of four children.
But then the tough times came. Her younger sister died at the age of nine months. Then when Alice was four, her mother passed away from tuberculosis. Only three years later, Alice and her older sister were crossing a railroad track on the way home from their grandparents – and her sister was hit and killed by a passing train.
For several years Alice and her brother were raised by aunts, but then her father remarried and life again seemed to go well.
After high school she went on to graduate with degrees in music and literature from Vennard College in Oskaloosa, Iowa. College was also where she met John Sorenson and shortly after graduation they married and settled down on a small farm. Alice was happy. She enjoyed being a farmer’s wife. Life stretched before her and she wrote down her feelings in poems that seemed to flow from her thoughts – poems that often emphasized her dependency on God.
And she needed that sense of that dependency because at age 22, she was widowed after her husband, (like her sister), was killed at a railroad crossing.
Saddened, but not defeated, Alice moved back to her childhood home and continued her schooling – this time in nursing. Once graduated she began nursing in a private practice and simultaneously earned a bachelor’s degree in piano … and added college music professor to her list of accomplishments.
And all the time, she kept writing her poetry.
Sixteen years later, she married again, a widower with two daughters. (Side note: one of her step grandsons has been athletic director at Wheaton College since 1983.)
But in 1954, her second husband died of a brain tumor.
And still she kept on writing her poems. Although finding a publisher to publish poetry is very difficult, Alice had at least eight books of her poems published – all giving glory to God (and all available on Amazon even now – though she died in 1988.)
She didn’t quite reach the status of Helen Steiner Rice, but she came close to it. Her poems are seen in magazines and bulletins, newsletters and church websites. They are often quoted by pastors and writers. At least one poem was made into a song. Now, more than 20 years after her death, there are still 32 pages on the Internet of sites that mention or quote some of her poetry. Here is one we can all take to heart.
Make Life a Little Sweeter
O let me shed a little light
I’d like to be a messenger
Of happiness today!
It may be just a phone call,
A smile, or a prayer,
Or long neglected letter
Would lift the edge of care.
I want to spread some happiness
In what I say or do,
Make life a little sweeter
For someone else! Don’t you?
But there’s a postscript to this bio. Alice Hansche Mortenson came into our lives when she was 83 years old – a kind-hearted, elegant lady whom everyone loved. She went to her own church (the Nazarene Church) on Sunday morning, but often came to ours on Sunday nights. As soon as she walked in the door – the kids went running to her – she always carried candy to give away – along with a friendly, I-care-about-you smile. At this time she also became Kelli’s piano teacher until ill health sadly caused her to quit teaching. Although Kelli had already taken for a year in Michigan, I credit Mrs. Mortenson with teaching Kelli the basics, including technique (and how to sit straight).
In a way, her life itself was poetry – a life lived in sync with her Savior.
(The second picture is of Ken and me with a bunch of the high schoolers from church. We had gone out to dinner and decided to stop by Mrs. Mortenson’s and say “hi” on the way home. The kids all loved her. I think she was about 86-87 at the time.)