June 30, 2021

Norm Middag, Former North American Division Pathfinder Leader, Passes to His Rest

Norm Middag, former North American Division (NAD) Pathfinder, Adventurer, and Camp Ministries director, died suddenly on June 23, 2021, in Florida, United States, where he and his wife, Barbara, retired in 2001. He was 91.

Middag was an educator, pastor, and youth director in a career spanning more than four decades of ministry at all levels of the church, from the local church to the General Conference, where he served as Youth Ministries assistant director in 1980. He served in the Michigan, Southern California, Northern California, Florida, and Potomac conferences before joining the NAD in 1982.

While at the NAD, Middag spearheaded the development of the ministry manuals for Adventurers, Pathfinders, Teen Leadership Training, and many other resources and curricula. He also developed the Association of Adventist Camp Professionals (AACP), which is now a network of 300-plus camp ministry staff throughout the 60 camps of the NAD. In addition, he was instrumental in the creation of National Camps for Blind Children; he also coordinated the 1991, 1992, and 1993 Witness Through Rose Parade floats, sponsored and decorated by Pathfinders.

As chairperson of the camporee coordinating committee, Norm spearheaded the North American Division camporee program, including its first national gathering of Pathfinders in 1985 at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado. This later grew into the International Pathfinder Camporee, held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin since 1999 until its scheduled move to Gillette, Wyoming, in 2024.

Norm and Barbara Middag. [Photo: courtesy of the Middag family]

Middag firmly believed that every church needed to have some type of youth ministry. Integral to starting the Pathfinder Teen Leadership Training program (TLT) at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, he was quoted as saying, “If your church isn’t doing anything for youth, start with the 13-year-olds.”

“Norm was such a blessing to our church, not only in the North American Division but throughout the world. His kind, Christ-centered spirit was an inspiration to all,” Elden Ramirez, NAD undersecretary, said. “When I became a youth director, he took me under his wing, sharing a wealth of knowledge with me. Mentoring was his passion. Many church leaders today who at one point served as youth directors as I did, will forever be grateful for his mentorship and inspiration.”

“Norm Middag was a mentor,” Armando Miranda Jr., NAD associate director for Youth and Young Adult Ministries and NAD club ministries director, said. “He was a passionate youth ministries leader, a visionary. Many of us in youth ministry are standing on the structures and programs he dreamt and implemented. 

“As a trailblazer, we can only be inspired by his commitment to God and helping young people know Him better. Truly, he was an inspiring man with an inspiring life,” Miranda added.

From a Farm in Minnesota

Middag was born into a family of seven siblings on March 15, 1930, living on an 85-acre (34-hectare) vegetable farm with seven greenhouses to support a family nursery business in Duluth, Minnesota. He liked to recall an exceptional experience his mother often shared with him in his childhood years. “It was Sabbath on a bitterly cold Minnesota winter day, windy and snowing, halting all transportation. My mother, an active children’s Sabbath School leader, was sitting over a floor heater, holding [me] in her arms of love, when she dedicated me to the ministry of Jesus.” At the age of 12, Middag was baptized.

During World War II, the family moved back to Michigan, home of his parents. Middag attended Cedar Lake Academy and graduated as president of his senior class. In 1954, he graduated from Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) in Berrien Springs, Michigan, with religion, education, and history majors. Middag also met Barbara Popp while they were students at the college in 1950. The two married in the summer of 1952.

Middag began his ministry as the grade 7-8 teacher at Battle Creek Academy. Supportive in ministry, Barbara, who would later take a break from classroom instruction to help raise their family, also worked at the academy, teaching French, music, and secretarial science subjects. Middag taught for two years before being invited to serve as youth pastor of Battle Creek Tabernacle.

Following his Battle Creek experience, Middag accepted a call to Adelphian Academy to serve as boys’ dean. Two years later, he had the opportunity to pastor a 170-member church and a grades 1-8 church school. Within two and a half years, the church school and church were remodeled, and the church experienced a 39-percent membership growth.

Camp Ministry

In 1960, the Southern California Conference invited Middag to serve as youth pastor at Eagle Rock Church, where the Pathfinder Club had 26 members. Within two years, a junior club and a teen club were organized with a total membership of 150. On a Saturday (Sabbath) afternoon at a Southern California Conference-sponsored youth rally in Long Beach, 200 Eagle Rock Master Club members were invested as Master Guides. In 1964, Middag served as associate youth director for the Northern California Conference under James Harris. This was also the Middags' first camp assignment at Pinecrest Camp.

In 1965, Middag was called to be the youth/camp director for Florida Conference. In 1967 Camp Kulaqua sponsored its first Camp for the Blind with 27 campers. Four years later, blind camp attendance grew to 200. National Camps for the Blind is now sponsored by Christian Record Services based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In the fall of 1974, Middag was invited to join Potomac Conference as youth director and director of Camp Blue Ridge. All in all, with Barbara by his side, Norm had more than 20 years of camp leadership, mentoring camp staff and ministering to campers.

In 1980, Middag accepted the opportunity to become assistant youth director for the General Conference Youth Department under Leo Ranzolin. In 1981, the Middags both worked at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. In 1982, Norm assisted Les Pitton, NAD director of senior youth. In the same year, he was assigned to be director of Pathfinder and camp ministries. In addition, he developed the Association of Adventist Camp Professionals for the North American Division.

While he was with the NAD Pathfinder ministries, a committee was commissioned to develop the Adventurer Club, a ministry for children in grades 1-4 and a family network for parents. Middag also designed the NAD Pathfinder logo and updated the Pathfinder uniform patches, outlining them in black. In addition, a committee of lay members and youth directors was formed to develop a curriculum for the Eager Beaver (Kindergarten) ministry, Pathfinder ministry, Teen Leadership Training (TLT) Master Guide ministry, Pathfinder Leadership Award, and Pathfinder Instructor’s Award. He also developed the governance concept of the conference Pathfinder Coordinator, Senior Youth Leadership Council, NAD Camp Committee, and the AACP.

Of Camporees and Rose Parades

Middag pioneered the concept of the division-wide Pathfinder camporee. In 1985, the first NAD camporee was held at Camp Hale, Colorado, followed by the 1989 Friendship Camporee, sponsored by the Columbia Union Conference, and the 1994 Dare to Care Camporee, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Conference. Every five years after that, the Pathfinder International Camporee was held at the Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (In 2024, the International Camporee will be held at Cam Plex in Gillette, Wyoming.)

His dream and leadership in the Witness Through Roses project for the three Tournament of Roses Parade floats sponsored and decorated by Pathfinders in 1991, 1992, and 1993 was a high point in his career. The 1991 float won the Lathrop Award, “Most Beautiful Non-Commercial Float,” while the 1992 float won the National Award, “Best Depiction of Life in the United States.”

While the Middags lived in Florida, Barbara returned to the workforce in the early 1970s to teach at Forest Lake Academy. Later, she served as a secretary at Potomac Conference and as an administrative secretary in the General Conference presidential office.

The Middags moved to Florida in 2001 to be near family. In retirement, Middag continued to be involved in club ministry, helping to grow the Winter Springs Pathfinder Club, as a Pathfinder consultant, from 12 members to 58, plus 14 active TLT Pathfinders.

For 20 years, the “retired” Middags remained involved in ministry. They became the heartbeat of the North American camp ministry and, functioning as a unit, worked tirelessly to stay connected to the camp directors via the AACP.

The Legacy Lives On

For the past year and a half, Middag worked with author Bruce Coston to write the book Far From the Norm: Norm Middag's Life in Ministry, which AdventSource will release in the next few months. Proceeds from the book sales will go to the Camp Kulaqua Middag Nature Center.

“What a blessing he was to so many,” Lisa Bruce Gary, a home health aide and volunteer Adventurer administrator at the Florida Conference, wrote in a Facebook post. “I’m proud to have been a summer camper at Kulaqua when he was youth director. And to have him as a friend and mentor as we grew in Adventurers — he and his knowledge will be missed.”

“Norm would always start his yearly phone call to me with ‘greetings, Vandeon, from Norm Middag, your camping friend.’ I will forever know him as that kind of friend,” Vandeon Griffin, NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries associate director, said.

“Norm was a personal mentor to me over the past 15 years,” Tracy Wood, NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries director, said. “He always had words of affirmation and visionary ideas to share. There are literally hundreds of children, youth, and young adult ministry professionals around the world that he has mentored throughout his lifespan. He was highly respected, deeply loved, and will be greatly missed by us all.”

Middag was preceded in death by Barbara, who died on July 7, 2020, a few days after her 90th birthday on July 4.

He is survived by three children: David (Tricia), Loren (Joy), and Renee Brownlow (John); six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service, “Celebration of Life — Norm Middag, A Servant of God and a Friend to Man,” is planned for 3:30 p.m. EDT, August 28, 2021, at the Spring Meadows Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Orlando, Florida, area.

Dixie Plata and Renee Brownlow contributed to this report; information also supplied by the Florida Conference and the North Pacific Union Conference. This version is based on the story posted on the North American Division news site.