Minasie Theophilis, a custodial worker at Augsburg College, hasn’t seen his brother in more than 30 years. He hasn’t seen his father in a decade.
After Theophilis’ mother died, the men’s hockey team at the Minneapolis college decided they wanted to help him to reconnect with family.
“It was quite sad, but we just want him to be reunited with them,” said assistant coach Chris Johnson.
Theophilis left Ethiopia to study at Augsburg in 1983. It was the last time he saw his country, his siblings and extended family. The hockey team’s plan was to send him to Ethiopia to visit his family after his mother got sick, but when she died, his father moved to be with another son in Norway. They will meet there instead.
“It was really sad for my dad when my mom passed away and I couldn’t be there,” Theophilis said.
On Tuesday, he was presented with a $5,000 check inside the hockey team’s locker.
“This friendship is deep and touches my heart,” he said. “I really thank the Augsburg community, and I’m very thankful for the group of people I work with.”
‘He’s part of the family’
When Theophilis moved to Minnesota at age 22, he was alone.
“I was really devastated … I came here and didn’t know anyone,” he said.
It was a cultural shock, but despite the growing pains, Theophilis was thankful. He had left “political chaos” and moved to a “land of freedom.”
Since then he has made a life for himself. He reconnected with a woman he had known in Ethiopia. They married, and now have three grown children.
And his relationship with the Augsburg community, particularly the men’s hockey team, has given him another sort of family. Theophilis, who works mainly in the ice arena, has come to know many coaches, players and their families.
“Minasie is a huge part of the college, making friends with everyone that he encounters,” according to a post on the GoFundMe fundraising page. “As alumni make their way back to campus, Minasie always remembers them, greeting them with a huge smile or a big hug!”
Theophilis attends their weekly Bible study when he has time during work breaks.
He even watched almost every home game this season, cheering them on at St. Thomas at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game.
“I’m a great fan of Augsburg hockey,” he said.
When the team won, they called him onto the ice so he could hold the trophy.
“He’s part of the family,” Johnson said. “We wanted to share the excitement with him.”
When his mother fell ill, Theophilis shared the news with the team, and kept them up to date throughout her illness. After she died, the team learned that Theophilis couldn’t afford the trip to be with his family.
“Knowing he didn’t get a chance to see her, it was devastating,” Johnson said. “We didn’t want that to happen with his father.” So they collected the money to send him overseas to see his father and other family members.
Theophilis, a humble man, hadn’t expected a thing.
“I was shocked,” he said. “It’s a very important thing for me to see my dad.”
Theophilis has yet to tell his brother and father that their years apart soon will come to an end.