Monday, July 26, 2010

The Final Resting Place of Mark Lemke

[The following is a letter that was written by Lee Meyer on October 31,2007, about the funeral of Mark (Gonzo) Lemke, who died on May 14, 2007. Other information about Mark's life and death was provided in an earlier post.]

I thought I would write a short letter here about my recent to trip to South Texas and the funeral of Mark Lemke. As you know he died last spring and the funeral was delayed until this fall because many of his friends were River people like Gonzo and returned to the Terlingua area after a season of leading river rafting trips in other places and rivers in the United States. Please pass this along as you see fit.

Photo of the funeral of Mark Lemke in Terlingua, Texas. The photo belongs to Lee Meyer.

[Six photos of the funeral are in Lee Meyer's Picasa album.]

Jeff Taebel and I arrived early enough to allow to two full days of hiking in the Big Bend National park and the adjacent State park. The landscape is high desert with mountains that range up to 8,000 feet. The valleys and plains are covered with desert fauna and the higher altitudes look more pine forest like. It is a wide open area, including deep narrow water cut cannons, distantly remote, (the nearest decent grocery store is a 100 miles away) and a hard and wonderful setting to be in and as I learned a place to live a life.

His name was Gonzo -- with the name Mark and the place of this birth, Seward, unknown to most who knew him in this town. As I mentioned information about his background to some of the friends in Terlingua, they seemed polite but generally uninterested for it seemed it was irreverent to what they knew the person who was Gonzo. It matters more what he was than where he came from. These details and facts were not important to those living in the moment.

He was a powerful personality with a love of fun, the people around him and living fully. I was told about this wild blond hair, his wonderfully colorful sweaters, about adventures and experiences and enthusiastic friendliness toward all. He may have epitomized this place for, in my experience, every conversation and encounter with the people of Terlingua was full of friendliness and kindness. One woman told me how she threw herself at him only to be spurned because he had a girlfriend.

One Buddhist told me he was Buddhist-like, with a strong spirituality. It was a place where some of the assumptions of living in United States -- including organized religion, life as a consumer and a health-insurance-dependent culture -- are to some degree to be thrown asunder prior to settling down here. Other virtues of self-reliance -- the importance of knowledge and doing something well -- are in evidence.

At the same time the attendance at his funeral was a monoculture, for it was completely white, high-tech yet oriented to a low-impact life, heterosexual in its orientation, mostly childless, more than likely at least 2nd or 3rd generation born to the United States, oriented toward marijuana use combined with herbal medicine with the common element of beer. While the area had a large population from Mexico, as we had seen the pervious night at the Friday night dance at the Boathouse, that part of the population was not present for his funeral.

Gonzo lived on the other side of a small range of mountains from the town of Terlingua on a 40-acre tract of land, down a long gravel road adjacent to several of his friends who lived, it seemed, in other single shelters spotted around his local.

His place included a roof-covered parking area that was mainly for rain catchment, a small outbuilding, a covered eating area and a structure that was called a Yurt by those gathered with us, but really appeared to me be a high-tech tent-like structure, 20 feet in diameter and 18 feet tall with a frame of wood and a skin of rubberized fabric that included screened flaps for ventilation. With the inclusion of a solar-panel system, the yurt featured both air conditioning and heating and a refrigerator. The furnishing included a Lemke-family cast-iron frame bed, table, old wonderful dressers and storage units for food and the other essentials. The deck located on the east side included wonderful desert plants and a built-in hot tub. Friday evening out at his land we enjoyed many stories about Gonzo and the life, the setting sun and rising of the full moon.

The service was straightforward and untangled with any religious rituals that are the basis of most funerals. It started around 5 p.m. in front of the Starlight Bar with people gathering on the porch and adjacent parking lot. Gonzo’s cremated remains were placed in a life jacket in the middle of his large rubber raft set on a trailer pulled by his white Toyota truck. His brother John drove. The sound of the tires crunching on the gravel was the only signal beyond the slowly moving truck that the procession was on its way down the main rocky road of the town to the ghost-town cemetery, a five-minute walk from the Starlight Bar.

About 200 folks followed the raft. Once at the gates of the cemetery, his closest friends lifted the raft. I joined in but was feeling more like a representative from the life Gonzo came from than a member of this community. One of the raft carriers was a woman by the name of Kelly who was holding a brilliant display of red roses. In response to my inquiry, she told me with a passion in her voice that she loved Gonzo as so many of us did. I could feel her love and loss.

After John's reading of a few e-mails from friends of Gonzo that recalled events in his life, a few lines of remembrance by others, a reading of Be Here Now from Dama Ras and the singing of a sweet ballad by James Taylor, the assembled group took turns placing handfuls of the rocky clay earth over the created remains, which were placed in a small hole had been dug the pervious day by one of his friends named Taz.

People then moved off to the Boathouse Bar for a potluck dinner with music, Keg beer, fireworks and a personal highlight of a “ring of fire”. A Ring of Fire is a riverboat tradition to entertain your customers at night. It consists of stuffing steel wool in the fat end of a kitchen whisk, attaching a long string to the handle end, soaking the whole thing in lighter fluid, lighting it up and then spinning it to make the ring of fire. In this case there were a dozen or so people doing this at once on the exterior dance floor so that it appeared to be a field of fire all at once. It was a commemoration to Gonzo. A long evening of eating and drinking ensued but ended for us by 10 p.m. since we needed to leave by 5 the next morning so I could be back in the Twin Cities by Tuesday morning.

Gonzo choose a path in life that was completely different than anything I could have remotely imagined. It did seem like that life his father led in Seward, which included a man with a friendly manner, given to good times, lots of puns and jokes and a goal of living life to the fullest.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Visit from a Concordia Gift Officer

Last week I was visited by Mike Mettenbrink, who serves as a Major Gift Officer in the Development Department of Concordia University. He had written to me in advance:

I have been sharing your “blogspot” with many friends, alums and supporters of Concordia that have close ties to the university and the Seward area as I travel around the country.

I talked with Mike for about three hours, and I enjoyed the conversation and learned a lot from him. He is one of four members of the Development Department who travel around the USA to tell potential donors about Concordia and to arrange for those who do decide to donate in large or small amounts, as single donations or as periodic donations.

Mike attended Concordia during the 1980s and was one of the first students to graduate with a major in Business Administration. He worked for many years as a sales representative for private industry and then about four years ago accepted an offer to return to Concordia to work as a gift officer for the college.

He lives a short distance north of where my family lived on North Columbia Avenue. His wife manages the university bookstore, and they have three children who attend St John Elementary School, grades two through seven.

Mike said that St John School is growing and improving. The faculty, the families and the university are optimistic about the school's future. Recently one of the teachers departed, and there were 20 applicants who applied to fill the vacancy.

Although Concordia is no longer a teaching college, its Education Department still collaborates with the elementary school. The university still sends its students to observe and to serve as student teachers, just like in the olden days when my Dad managed that program.

Some of St John's graduates continue their Lutheran educations by attending a Lutheran high school in Lincoln. That is not a boarding school, but the commute is reasonable, and the families carpool.

Concordia University's enrollment has grown to 1,700 students and includes graduate students who attend classes in Lincoln. The selection of study majors has become much broader. Many students major in business, science, information technology, mass communications and even forensics.

Many students still are majoring in subjects that prepare them for careers in Christian education and the ministry. The university still offers courses in theology and other religious subjects (including Hebrew and Greek languages), music, art, drama and athletics. About 20 students are preparing to transfer to a seminary after graduation. A larger number are preparing for careers in Christian education and music.

Mike gave me the current issue of the Broadcaster alumni magazine and promised to arrange a subscription (which is free). The magazine has improved since I saw it the last time. In this issue I was interested particularly by the articles about former art professor Reinhold Marxhausen (I babysat his sons), retiring athletic equipment manager Stan Schlueter (older brother of my classmate Jane Schlueter) and journalism professor Toby Beck (my childhood neighbor on Faculty Lane; I never will be able to call him Tobin.)

The concluding two paragraphs in the article about Toby, who came to teach at Concordia after a long career as a journalist, made an impression on me:

I talk [to my journalism students] about what it means to have a Christian world view, dealing with people as Christ would have us deal with them, based on Scripture, and about the various world views that people around the globe may have.

As a journalist I often thought about Martin Luther's explanation of the Eighth Commandment, to "put the best construction on everything". Not to gloss things over inappropriately, but to be honest and fair and make sure in the reporting of stories that all relevant sides were told in a way that was accurate and in proper context.

That kind of thinking is a good example of the education that was and still is instilled by Seward's Lutheran schools.

When I asked Mike Mettenbrink about the donors' motivations, he remarked that several extremely generous individual donors never attended or even visited Seward's schools, but were deeply impressed by some of the school's graduates who had moved to the donor's own towns and "let their lights shine" in the local schools and churches. These graduates were not only smart and effective, they also were moral and inspirational. These donors knew Concordia from its fruits and so they donated a lot of money in order to preserve and develop that educational orchard.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reunion of the 1970 Class of Concordia High School

My Concordia High School class, which graduated in 1970, will enjoy a reunion in Seward during July 9-11. The only reunion of that class that I have attended was the one in 1990. I intend to attend this reunion. Contact me if you need details.

Here is a picture the students who attended in 2000. Click the picture to see the Flickr page, which shows the entire photo in different sizes and which names the people in the picture.

Concordia High School Reunion 2000

The Meaning of the Movie "Doubt"

The movie Doubt premiered in October 2008, but I watched it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The movie's story takes place in a Roman Catholic parochial school in about December 1964 and focuses on the eighth-grade class that graduated in 1965. Since I was a student in the eighth-grade class that graduated from a parochial school in 1966, I watched the movie with attention toward similarities from my own experience.

Poster of the movie Doubt, showing the actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep

The story includes a mention that the assassination of President Kennnedy (November 22, 1963) had happened in the previous year and includes some mentions that the school now was preparing for its annual Christmas pageant, so the story takes place in about December 1964.

I noticed some details of the story, set, props and costumes that reminded me of my own experiences at St John. There were a few scenes showing the students preparing for the Christmas pageant. The classrooms, desks, school books and various items were familiar to me from that time. There is a scene where the boys are practicing basketball, and the gym shorts looked like what we wore at St. John.

Since the faculty of the school in the movie were Roman Catholic priests and nuns, their clothing and celibacy made them different from St John's faculty in obvious ways, but I perceived that both faculties were devoted similarly to religious education of children.

On a higher level, I perceived that the movie dealt with the experience of doubt, which is an important concept in religion and perhaps especially in the Christian religion as it was taught to me. Doubts about one's religion are a natural and common experience, but they are suppressed and so cause private anxiety.

I thought that Doubt was a superb movie. This essay reveals the entire plot, including the surprise ending, but I do not think that reading this essay would spoil the experience of watching the movie for the first time afterwards.

Several critics placed Doubt in their lists of the best ten movies of 2008.

James Berardinelli, ReelViews - 2nd best

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News - 2nd best

Kyle Smith, New York Post - 8th best

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone - 8th best

David Edelstein, New York - 9th best

Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter - 10th best

Shawn Levy, The Oregonian - 10th best

All four of the movie's main actors were nominated for Academy Awards:

Meryl Streep for Best Actress

Philip Seymour Hoffman for Best Supporting Actor

Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis also for Best Supporting Actress

Also, the screenplay writer John Patrick Shanley was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. None of those actors receive an Oscar for this film, but the Critics Choice Award contest gave its award for Best Actress to Meryl Streep.

The movie depicts a situation where a Roman Catholic priest is suspected of sexually molesting a boy, but the movie is not anti-Christian or anti-Catholic. All the characters are intelligent, admirable people, whose religious beliefs and motivations are depicted in a respectful manner.

The Plot

The movie takes place in a Roman Catholic parochial school in The Bronx, New York, in the year 1964 and focuses on the eighth-grade class, which is taught by a young nun, Sister James (Amy Adams). The school's principal is an old nun, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), who is subordinate to the parish's young priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Practically all the school's students are of Irish or Italian ancestry. During the middle of this school year, however, an African-American boy, Donald Miller, joins the eighth-grade class and becomes the first such child to attend the school.

In addition to being African-American, Donald is also homosexual. The movie does not show him to be effeminate, but his mother Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis) eventually tells Sister Aloysius that she had transfered Donald to the Catholic school from a public school where he had been beaten frequently -- mostly by other African-American students -- because they perceived that he was homosexual. At home, Donald is frequently beaten by his own father for the same reason.

Father Flynn gives special attention and friendship to Donald and makes him an altar boy. Donald admires Father Flynn and tells him he would like to become a priest. Sister Aloysius notices this close relationship and suspects that Father Flynn is seducing Donald.

One day while Sister James is teaching her eighth-grade class, she receives a note telling her to send Donald immediately from the class to the office of Father Flynn. When Donald returns to the class, he seems to be upset, and Sister James smells alcohol on Donald's breath. Sister James reports this incident to Sister Aloysius.

Sister Aloysius invites Sister James and Father Flynn into her office to confront Father Flynn about his relationship with Donald. At first Father Flynn refuses to discuss the matter with the two nuns, but eventually he explains that the janitor Mr. McGinn had caught Donald drinking Communion wine and reported the offense to Father Flynn. Therefore Father Flynn had called Donald out of class in order question and reprimand him. According to Father Flynn, Donald confessed to drinking the wine, but Father Flynn decided to forgive Donald and remain silent about the offense, so that Donald could continue to serve as an altar boy. Since the two nuns had compelled Father Flynn to tell this incident, however, Donald now would have to be removed from the position of altar boy.

Sister Aloysius does not accept Father Flynn's explanation. She still suspects that Father Flynn called Donald out of class in order to give him some alcohol to drink and to molest him. Father Flynn challenges Sister Aloysius to question Mr. McGinn and thus to confirm the truth of Father Flynn's account.

Father Flynn leaves Sister Aloysius' office, and Sister Aloysius and Sister James talk some more. Sister James says she believes Father Flynn's explanation. Sister Aloysius indicates that it would not be worthwhile to question Mr. McGinn, because she would not believe him either. Sister Aloysius says she is certain that Father Flynn is molesting Donald and that she intends to get rid of him from the parish and school.

Sister Aloysius invites Mrs. Miller to her office, and Mrs. Miller explains that she realizes that Donald is homosexual. Mrs. Miller does not care much that Father Flynn might be sexually molesting Donald. She is grateful that at least Father Flynn is being nice to Donald. She figures that if Donald graduates from this school's eighth grade, then he can get into a good high school and then later get into a good college.

The hostility betwen Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn grows, and eventually they meet again in Sister Aloysius' office to argue about the situation. She tells him that she phoned a nun in the previous parish where he had served as a priest, and the other nun had informed her that he had been compelled to leave that parish because of some sexual misbehavior. He denies this accusation, but he avoids answering several direct questions that Sister Aloysius asks. He says that everyone has sinned, but he does not specify any sins that he committed in this regard.

Although Father Flynn continues to deny that he molested Donald, he himself asks his church superiors to remove him from his assignment in the parish and school. He tells his congregation that he is departing to a new assignment, and then he does depart immediately.

Afterwards, Sister Aloysius and Sister James have a conversation in which Sister James says that she still believes Father Flynn's explanation completely and believes that he was innocent in the matter. Sister Aloysius admits that she had not really phoned any nun at Father Flynn's previous parish. She had made up that story, but she considered Father Flynn's immediate resignation from the parish to be proof that he indeed did have a history of homosexual molestation.

Then in a suprise ending, Sister Aloysius breaks down and weeps and admits that she has doubts about the matter.

The movie's plot is described in much more detail on this webpage and on this webpage.

The Meaning

Father Flynn's evasive answers in his last argument with Sister Aloysius and his immediate resignation indicated to me that he indeed did have a history of molesting male students. I think, though, that he was trying to control himself in this parish and that he had not molested Donald. Father Flynn's experiences with his own homosexuality had given him a special sympathy for Donald, and so he sincerely wanted to protect and help Donald and did not intend to seduce him.

The mystery of whether or not Father Flynn had sexually molested Donald was not, however, the major question that the movie raised for the viewers. Rather, the major question is how anyone should deal with a situation in which he doubts that he is following a proper path in life.

At the beginning of the movie, Father Flynn gives a sermon to his congregation about that very theme. He points out that in the previous year President Kennedy had been assassinated, and afterwards the entire population of our country shared common doubts about whether we were following a proper path. Father Flynn then contrasted that feeling of a shared doubt with the feeling that an individual feels when he is suffering severe problems and thinks he might be following a wrong path in life. Father Flynn ends his sermon by reassuring his congregation that in those situations of individual doubt, they never are really alone. He implies that such doubts are shared by other people and also that God accompanies and is available to every individual in such a situation.

If Father Flynn did have a history of homosexual misbehavior in his previous church assignments, then he was aware that his special relationship with Donald might lead to trouble. On one hand he intended to help Donald, but on the other hand he might become involved in a sexual relationship with the boy.

Then when Father Flynn was confronted and accused by Sister Aloysius, he had to decide whether to continue to dispute her accusations, which still were false, or to give up and quit the parish and the school. He felt that if he stayed, then he could modernize the school over the old-fashioned, strict discipline and mindless, arbitrary rules that were imposed by Sister Aloysius. On the other hand, he feared that if he continued to resist the accusations of Sister Aloysius, then he as a modernizing priest eventually would be discredited in an embarrassing scandal. In the end, he decided to leave this assignment so that he could try anew in a different assignment.

These were decisions that Father Flynn had to make alone. Perhaps he confessed to and consulted with his superior priest, but ultimately he himself decided first to develop a close relationship with Donald and then to quit the parish and the school. Father Flynn essentially was alone in this doubt and in his decisions.

Likewise, Sister Aloysius was alone in her doubt and decisions. Early in the movie, she remarked that in previous years the church had a senior priest who had dealt with a similar situation where a junior priest was molesting students. Now, however, the nuns themseves had to deal with this situation, and she was the only nun with the insight, experience and personality who was capable of dealing with the situation.

I was surprised at the end when she broke down and wept under the strain of dealing with her own doubt about the situation. This seemed to end the movie with a false note, but afterwards as I thought about it, I felt a richer appreciation of her personal mental and spiritual struggles with the situation.

Likewise, Sister James was alone in her doubts and decisions. She admired Father Flynn, and it surely was a very difficult for her to report her suspicions to Sister Aloysius. Then, as she changed her mind to thinking that he was innocent, she had to deal with the disapproval and contempt of Sister Aloysius and with the resentment of Father Flynn.

Likewise, Mrs. Miller was alone in her doubts and decisions. Her husband added to her difficulties in dealing with the problems caused by her son Donald's homosexuality. Her husband beat and rejected Donald, so she alone made the decisions and efforts to help her son try to succeed in life.

These four characters each struggled alone with their doubts and decisions. Their paths crossed in this situation, but there was practically no helpful cooperation among them, and their was no happy ending for any of them.

Nevertheless, each of them found the inner resolve to make important, thoughtful decisions and to accept the consequences.

Father Flynn had ended his sermon by reminding his congregation that when they as individuals suffered through doubtful situations, they were not alone. He did not mean, though, that they always would receive advice and help from other people or even from God. He meant only that they were not alone in such suffering, because we all suffer through such situations. We always should appreciate at least that consolation.


In a religious context, the concept of doubt usually applies to doubt about the religion itself. The person doubts that God exists or doubts that God is good or doubts that his religion is true.

That kind of doubt did not appear in this movie. None of the characters expressed any doubts about their religious beliefs.

However, people who are suffering profound doubts about their religion probably will relate the movie to that concern. When Father Flynn preaches that each of us suffers doubts individually that we are on a proper path, many viewers of the movie will think about their own doubts that they are wasting their lives on a religion that might be foolish and false. Father Flynn's assurance, at the beginning of the movie, that they are not alone in such individual doubts should engage them in the further story of the movie.

For those viewers who are suffering severe doubts about their religion, I think that the movie at least gives a good impression about people who have committed themselves to very religious lives. All the characters have admirable qualities and deal with their problems in an intelligent manner. They all are comfortable in their religious lives. They all are striving to raise children to become religious adults. The movie brings the viewers into the lives of these religious people and develops the viewers' sympathies toward them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Michael Stelmachowicz, RIP

I learned recently that Michael Stelmachowicz died on December 30, 2009. His family lived next-door to my Sylwester family for four years, from 1964 to 1968, on North Columbia Avenue. Before that, they lived for a couple of years in a house that was six houses away from our house on Faculty Lane.

Michael Stelmachowicz, President of Concordia Teacher's College (Concordia University)in Seward, Nebraska, from 1978 to 1984. The image was taken from his obituary at

My Mom and Michael's wife Betty became best friends when our family's lived nearby on Faculty Lane, and that close friendship lasted during the years that we lived on North Columbia. They liked to go to auctions together, and I think they took some classes at Concordia at the same time. I remember that Betty was a very vivacious, extroverted woman, while my Mom was much more quiet and reserved. I think that Betty helped my Mom engage socially with adults again after spending many years at home raising children,

The Sylwester family had six boys and one girl, and the Stelmachowicz famiy had four girls and one boy. My sister Tricia played with the Stelmachowicz girls a lot, and the Stelmachowicz boy Cary played with our family a lot.

All the Stelmachowicz girls, beginning with Betty, were extraordinarily pretty and vivacious. Candy and Cheryl were cheerleaders, and I assume that Crystal eventually became one too.

Michael Stelmachowicz was not bad looking, but he was not extraordinarily handsome either. Also, he was rather quiet and mild-mannered. So, I wondered how he had managed to get Betty to be his girlfriend and then even his wife. His success in that area of his life gave me hope that even I might at least think about getting the very prettiest girl.

Anyway, Michael Stelmachowicz apparently was a good leader and manager of other people. He rose up through the ranks of the College's and Synod's administration. He became the Dean while he was our neighbor, and then he left and held some other positions in other places and returned to serve as the College's President from 1978 to 1984.

Even though my family was living in Oregon during the latter period, I was aware that he had risen to that position, and I was very impressed. I knew he was not a pushy, aggressive personality, and so I figured that he had risen to that top position because he was an extraordinarily effective manager and leader.

I have placed his obituary on this blog's page for the Stelmachowicz family.

I intend to write some more about the Stelmachowicz family in future articles in this blog.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Website for Concordia High School Class of 1961

Concordia High School's class of 1961 will celebrate its 50th re-union in 2011. Someone (I think Dan Seim) has established a great website for that class.

The website includes a webpage with pictures of old buildings. My favorite picture in that set shows the swimming pool being constructed.

Another webpage shows old photographs of Seward that were new to me.

Other webpages show athletic teams, coed-dormitory scenes, faculty photos and 1961-class photos. The whole website is great.

The best picture on the website is the school mascot, Raider. The photo was scanned by Dan Seim from the 1961 CHS Homecoming Booklet.

Raider, the bulldog mascot of Concordia High School in Seward, Nebraska.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Singing "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

My brother Steve wrote to me:

"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" just wrings me out with emotion. It makes me cry, and smile, and be joyful, and just be broken as a redeemed sinner forgiven by God. I love singing it, but I can barely sing it, yet I sing it with everything I can possibly muster whenever I am given the chance in church.

Hymns like that hymn just dumbfound me when I am confronted by lack of faith in others. That hymn makes faith — the gift of faith, the desire for faith, and the reward of faith — so very real, so very humbling, and so very blessed. God gifted me with faith. I believe. I have no doubts.

And Steve liked the following videos of performances.

St. Olaf's Choir

Crystal Cathedral Choir

Jubilate Reunion

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Singing "Angels We Have Heard On High"

Angels we have heard on high,
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply,
Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be,
Which inspire your heavenly song?

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

This song fits well with Christmas Eve programs, because the Christmas story told in the Gospel of Luke is read aloud, and that story features the incident when the angels sang to the shepherds.

The first verse depicts a rich image. The point of view is a person who had been traveling along the floor of a valley that has a mountain range on each side. As the person traveled, he occasionally heard angels singing from the mountain range on one side, and this singing echoed from the other mountain range.

The second verse expresses the person's wondering about why the angels were singing.

The third and fourth verses are a different point of view, another person answering and explaining to the traveler. This other person already has been in Bethlehem and is traveling away from Bethlehem, and on his way he has met the first person, who heard the angels on his own journey.

Apparently the first person has heard the angels singing but does not know about the birth in Bethlehem. The second person knows about the birth in Bethlehem, but still has not heard the angels, but he will hear them soon because he is traveling into the valley. Thus, information about these marvelous events is being shared and spread.

The Gloria in Excelsis refrain is fun, fun, fun to sing.

Here is a rather standard performance of the song by the University of Wisconsin's Superior Acappella Choir.

Here is an interesting performance by Liberty High School. The tempo seemed too fast to me at first, but I liked it more and more as I listened to it. Parts of this performance evoke another Christmas carol, The Little Drummer Boy.

Here is a performance by the Ohlone Chamber Singers. Here too the tempo seemed too fast to me at first, but I liked it more and more as I listened to it.

One attractive feature of this song is the mention of angels. Here is a video that shows a lot of sappy pictures of angels.

Here is a heavy-metal performance by someone who calls himself Pastor Brad. It is illustrated by a roller-coaster ride, which evokes the image of the valley and mountains.

Here is a rock-and-roll performance by what seems to be a Christian youth group in Singapore.

This is a performance by a Christian youth group in what appears to be the Philippines. I liked this performance because of its unusual emphasis on the percussion over the melody.

This seems to be a Japanese version illustrated by scenes from non-Christian fantasy stories. I think the singing is very pretty.

Finally, here is a jazz instrumental performance. The musicians are Marshall McDonald, Steven Sharp Nelson, Kevin Dee Davis, Alex Rowley and Camille Nelson.

My brother Steve likes this performance by Andrea Bocelli:

And Steve recommended this performance by the College Of the Sequoias Concert Choir:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Second-Grade Class in 1955

Lois (Meyer) Voeltz sent me this picture of her second-grade class in 1955.

The Second-Grade Class of St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1955

If you click on the picture, you will go to the Flickr page, where you can see larger sizes of the picture.

The class teacher was Miss Groteluschen, and the class room is to the right in the picture.

Lois was able to match following names to faces:

Back row: Connie Pollock, Patsy Ahrens, Kathy Brinkmeyer, Lois Meyer, Pam Bock, Patty Bangert, Liz Ocken, Bevery Boeka, Cheryl Ficken

Front row: Dick Hans, ? Kassabaum, Bob Schlueter, Jon Vogel, Marvin Brauer, Doug Zimmerman, Ron Beckman, Ron Pfeiffer

Below is a list of this class's members when they were in eighth grade in 1961: Patricia Ahrens Patricia Bangert Ronald Beckmann Beverly Boeka Marvin Brauer Kathrine Brinkmeyer Melvin Churchill Cheryl Ficken Jacquie Folkerts Richard Hans Bonnie Ihde Frank Janzow Jerry Kahler Terry Kahler Patricia Kolb Karen Lindner Thomas Mantey Lois Meyer Ronald Pfeiffer Connie Pollock Robert Schlueter Diane Schultz Annetta Stork Edward Uhlig Jonathan Vogel Kenneth Voss Douglas Zimmerman Nancy Deremer Carla Kirch

The Students of St John School, 1952-53

In an earlier article I introduced a booklet that was published in 1952 to celebrate the 75th anniversary (1877-1952) of St John Lutheran Church. The book belongs to Lee Meyer, and he scanned some of the pages and e-mailed them to me.

Two of the scanned pages seem to show the students of St John Lutheran School (on Columbia Ave) posing for class photographs. (The photographs were taken on the steps of Weller Hall.) There are five such photographs: 1) the Kindergarten, 2) grades 1-2, 3) grades 3-4, 4) grades 5-6 and 5) grades 7-8. The 2nd picture is cropped.

Lois (Meyer) Voeltz recognized herself and her own classmates in the kindergarten class. Since her class graduated from the eighth grade in 1961, that class graduated from kindergarten in 1953, which means that all these photographs must have been taken in the first part of the 1952-53 school year (I assume the booklet was published before the end of 1952).

Below I will provide each photograph and also a list of students in each class. Each list of students is the eighth-grade list of students of that class, as compiled for the 2009 anniversary of St John School. This list was described in a previous article of this blog. So, for example, the first picture shows the students in the kindergarten class in the 1952-53, but the name list shows the students of that same group of students when they were in eighth grade in the 1960-1961 school year. Of course, during the intermediate years some of the students stopped attending St John School and some other students began attending the school, in that class.

I will appreciate any help from people who can clarify these pictures and can match faces to names. To provide me such information, add a comment under this article or send me an e-mail to

You can click on any of the pictures below to go to the picture's Flickr page, where you can see the picture in larger sizes.

The teachers in 1952-53: Mr. Herb Kaiser, grades 7-8 and principal, Mr. Herman Schmieding, grades 5-6, Miss Lucinda Bartels, grades 3-4, Miss Edna Grotelueschen, grades 1-2, and Miss Martha Maehr, kindergarten. "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

(Update: In August 2012, Wayne Buls identified 21 more names for the classes of 1953-56.

The Kindergarten in 1952-53 (Graduated in 1961) Students of the Kindergargen of St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1952

Back row: Patsy Ahrens, Bev Boeka, Pam Bock, Lois Meyer, Connie Pollock, Kathy Brinkmeyer, Ron Beckman

Front row: Jon Vogel, Cheryl Ficken, Dick Hans, Doug Zimmerman, Bob Schlueter, Pat Bangert.

Grades 1 and 2 in 1952-53 (Graduated in 1960 and 1959) Students of Grades 1 and 2 of St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1952

Front Row: Phil Rosel, ?, Candyce Reiling, Patty Kolb, Sue Westerhoff, Lorraine Eicher , Judy Justice, Terry Wied, ? , Ann Cannon, Virginia Tonniges, Wally Cannon,?, Rusty Darold Schulz

2nd Row: ?,?,?, Linda Meyer, Mark Brandhorst, Phil Griesse, ?,?,?, Mary Ann Schmeiding, Elizabeth Werth, ?

3rd Row: ?, ?, ?, ?, Iomo Jean Zillig, ?, Jim Wake, ?, Ruth Riggert, ?, Elvin Ahrens

Class of 1960: Kenneth Brauer, Annetta Cannon, Loraine Eicher, Judy Fosler, Gene Gehle, Alice Gehle, Nancy Hans, Gary Heinicke, Gerald Hillmann, Lynda Johnson, Judith Justice, Linda Meyer, Ronald Neujahr, Candyce Reiling, Dickie Rhodes, Philip Rosel, Mary Schmieding, Donald Schrader, Darold Schulz, Virginia Tonniges, Phyllis Warnsholz, Mary Westerberg, Sue Westerhoff, Terrence Wied

Class of 1959: Elvin Ahrens, Sandra Beckman, Mark Brandhorst, Walter Cannon, Roger Dankert, James Ehlers, John Eicher, Donald Erks, Bette Garber, Earl Graves, Terry Ihde, Carol Ihde, Jon Kruse, Kenneth Luebbe, Richard Mailand, Marilyn Prochnow, Franklin Reynolds, Ruth Riggert, Kathryn Rolfsmeier, Stanley Schlueter, Leon Schneberger, Shirley Schulz, Rodney Tonniges, Lawrence Uhlig, James Wake, Elizabeth Werth, Imo Zillig, Karmin Zimmerman

Grades 3 and 4 in 1952-53 (Graduated in 1958 and 1957) Students of Grades 3 and 4 of St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1952

Front Row: ?, ?, ?, Dean Hackbart, ?, ?, Ivan Ficken, Jim Vogel, Roleen Brinkmeyer, ?

2nd Row: ?, ?, Evelyn Kroeger, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?

3rd Row: Danny Juergensen, Donn Kaiser, ? Kathy Vogel, ?, Carol Pieper, Barry Kolb, ? , ?, Gerald Buls

Class of 1958: Betty Beckman, Charlotte Brinkmeyer, Rolene Brinkmeyer, Gerald Buls, Donna Erks, Sandra Gruenewald, Dean Hackbart, Nancy Hackbart, Linda Hans Ehrlich, Glenn Hillhouse, Susan Imig, Judy Jacobson, Daniel Juergensen, Donna Kaiser, Brian Katt, Barry Kolb, Evelyn Kroger, Gloria Ost, Steward Pflughaupt, Gary Reiling, Roger Rhodes, Jeannette Rusch, Thomas Schlueter, Ken Schmieding, Robert Schott, Gerald Uhlig, James Vogel

Class of 1957 Philip Beck, James Diers, Roger Ehlers, Ivan Ficken, James Garber, Gordon Goldsmith, Roger Graves, Judy Hans, Dean Hillhouse, Robert Johnson, Marcia Kirch, Larry Luebbe, Linda Luebbe, Wayne Mueller, Dennis Otte, Carolyn Petersen, Carol Pieper, Alice Reynolds, Katherine Rosel, Maureen Schlueter, Joanne Schultz, Diane Sies, Ronald Suhr, Karen Sundermann, Kathleen Vogel, Eva Walsh, Gerald Werth

Grades 5 and 6 in 1952-53 (Graduated in 1956 and 1955) Students of Grades 5 and 6 of St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1952

Front Row: ?, ?, ?, ?, Paul Griesse, ?, Julie Westerhoff, Charles Fenster

2nd Row: Harold Walker, David Rolfsmeier, Gordon Alschwede, Kathy Rosel, Leora Mueller, Carol Yauk, Sally Westerhoff, Margaret Beckmann, Wayne Buls

Back Row: ?, Gordon Bredow, Tim Wake, Philip Zillig, ? Diane Rigert, John Schmieding, Fred Kroger, ?

Class of 1956 Gordon Ahlschwede, Gerhard Backhus, Wayne Buls, Jerry Hackbart, C.Frederick Kroger, Jochen Landre, Stanley Litty, Lousie Meyer, Bernice Meyer, Rosalie Mueller, Leora Mueller, Jeanne Pfeiffer, Roger Pflughaupt, David Rolfsmeier, Don Schlueter, Harold Walker

Class of 1955 Margaret Beckmann, Robert Brauer, Gordon Bredow, Orval Buls, Charles Fenster, William Imig, Ann Johnson, Darold Kassebaum, Leonard Lamberty, Gerald Lehr, Richard Reinmiller, Diane Riggert, John Schmieding, Gerald Schultz, Lois Schulz, Thomas Wake II, A. Eugene Wendland, Sally Westerhoff, Julie Westerhoff, Carol Yauk, Philip Zillig

Grades 7 and 8 in 1952-53 (Graduated in 1954 and 1953) Students of Grades 7 and 8 of St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1952

Front Row: Janie Griesse, ?, Dale Pieper, Dennis Werling, ? ?, ?

2nd Row: Roger Mailand, Roger Lindner, ?, ?, ?, Merlin Ziellig, ? ?, Ronnie Mueller, ?

3rd Row: ?, ?, ?, ?, Keith Brose, Dave Kroeger, ?, ?, ?, ?,

4th Row: ?, ?, Jim Juergensen, Orval Buls, Larry Goldsmith, ?, ?, James Schmieding 

Class of 1954 Floyd Abele, Keith Brose, Barbara Gade, Gary Hackbart, LaRue Hackbart, James Juergensen, Wilma Kassebaum, David Kroger, Louis Lamberty, Roger Mailand, Ronnie Mueller, Dale Pieper, David Reynolds, Beverly Jo Rolfsmeier, Susan Sahn, Karen Schaeffer, Jerold Schlueter, James Schultz, Barbara Splittgerber, Jerold Varner, Dennis Werling, Sandra Westbrook, Merlin Zillig

Class of 1953 Nancy Kay Aegerter, Maureen Ahlschwede, Richard Chloupek, Roger Duerr, Sylvia Fritz, Dean Gade, Larry Goldsmith, Janice Griesse, Kenneth Hackbart, Marjorie Hans, Marilyn Imig, Rodney Imig, Roger Lindner, Harvey Mueller, Dwayne Otte, Dorothy Pleines, Lorrence Pleines, James Schmieding, Wayne Schulz, Shirley Siebe, Linda Kay Sies, Doris Walker, Euleen Werth, Margaret Whittrock, Margaret Yauk

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Memories of the Christmas Program

[Lois (Meyer) Voeltz provided the following memories and photographs.]

I [Lois] thoroughly enjoyed the memories of the St. John Christmas programs and finally, this week, found some pictures of the kindergarten angels that did have wings -- my class, 1952-53 and Alan's class, 1954-55. I remember the kindergarten made a 'curtain' with the Mary & Joseph moving in behind the angels. Arms were linked and then opened up.

Kindergarten Angels at St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1954
Flickr page

Kindergarten Angels at St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1952
Flickr page
[The Flickr pages show larger sizes of the images.]

Also, I do remember practicing on that one day in the Seward High gym -- long and a bit "boring" -- don't like using that word but it was so repetitious. And we all know Luke 2 in the King James Version, I'm sure! I loved singing "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come", all 70 zillion verses, ending with "Ah dearest Jesus holy child...."

Lower grades wore white gowns with big red bows. Upper grades wore black undergown and white overgown. A big deal to have grown to Mr. Schmeiding's upper grades.

When in 8th grade, Larry Peterson brought cinammon sticks for all of us to enjoy. (Mike S, so appreciated your story about our cousin, John Garmatz, and how he 'introduced' cinammon sticks. I remember getting the vial of cimammon at Brockhoff Drug Store. We loved it!!)

I can smell the brown paper bags and see the big orange and apple and hard candy that was passed out to each of us as we recessed. And hurrying home to open presents.

I was saddened when St John decided to forego the traditional (as we knew it!) Christmas Eve service ritual but also appreciated the creative services that followed the traditional 'recitations and singing.'

Jody, I, too am thankful to have learned to sing in 4 part harmony in 5th grade. I also sing the 'parts' I know from the ones Mr. Schmeiding wrote. "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah" and "Rock of Ages". We are the folks that Garrison Kiellor talks/writes about -- that know HOW to sing 4 part harmony, without music! A gift of training that we didn't realize was happening.

[Lois provided some other old, non-Christmas photographs that I will upload in the next couple of days.]

Tobin Beck sent these remarks:

Your notes bring back a lot of memories.

When the three of us kids were little Mom started the tradition of Jesus birthday cake on Christmas Eve. We’d go to the children’s service at the Seward High gym and then come home. Dad would read the Christmas story, we’d open presents, and then we’d go into the kitchen to sing happy birthday and have Jesus birthday cake before going to bed.

Mom and Dad took a lot of photos and slides at Christmas, which helps with the memories.

This week’s blizzard (we got about 14 inches of snow, with winds of 30-45 mph) reminded me too of some of the big winter storms we had on Faculty Lane, how we’d make snow forts in some of the big drifts – and how we’d sled down the hill by Sylwester’s house. When Kevin, Tedi and I were little Dad would take us one at a time and sit behind us on the sled as we went down the hill.