Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memories of Kathy Lange Brakke

My family moved to Seward, Nebraska, in 1964, the summer of my 11th birthday. We moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, where my father had been a pastor in an old urban congregation, to Seward, where he had accepted a faculty position to teach theology.

I liked Seward from the start. I loved the size because of the tremendous freedom. I could ride my bike from one side of town to the other, which was a huge advantage for making new friends. My first friends were Debi Schipull and Rose Radford who I met in Sunday School at St. John. Having a few weeks to get to know them made starting a new school less scary. I spent a lot of time exploring my new surroundings by bike, which was great exercise.

My sixth grade class was much larger than my Lutheran school class in Cincinnati. I liked being part of it and I liked being able to walk to school. It sure beat the hour-long bus ride I had been accustomed to. As I reflect on those days I see them as an incredible blessing. The adult we become is influenced greatly by all the people who have been part of our lives. For me, Seward was a very safe and secure environment and I will be forever grateful for those individuals who were my peers.

One of the things I remember about 6th grade was that we had to memorize the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, with meanings, and recite them for our teacher, Mr. Schmeiding. If we could do that with three mistakes or less we were given the privilege of calling our parents from the principal’s office.

I also remember that Mr. Schmeiding liked a quiet classroom. He was often tapping a desk with a ruler saying, “the feet, children, the feet” which meant, Sit Still!!

Many of us ate hot lunches at school. My mom appreciated not having to pack bag lunches so strongly encouraged us to take them. My own children have a very difficult time believing that one of the favorite meals was the St. John Hot Dish. It was a layer of hamburger, a layer of sauerkraut and a layer of mashed potatoes.

Being assigned to St. John’s for student teaching was only for the bravest. As students, we were very accustomed to having student teachers and we did not believe in making life easy. Many a note was passed around to instruct classmates to drop a pencil at 10:06, etc. If an individual survived the St. John experience they were ready for any classroom. I’m sure that environment was part of the reason I never wanted to be a teacher.

My family lived in a beautiful old house owned by the college. Our address was 445 North Second which was on the corner of Moffit, a brick street, and Second. It was located half way between Concordia campus and downtown. Everything in Seward was walking distance and it was nothing to walk downtown. Being a shopper at heart it was a frequent trip for me.

An incentive for spending money in Seward was the practice of retailers giving Movie Money with each purchase. I think it was a penny for every 50 cents spent. It wouldn’t be long before you could buy a 35 cent movie ticket at the Rivoli. Of course any serious shopping was done in Lincoln. My mother, being a city girl, was only too happy to take us on shopping trips to Lincoln during school vacations.

We spent much of our time playing outside especially in the summer. We literally lived at the pool with lessons in the morning, swimming in the afternoon and after supper. Many of our evenings were spent playing Kick the Can with the Blomenbergs, who lived a block from us. Since we didn’t have air-conditioning it was probably pretty easy for the adults to keep track of their kids from the noise we made. I like to think they were happy sounds. Having six kids my parents were probably glad to have it outside. One of my favorite winter activities was ice skating on Plum Creek.

Most of us did not have a lot of material possessions but we didn’t think much of it because everyone was in the same boat. In our family we had what we needed with plenty of love.

We did learn to be self–sufficient, and for a female wanting a bigger wardrobe, that meant learning to sew. I learned much about sewing from Mrs. Middendorf. Her daughter, Marcia, and I made matching sleeveless shifts when we were 12. We wore those dresses with pride and for me, it was the start of many garments to come. Those days of mini skirts allowed me to sew an A-line skirt from a half yard of fabric. Paired with a sweater from the Sears catalog, a new outfit was created. Having five daughters, my dad never really complained about buying fabric. With the help of lessons learned from 4-H, I became a fairly good seamstress, good enough to sew my wedding gown years later.

It has been fun to think about those days in Seward. I could probably write more, given the time. High school would be another story and that too has lots of fond memories. My daughter went to college at Concordia Seward. It was fun to see the town through her eyes. I feel I had the advantage -- living there when I was young. It was a great place to be a child and I am so thankful Seward was part of my life.

Following are some excerpts from messages that Kathy sent to me before she sent the above article:

Just want you to know I enjoyed reading your blog. My brother [David] found it and passed on the info to his sisters.

Recently my mom shared a story about a conversation she had with your dad many, many years ago. We were talking about going to church in Weller Hall. Our family consisted of five girls and one boy so she proposed to your dad one Sunday that he could trade a couple of his boys for a couple of her girls. He replied with a straight face, "You take one, you take them all".

I noticed in your profile that you are involved with home care. You might be interested in our business Indianapolis Senior Living. We've been open about a year and it has been an incredible journey.

My sister Ruth was in [your brother] Steve's class and has retired from teaching.

My sister Mary was in John Luebke's class. I plan to ask her about him. That must have been a class of free spirits. Mary was the most adventurous of our family. She spent two years in the Peace Corp in Africa.

Your blog has generated some interesting discussions among us [in my family]. It is so interesting to see how people take different paths in life. My family is pretty spread out. None of us live in Wisconsin, where my parents live. My own children are in Florida, California and Bogota, Colombia. We all live pretty traditional lives.

I do think Seward gave us strong roots and it is wonderful that you have taken time to record that. Keep it up. Maybe some college student will use it for some kind of sociology paper.

Below is a message that Kathy's brother David Lange sent to me before Kathy contacted me:

I stumbled upon your blog tonight, and now three hours later I just want to thank you for the great effort you've put into it. Very fond memories.

I think you are a year ahead of my sister Kathy, and Ruth was the year younger. Our family was loaded with five girls plus me...sort of the reverse of your family! Your brother Larry was my classmate, and I was in your house way out on Columbia Avenue. seemed like 10 miles out in the boonies when I was a kid. My dad was a theology prof at Concordia from 1963-1977.

I'm currently a professor of civil engineering at the University of Illinois. My wife Rise and I have three kids, one of whom works at Concordia today. Rise's parents still live in Seward --her maiden name is Sloup.

Kathy and her husband Paul are in Indianapolis. Ruth and her husband Scott are in Loveland, Colorado. My other sisters are Mary, Lois and Ann.

Next Monday, April 4th, Concordia is dedicating a new stained glass window in the Weller auditorium which serves as their chapel. My sisters and I sponsored the window as a gift to Concordia in honor of mom and dad. Mom and dad are attending but none of us kids are able to make it. You can see the window at the Center for Liturgical Art blog.

I did not find the item in the Center for Liturgical Art blog, but I found an article about this window gift on this webpage.

Seated L-R: Ruth Sprain, Mary Zbikowski, Carol & Harvey Lange, Lois Rentschler. Standing L-R: Kathy Brakke, David Lange, Ann Barber.