I. NEW ULM DAYS
Recollections of Roland A. Gurgel via emails to family, 2000-2001
We left Rib Lake at the end of May or early June in 1950. Had been there almost three years. Headed for New Ulm in our 1948 De Soto. Skirted the twin cities and headed south for our new hometown. It may be of interest to you to note that my father and three brothers and three sisters all spent some time in that city attending Dr. Martin Luther College. I was the only one besides my mother that did not go to that school. But I ended up as pastor there to St. John's Lutheran Church.
St. John's was a very young congregation. It was started just a few years before we came there. It had its beginnings in the idea to provide a church on the east side of the city and to stem the growth of St. Paul's congregation on the west central part of town. It began by being served by one of the professors from Dr. Martin Luther College, a Prof. Martin Albrecht. Plans for a church building were prepared, and for a beginning the basement was put in. It was so built as to provide a place of worship for the congregation. It was very serviceable and pleasant. The congregation numbered about 300 souls and the children were allowed to attend St. Paul's school and the congregation paid the salary of one teacher at that school. Since the congregation was growing it was decided to call its first resident and full time pastor. Your father was that pastor.
It has always been my contention once you have accepted a call your relationship with the former congregation changes quite dramatically once you have announced that you are leaving. So we left Rib Lake about three weeks after accepting the call to New Ulm.
It seems that St. John's did not expect us quite that soon. They had to look around for a home for us since they did not have a parsonage at that time. What they came up with left much to be desired. It was an old house on the edge of town. Old in many ways. No hot water heater. For a family with four small children that posed a problem to say the least. Mother shed many a tear in trying to cope with an almost impossible situation. Fortunately the congregation got busy and soon bought a home a block away from the church. It was a nice home with a fireplace, an open stairway to the second floor, a nice lawn and garage, and screened in front porch across the front. Once we were informed it had been bought we got Wilmar and his truck to move us. Could not get there fast enough. A study was provided in the church basement. It also served as the sacristy
New Ulm, as its name suggests, was a German city. Neat and clean in appearance. Well planned and laid out beneath a hill and on the edge of the Minnesota River. When we came there it had a population of 10 to 12 thousand people. There were well kept parks and tree lined streets. New Ulmer German was still spoken on the streets and in the stores.
The college was located on the hill on the south side of the city. Very close to the college was Herman's Denkmal, Herman's Memorial. Herman was a German Warlord who fought the Romans in the days of Caesar. There he stood on his monument sword in hand overlooking the city of New Ulm. It was quite an impressive structure, still is. There were stairs leading up to the top of that memorial. It seems at times demented individuals would climb up and jump off so to end their lives. As a result the stairs were locked off to prevent such activities.
My sister Marie and her family lived on a farm outside of Courtland, MN, some 15 miles from New Ulm. She had several children at the time we came to New Ulm. So you children had cousins to play with. Flora Marie Bode was about the age of Lois Jean, Gerald and Paul were at the same age and there was another boy about John's age. More were to come in both families.
When we moved to Rib Lake, Lois Jean came down with scarlet fever. It was not long after we arrived in New Ulm that Kathleen developed a problem. Mothers have a fifth sense for when something unusual develops in an infant. I can recall mother informing me that there was something wrong with little Kathy. Her cry was different all of a sudden. She did not want to be held in a certain way. We took her to Dr. Vogel and within a few minutes he informed us that she was suffering from problems with her appendix. She should have an operation at once. So off to the hospital with this six month old baby. The doctor invited me to come into the operating room. I declined. I have learned over the course of years that mothers are far more capable of dealing with cuts and blood than this father. When Kathy was brought out of the operating room and had regained consciousness she looked up and smiled. That was that. A little one bounces back much more quickly than we older individuals.
The New Ulm years were marked by the struggle within the Synodical Conference. The Missouri Synod had accepted an invitation from the American Lutheran Church in 1938 for discussions based on the premises "that it is neither necessary nor possible to reach agreement on all matters of doctrine and practice." The Wisconsin Synod warned Missouri that they were heading for trouble. Missouri replied you are just jealous that you were not included in the invitation. After years of meeting with the American Lutheran Church, Missouri and the ALC came out with what was called The Common Confession. It left room for both sides to see in it what they wanted to see. It was a compromise. It was turned over to the Wisconsin Synod for reaction. I can recall going over it with my congregation section by section after the Lenten services one spring. It left much to be desired and we could not accept it. Many of the professors from DMLC who were members of St. John's supported my work whole-heartedly. The Synod warned Missouri that the document could not stand the scrutiny of Scripture. In addition Wisconsin had been objecting to Missouri's stand on the chaplaincy and Boy Scouts as well as its position of Church and Ministry.
We held many meetings with the Missouri pastors as well as with the pastors of the small Norwegian Synod with much frustration on all sides. This continued for all the years I was in New Ulm. We looked forward to having the issues settled at the Wisconsin Synod meeting in 1953. The resolution was offered to break ties with Missouri but after much debate it was decided to call a special meeting in Milwaukee that fall. Pastor John Brenner who had been president of the Synod for many years and who had led the fight for avoiding Missouri's failures in the many issues, he refused reelection in the regular 1953 meeting in August. In his place Pastor Oscar Naumann was elected as president. That was the beginning of the end for the firm stand Wisconsin had taken. When the faculty members who had supported me in my stand saw that there was a softening taking place, they withdrew to the sidelines.
In the fall meeting of the Synod in 1953 the hesitancy of the great majority was quite evident. It was decided that the congregations needed more information. So a series of pamphlets was ordered in which the various issues would be presented to every congregation. They were printed and came out after I had moved to Belle Plaine.
More of this another day. Dad
II. SOME ITEMS OF INTEREST FROM NEW ULM DAYS
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Some items of interest from New Ulm days. Although much of the 3 and a half years spent in New Ulm revolved around synodical matters there were other things that occupied us as a family. Two more children put in their appearance during those years. Daniel Gurgel joined the family circle on April 20, 1951. That put the boys ahead 3 to 2. That advantage did not last too long for on August 11, 1952 Ruth shared her birthday with that of Lois Jean at least month and day wise. So now we had 3 boys and three girls under our roof.
Mother underwent an operation for what proved to be a benign tumor on an ovary. Dr. Vogel performed the operation. Although he was not a member of the congregation he was in church every Sunday. He finally did join sometime after I left. He was a very brilliant man and very quick to diagnose a problem. We discovered that with Kathleen's appendicitis attack, with John's case of pneumonia, and with your mother's problem.
An incident involving your mother stays with me over the years. She had gone down town to do some shopping. When she came back home she had tears in her eyes. She had seen some shoes on sale and had bought two pair. I guess she was expecting a reprimand or something of that order. I assured her that we could get along without the $20.00 she had spent on shoes. It was unusual for her to buy more than one thing at a time. Must have been attractive shoes. I do not remember what kind or color they were. A woman's tears can accomplish a lot.
Her shopping trips were very well thought out. We were still in the days of wartime restrictions and she would use the rationing cards very carefully. There was a little store a few blocks down from the parsonage and she would make those trips well prepared to do business.
Being close to Dr. Martin Luther College we enjoyed the many concerts and events at that school with relish. Choir concerts, band concerts and other activities provided an outlet for social and artistic opportunities. We got to know quite a few of the students and professors during those years.
Most of you will remember Mrs. Gilbert Radichel of Eau Claire. Her brother was one of the professors at DMLC. He was a bachelor. We had him into our home for a meal on various occasions. Quite often he would stop in at my office and invite me to go with him to Madelia for a piece of pie at a restaurant in that city. He spoke very deliberately. I often felt that I was three sentences ahead of him in his thoughts. He is the only man I have known that held membership in two different synods at the same time. He had been sent to D. M. L. C. by the small Norwegian Synod to help train their teachers. So he held membership in that synod. He was a member of our congregation and so was a member of the Wisconsin Synod. After he retired he suffered from loss of memory. I remember his sister, Mrs. Radichel, telling me when we were in Eau Claire that he had wondered off and they finally found him in Louisiana. He loved sports and especially the football games at Gustavus Adolphos. He and Prof. Voecks would regularly take me those football games at St. Peter. They also took me to the Final Four games at Minneapolis. There was a Prof. Sievert at the college. He had been a teacher at our school in La Crosse while I was there. He lived across the street from us in New Ulm. There was also a Prof Birchollz, he had been a school mate of mine at the seminary. So there were some old faces on that campus, old in the sense that we had known them from former days.
Pastors in the general vicinity whom we knew were Pastor Paul F. Nolting and Pastor Elton Hallauer. The other pastor in New Ulm was a man bay the name of W. J. Schmidt. I got to know him quite well for I met with the faculty of St. Paul's grade school and he was there also. We attended many New Ulm baseball games together and usually went fishing to Mille Lacs Lake together with a Pastor Palmer from the cities. He was somewhat older than I was at that time. He was Pastor of St. Paul's congregation, which was quite sizable.
Living next to us was a family with a young daughter, perhaps 8 or 9 years old. She would play with little Daniel and Ruth. One day looking out the window I see my two youngest in their birthday suits. The neighbor girl had talked them into removing their clothes. We quickly rectified that situation. The little ones had simply followed the directions of the so called friend.
I recall one Lenten Season when every Wednesday dumped a sizable amount of snow on New Ulm. If my memory serves me correct the total amounted to some 90 inches during those weeks. To top it off a large number of inches was added during the night before Palm Sunday. I came to church that Sunday prepared for a Confirmation Service. All I found was one elderly gentleman besides myself. No confirmation no service was conducted. We held confirmation on Maundy Thursday evening. After the service was over one member asked me if I was going to preach two sermons in a service from then on. I had preached a confirmation sermon and also had a Maundy Thursday address at that service. Neither had been overly long.
When all that snow melted New Ulm experience a flood of major proportions along the low lying areas. Mankato and other cities bordering the Minnesota River found themselves with major problems. It led to the building of some of the dikes along the river here in Mankato.
It was in New Ulm that Lois Jean began her school days. She and later Paul had a Miss Sperling as a teacher at St. Paul's school. I can recall taking Lois Jean to that school at first by car and them walking the more than a few blocks and crossing a busy Center Street. (Center Street was the street that went up the hill to DMLC) It was not too long before Lois Jean assured us that she knew the way to school and could navigate the streets on her own
In a previous installment I had mentioned the names of some of Kathleen's sponsors. I am certain you know who your sponsors were for general information I will close this edition with giving you the sponsors for all of you.
Lois Jean, born in La Crosse, Wisconsin on August 11, 1946 (baptized on August 25, 1946)
Sponsors: Mrs. Henry Bauer, Karl Gurgel, Margaret Gurgel (the future Mrs. Oscar Lindemann)
Paul Roland Gurgel, born in Medford, Wisconsin on October 27, 1947
Sponsors Mr. and Mrs. Julius Kletzke, Pastor Paul Knickelbein
John Mark Gurgel born in Medford, Wisconsin on November 5, 1948
Sponsors: Mr. and Mrs. Ernst Gurgel Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Taylors standing in for Ernie and Marie
Kathleen Cheryl Gurgel born February 23, 1950 in Medford, Wisconsin
Sponsors: Bette Blair, June Doubek, Donald Bauer
(As mentioned earlier, Bette Blair and June Doubek were members of my first confirmation class in Rib Lake. The two young ladies impressed me with their understanding and their faithfulness.)
Daniel David Gurgel born in New Ulm, Minnesota on April 20, 1951
Sponsors: Mr. and Mrs. Wilmer Bode (that would be my sister Marie and her husband)
Ruth Ann Gurgel born in New Ulm, Minnesota on August 11, 1952
Sponsors Pastor and Mrs. W. J. Schmidt and Mr. and Mrs. Earl Picha (my sister Doris and her husband)
Deboray Kay Gurgel born in New Prague, Minnesota on November 14, 1954
Sponsors:Herman Gurgel, Marjorie Baldwin, Dawn Pieper, Irene Ranzenburger
(These young ladies were students at DMLC and they often baby sat for us in New Ulm days. They came from Caladonia, Minnesota, where my brother was pastor.)
Bethany Lynn Gurgel born in New Prague, Minnesota on January 1,1957
Sponsors: Mr. and Mrs. Mel Schultz (teacher at Belle Plaine) Hope Williams and Magdalene Papst (these young ladies were also teachers in our school at Belle Plane)
Roland H. Gurgel born in New Prague on March 3, 1959
Sponsors: Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Taylor and Mrs. Henry Bauer
So there you have the 9 Gurgel children with their sponsors.
I will wind up with New Ulm days next time. Dad
You might be surprised how much mother worked out. She was on her feet constantly and walked the stairs, halls, and sidewalks. She resolved to stay in shape after every little one she brought into the world.
Speaking of Memorial Day experiences you and Paul started to camp out by a mountain lake when we were in Cheyenne. When the rains came we traveled back up the mountain to bring you two out of the cold and rain. You were glad to see us.]
Twice within the last year we have found artificial flowers on mother's grave. Have been trying to discover who ordered or put them there. If anyone of you has done it thanks and please let me know if you are the kindly soul.]
III. MEMORIAL DAY
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The day brings back memories from different places and times in my life. As a grade school child I marched with the other children of St. Paul's Lutheran School to the cemetery in Wonewoc. Watched as flowers and flags were laid on the graves of soldiers from the
Civil War and the First World War. Heard the poem Flanders Fields recited many times.
As a student and member of the band at Northwestern College marched to a city pavilion and listened to the Rev. Nitz from Waterloo, Wisconsin give a memorial address. Wondered together with many other students whether it was the wisest thing for a Wisconsin Synod pastor become so involved.
As a citizen of Rib Lake, Wisconsin I watched as the high school band walked in 3 to 4 inches of snow one Memorial Day out to the city cemetery.
In other cities and states listened to the gun salute over rivers and land on this day.
Sent an e-mail to John a few hours ago recalling a Memorial Day journey he and Paul took to the mountains and lakes of Wyoming. Not too long after we took them and their tent to the shores of the lake, cold winds and rains descended. A day early we went back to their campsite and took them back to the warmth and security of home
Memorial Day has taken on a more personal meaning for me over the past years. The first death that made me sit up and take notice was the death of my brother Herman. He was shot down over Germany in the early days of World War 2. When he was brought back, his remains that is, we attended the memorial service at St. Paul' Church in Wonewoc. The whole village of Wonewoc shared in that occasion for Herman was well liked by the town’s people. If you ever drive through Wonewoc you will find his name on the Legion Post. It is known as the Clark - Gurgel Post. Clark was a World War 1 veteran. Herman never was a member of that post but the members have honored his memory in that name.
The next deaths that struck home was that of my mother in 1951 and that of Lois' father soon thereafter. On Memorial Day as well as many other days those names come to mind with that of my father who passed away in 1959 and the one that has hit me the hardest is that of Lois, a companion for almost 54 years.
The deaths of my mother and that of Lois' father came during the days we living in New Ulm. I can recall a trip I took one Sunday after service with Prof. Voeks along to visit with my mother for a few hours. She suffered many little strokes in the brain. Her memory was failing rapidly, but she did recognize me and I had a devotion with her. It was not long after that I took my sister Marie and her children to Wonewoc for the funeral and Wilmer brought my family a day later. I had promised to preach that Sunday at the country church in Rib Lake. So from Wonewoc to Rib Lake and back to Wonewoc for the funeral.
Lois' father suffered from lung cancer. He had an operation for that malady. Mother and the girls took a train to Milwaukee to be with him and grandma Bauer. It was quite an undertaking for Lois. She had Lois Jean, Kathleen, and Ruth who was just a baby. They had to change trains in a town in Wisconsin named Weyouwega. Some kind gentleman helped mother and little ones make that change. They spent some weeks, as I recall, in Milwaukee. I had Paul, John, and Daniel under my wing in New Ulm. Mr. Bauer lived for some months after that but passed away within a year.
There were also many pleasant days in New Ulm. You children enjoyed going to the Bode farm and playing with your cousins. Trips to parks in the vicinity were also made. The boys enjoyed some fishing. In fact I was out fishing with them when Ruth was born. Came back from the river to discover mother in hospital and Ruth greeting the world on Lois Jean's birthday at that.
Both Lois Jean and Paul spent some time in St. Paul's Lutheran school in New Ulm. The thought of my children having the opportunity to attend a parochial school played a role in my accepting the call to New Ulm. When the call came from Trinity Church in Belle Plane and I knew it also had a parochial school I was ready to go there for that reason and some other reasons.
More on the move to Belle Plane next time around.