CHAPTER 8: BELLE PLAINE
I. BELLE PLAINE
Recollections of Roland A. Gurgel via emails to family, 2000-2001
I accepted the call to Trinity Lutheran Church late in 1953. The members of St. John's in New Ulm with the exception of the majority of the professors wanted me to continue my ministry in New Ulm. But I knew full well there would be a division within the congregation if I stayed. I had sent a letter to the leaders of the Wisconsin Synod after the fall meeting in Milwaukee protesting the delay in separation from Missouri. The professors were well aware of that letter and they were uneasy to say the least.
I brought my service to St. John's to a close after Christmas 1953. The congregation from Belle Plane sent a cleaned out cattle truck to move our furniture. It really was not all that far from New Ulm to Belle Plane.
Belle Plane was a city of some 17 or 18 hundred at that time. It was a well-kept city. Home to many retired farmers, business people, and employees of various small manufacturing industries in the neighborhood.
The church, school, parsonage, and teacherage were located on the western edge of town. The church and parsonage occupied a half a block. The school was located south and west of the parsonage. Across the street from the parsonage were a cornfield, a berry patch and an older home of one of the members. South of the parsonage was a field fenced in for some cattle. It was an ideal place for a growing family. Plenty of room to roam on church and school property.
The parsonage had been built a few years before we came. Professor Radtke had been pastor there for a few years. Under his leadership an architect was hired to design the home. It was roomy. Four good sized bedrooms a bath and a half bath on the first floor. There was a well furnished kitchen, dining area , living room, and sun room. In addition there was a spacious study. The whole west side of the house was well lighted by many large windows. The one problem was the afternoon sun. Even though there was an overhang shielding the windows, the sun did manage to heat the dining, living and sunroom during the summer months to an uncomfortable degree. There was a screened-in porch between the house and the garage. It had a roof over it and made a nice place to sleep on hot nights and a nice place to play on rainy days. The garage was heated with its own gas stove. Under the entire house was a basement with several rooms; there was a half bath in the furnace room. The house was heated with hot water. There was a workshop under the bedroom section and a large play area under the kitchen, dining, living and sunroom. It was a grand place for children, mother, and father. Most of you will remember the days spent there. We lived in that house for 6 years from 1954 through 1959.
We had many members living in town, but many more living on farms around the area. These farms were much larger than the ones we knew in Rib Lake. The crops had better growing conditions. Most of the farmers were dairy farmers. They sold their milk to cooperatives in the vicinity.
You older children will remember going to the creamery in town to bring home skimmed milk. Who was going to carry the heavy pail? I would surmise there was many a dispute.
We also had a garden on the property and used some of the land across the street on Mr. Emil Karnitz's acres. We even grew young children at times in the garden. They ventured into the muddy soil and sent down their feet as roots. Help pull me out.
Paul and John learned to mow the lawn in later years. They also took up paper carrying. They had the promise that when the temperature got below zero, dad would drive them around the route on a Sunday morning.
School was right next door in the church basement for the early grades and across the street for middle and upper grades. No more walking long distances to school. The little ones loved to look through the church basement windows to see what the older brothers and sisters were doing.
We had three teachers serving the children of the congregation. Most of the years that we were there we had 100 percent attendance of the congregation's children. The number of students hovered around 100. Since we had all of the children in school we had no need for a Sunday
School with the exception of a class for preschoolers.
The church was an older building but very serviceable. I enjoyed conducting the services there. Two English services every Sunday and a German service at least once or twice a month. There was a pipe organ in the church that was adequate. I remember spending some time at that organ during the week and testing its capabilities. The chief organist was a Mr. Schultz, the principal of the school. His organ playing left much to be desired. One of the lady teachers, Loretta Manthe, was an accomplished organist. She did not want to show up the principal so she did not give us her all. I tried to tell her she should use the gifts the Lord had given her, but she was rather reluctant. Her one failing was getting to church on time. She would be in her classroom working and forgetting to watch the clock. I finally instructed the bell ringer not to wait for her but when it was time ring the bell. When she had to run several times she learned to be there. After we left she moved into the parsonage for she married the man who followed me as pastor.
Another one of the lady teachers that many of you will remember was Hope Williams. She came from the St. Louis area. She had somewhat of a distinctive manner of speaking. Many of you picked up some of her accents.
Back to Belle Plane another day. Dad
II. TRINITY LUTHERAN CONGREGATION
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
I have given you a review of the property of Trinity Lutheran Church in Belle Plane. Let me begin this morning by giving you an insight into the situation within the congregation.
It is of interest to note who had served them as pastors in previous years. From the early thirties they had been served by Pastor Schuetze.
He had been an assistant before that so his service to the congregation covered more than thirty years. You know him as one of the charter members of the CLC. You also know him through his stepsons, the Fleischers. And you know him through his own children, Tom and his sisters. When he left Belle Plane, he was followed by Gordon Radtke. Radtke had been pastor in Red Wing for some years. He came to Trinity in l950, if my memory serves me well. During his tenor as pastor the new parsonage was built. He was very much aware of the situation within the synod over the relationship to Missouri. He worked hard to keep them informed of what was going on. I mention this to give you an understanding of what transpired over the years that I was there.
At the first Council meeting I was informed that they had heard enough about the problems with Missouri. I can still hear myself saying they would hear more. From the beginning of my pastorate they knew full well where I stood. Shortly after I arrived I discovered one of the council members was also a leader of the local boy scouts. Pastor Radtke informed me that he had tried to correct the situation before he left but he never could set up a meeting with the man. At a council meeting I confronted him with the situation and we went around for a while. Finally the rest of the council said we will deal with him. As far as I know the man withdrew from the scouts
It has always amazed me that with the very conservative men they had as pastors they never could come to grips with the situation. In looking back I see the great majority of the members as simple humble Christians.
Most were quite faithful in attending the services. They gladly supported the school not only with their money but with sending their children to the parochial school. I have mentioned previously that at times we had 100 percent attendance. That was the only congregation I have known to do so.
I enjoyed the people. I had grown up in a largely farm congregation. I was well acquainted with farm problems and farm life. I had hoped that Belle Plane would be the place to spend my days in the ministry.
We had been there about two years when one evening the members of the church council and their wives dropped in to observe the tenth anniversary of my being in the ministry. Talk about a surprise. Lois and I scrambled about trying to put the house in order.
We had as a member of the congregation Dr. Jergens. He delivered the last three of our children into this world. Deborah, Beth, and Roland H. were born in the New Prague hospital. Dr. Jergens said he kept Lois in the hospital a little longer than necessary to give her some rest. He was a kindly gentleman and very willing to do what was best for our family.
I recall several incidents about Dr. Jergens. One Sunday during the course of the sermon I noticed one of the elderly members of the congregation in distress. I caught the doctor's eye and signaled him to an elderly Mr. Dahlke. He came to his aid. In another service I suddenly experienced a loss of breath. Paused for a time in the sermon, regained my ability to speak and went on. After the service Dr. Jergens told me to stop in and see him the next day. He gave me a series of tests and then he said, You know the way you conduct your services is equivalent to an eight hour work day. You have three services on a Sunday morning and you are making tremendous demands on your body. Take it easy.
Some of you may remember a Mr. Domras. He had a small farm outside of town. He also did a lot of painting. Above all he was a fisherman. He would invite me to go along on occasion. One time I remember he also took Paul and John with him to a lake called Pelican Lake. You boys were catching pan fish so fast I never had time but to re-bait your hooks. It was one of those times where the fish cooperated wonderfully well.
Some other names that many of you will remember are the Ottos, the Karnitzs, the Hespenheids, the Petters, the Muellers, the Dahlkes, and the list goes on.
We did take some vacations back to Spirit Lake in Wisconsin as we had done while in New Ulm. Usually we would head out the first weeks in June. Had the gardens planted, school out, and dad was in need of rest from the Lenten, Easter, seasons. I can recall going out on Spirit Lake and sitting in the boat just to relax. After a few days of that I could get back to the family and spend time with you.
I have been spending a lot of time these past months with you in producing this history of you ancestors. Hope it has brought back some pleasant memories as well as being introduced to some of your ancestors you have never known.
Time to relax. Dad
While I was giving you names of people in Belle Plane, I was struggling to recall one very important name but it just would not come. I knew it began with a “w.” Well after I sent the email off, the name finally came out of nowhere. The name I am referring to is Wolpern. There were several Wolpern families in the congregation. There was an elderly Mrs. John Wopern. She was your mother's helper in the church services. She and your mother and you little ones sat in the back. She was much like a grandmother to you in those days.
Then there was a younger Wolpern family with children that were friends to some of you. They even came and visited us when we were living in Eau Claire as did some of the Ottos.]
Have to correct a spelling error. I have been spelling Belle Plaine as though it were Belle Plane. After living there for 6 years I should know better. Decided to check the map and found that it is spelled "Plaine." So much for that uncalled for mistake. There have been other spelling errors. Many of them due to slips of the fingers, but I cannot blame this one on the fingers. Maybe old age and forgetfulness. Anyhow correct the many times Plane has shown up.]
III. BELLE PLAINE
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
Got it right this time. One of the time consuming tasks while serving Trinity was the many hours on the roads going to hospitals in many different cities. Belle Plaine had no hospital. Members would go to New Prague, to Shakopee, to Arlington, or to one of the many hospitals in the Twin Cities. The road to the cities was not the present day 169. Rather it was a highway that wound along the hills and through every little or bigger village. In the winter the roads were often ice coated and treacherous. Made many thousands of miles during the six years we lived there. There was no such thing as mileage allowance. Gas money came out of the salary and if I remember correctly my salary at the beginning was $3600.00 a year. The one city I dreaded driving through was St. Paul. Its streets followed the old cow paths of early years. One area that was a real problem was that around Miller Hospital. There was one place where seven streets met on one corner. It was known as 7 corners. You better know which street you wanted.
Hospital calls gave a pastor an opportunity to get to know his parishioners a bit better. Calls on a mother with a new baby was usually a happy call. Serious operations provided the opportunity to help a patient look within themselves and seek a word of comfort or preparation from the Scriptures. For patients hospitalized for longer periods I learned to use the catechism. The three articles provide an abundance of thoughts to build on. It gave patients something to remember and to recall between the pastor's visits. The same can be said for shut-ns. Certainly the Sunday sermon could be well used also depending on the attention span of the individual being visited. But this was not intended to be as course on pastoral theology.
Having all the congregation's children in the parochial school gave an opportunity for thorough instruction in preparation for confirmation. I had the seventh and eight graders come into my office four days a week, for an hour each day. Worked out a system with the school where they would spread the learning of the six chief parts over grades 1 through 6. Also built up a large number of passages to be memorized during those years. So many things only had to be reviewed by the time I got them. Gave a lot of time for in depth explanation. I enjoyed working with the children.
I had mentioned how the synod in 1953 decided to provide pamphlets on the differences between Missouri and Wisconsin for all the congregations. They came out while I was at Belle Plaine. They were rather well done, quite informative as to the issues. I spent a good deal of time studying the twelve pamphlets provided. As one might expect the turn out of the members for these meetings and discussions was not great, but there were many who did come and listened. It became evident in the years following that many pastors simply stacked the information provided in out of the way places and never ventured to present them. The Lord does hold His servants responsible for providing proper food for the flock in their care. In one passage He speaks of trying, testing their work by fire "and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
I will come back to the whole struggle a bit later. Now for some family history. I have mentioned this often and every time I do I get a strong denial from my oldest son. Paul, John, and Daniel shared a bedroom in the parsonage. Quite often at night I would find Daniel huddled at the door of our bedroom. His big brothers delighted in scaring the little fellow with stories of animals etc. One day I got a scare when I went into that bedroom for I found a packet of matches on the window sill with many of them showing signs of having been lit. Boys like to play with fire and they do not always realize the potential devastation that can come from such play.
Several times we made a journey to a lake next to Waconia. The children enjoyed a swim and a picnic on the shore. A romp on the sand and in the water to satisfy youthful energy is always in place. Should have done more of it but work also has its demands. The boys had plenty of places to throw their balls and run their races. The girls had swings on the school playgrounds and found friends to play dress up etc. Most of you older ones can give a better picture of those days as far as you were concerned than I can. When you add your editions to this family history many of the pranks and delights will come to light.
The three youngest may not recall too much about Belle Plaine. Deborah was not quite 5 when we left. Bethany was almost 3, and Rollie was but a half-year old. But I am certain over the course of the past forty years you have heard many stories true or exaggerated about those days.
One of the true stories of that period has to deal with a man by the name of Harvey Ruehling. He wanted attention and much of it. I would get call late at night from him declaring the devil was after him. For some time I would get in the car and drive over to his house. It finally got to be more than I could take. I went to his doctor to get some insight into the man. The doctor gave the advice to do as he had done. Charge him double for the visit. My reply was I don't charge him. I learned that he had mental problems. When Schuetze was pastor there, Harvey had slashed Schuetze's tires. I can see him sitting in his Cadillac watching the parsonage to see who might be visiting or watching to see where I might be going. He was very kind to us in many ways but at a price. I recall one time being at his home with Pastor Knickelbein. He had prepared a meal of squab for us. When Paul Knickelbein discovered that was pigeon meat. He left his plate untouched. Had enjoyed it to that moment.
Your recollections as children during those days would be appreciated. Dad
Just a couple thoughts on Belle Plaine days: The windows in your office looking out to the front yard were much too big. You could see everything we did!! Running out of gas coming back from Lake Wiconia, after Daniel warned you we were running low! Going to Ladies Aid or a wedding shower with mom and eating the fancy sugar cubes. Getting the leftover food from funeral dinners. Stomach aches before school, which were real. (I am getting them now with wedding day soon upon us.) Wetting my pants at school and getting in trouble, but I had raised my hand to ask to go to the bathroom and she wouldn't call on me. Garden veggies and corn on the cob. Have a good day. Love, Ruth)
Dad: I tried to send this to you last night…had a mail demon…analogy
Getting Joel to this point was like:
Pushing a rock uphill for 13 years...
Each year the rock got bigger,
The hill got steeper,
And I got older...(Less push power).
When he came out from the graduation ceremony he had three documents:
1. Certificate of Completion (Hillsborough County requirements),
2. Diploma (State of Florida requirements),
3. Master of Arts in Music (Blake High School Fine Arts Magnet requirements).
We had an intense hug and tears...
The youngest seems to be more emotionally attached than the others...Daniel)
Sometimes one feels a big sigh of relief. I think I heard your sigh and your Yahoo way up here. Congratulations to Joel. Wish him well from me. Now get him headed in the right direction to make a go of it for himself. Sent out his final birthday card the other day. It is a bit early but took care of the early June birthdays. So many things coming due in June I don't want to forget the grandchildren.]
I will be heading out for Vanessa's wedding with Omar and Kathy. Stopping overnight with Donald and Doris in Kenosha. They will be going to Saginaw as well. After that wedding comes Mark's 25th anniversary in the ministry on July 22. Then in August Quinn Dauer is being married. Where have all the young ones gone? I guess the answer is to the altar.
I have started forwarding the remembrances of you children with one another. Simply hitting the forward key and directing the message to all of you. So far have sent some thoughts from Ruth and Daniel. Send me your recalls about Belle Plaine. When we get to Phoenix do the same etc.]
IV. STRUGGLE AT BELLE PLAINE
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
The synodical situation was tense during the years I spent in Belle Plaine. In 1953 there were pastors and congregations that were ready to break ties with Missouri, but there were more who wanted no part of such thought.
In 1955 I was a delegate to the synod convention at Saginaw, Michigan. During Wisconsin Synod years only one out of every 10 pastors, teachers, and congregations were represented at the general meeting of the synod. Out of this custom delegate conferences grew. Before the synod met area pastors, teachers, and delegates from every congregation met to study what was to be done at the general synod meeting. They would give their input to those who would represent them. Delegate conferences made sense then. Now when every pastor, teacher, and congregation is represented at the synod meeting I am not so certain that delegate conferences are so vital.
To get back to the 1955 convention at Saginaw, The Wisconsin Synod Doctrinal Committee came with the recommendation that Missouri was marked as having caused divisions and offenses (Rom 16, l7) and they were recommending that we follow through with a break. The division within the delegates was pronounced. The argument raged. On the one side were those who spoke of "the debt of love" we owed Missouri for having helped Wisconsin in its early years overcome some doctrinal problems.
The beginnings of separating avoid and admonishing spooked about. It was finally put off until a special meeting at Watertown in 1956. Then entered in the idea of State of Confession (Statu Confessiones). This got its impetus after the meeting of the Synodical Conference of 1956.
Prof. Reim and some others came back from that meeting speaking of a 'glimmer of hope.' They thought they saw a change beginning to evidence itself In Missouri. At the Minnesota District Pastorl Conference held at Austin, Minnesota, we heard a lot about the glimmer of hope. One of the chief speakers of this glimmer was a familiar name - Karl Gurgel. There were many of us who said we would only be deluding ourselves if we follow this thought.
Glimmer of hope and Statu Confessiones were much on the minds those months. I was assigned a paper for the Minnesota Pastoral Conference at Red Wing, I believe, on Statu Confessiones. After much research and a lot of study, I came to the conclusion that Statu Confessiones is not as such a Biblical Concept. It gets its meaning from those who propose it and what they want to put into it. It is not something between marking and avoiding as many want to see in it.
Protests over the 1955 and 1956 delay of action were piling up. How do you explain the marking of teaching false doctrine and not avoiding. The impasse continued at 1957 meeting of the synod body. A committee called the Protest Committee was founded and they were given the thankless job of trying to explain on the one hand the marking of false doctrine and on the other hand the refusal to avoid. There were some interesting articles in the Northwestern Lutheran in those days trying to make sense out of nonsense.
The idea that one could continue to admonish, even though you had marked, as long as you were still being listened to. A new and obviously a false teaching regarding Church Fellowship. Now the question for many of us was, 'is this the official position of the Wisconsin Synod or is it only the thought of some?"
The answer came loud and clear at the synod's meeting in New Ulm in 1959. It was clearly the position of the synod and so many of us severed our relations with that body.
Many of us had sent forth a memorial to the synod entitled Call for Decision. It was made fun of and many simply designated it as "Call the Fire Department." Though they meant it as ridicule that is what it really was, Put out the fire of false doctrine.
The above paragraphs are but a short version of the struggle that went on in those years and the struggle that went on in my heart and mind. Basically it boiled down to this: is a body of men going to become my Bible or is the Scripture going to be my source of direction. The warning of God's Word, "Put not your trust in princes," certainly applied in this whole matter. Once it became very evident that the body of which I was a member publicly taught as its confession that you could continue in fellowship with those whom you have marked as teaching false doctrine as long as you had hopes that they were listening, the 1959 synod meeting taught exactly that - so came my break.
From 1955 on I had to convince myself until the synod gave a clear message regarding its position on fellowship I should stay. It was a constant wrestling that left me quite uneasy at times. More on that in the next edition.
Had a final check up from the surgeon this morning. All appears to be back to normal. He says do all the weight lifting you want. Not this guy. Walking is my forte not weight lifting, but it does mean that I am not restricted to carrying under twenty pounds. Can buy and carry a few more groceries than the last forty-five days.]
Still wet and cold. Was only in the fifties this afternoon. The corn and beans are not growing very fast. The only thing that does grow is the grass. Glad I do not have to mow.
Daniel is rejoicing in his leased grand piano and now can make music with the best of them. He had the ability to get sounds out of most any instrument. I can still hear him coming down the stairs in Eau Claire with clarinet in hand and a big smile on his face.
Did some investing this morning and discovered that the man I have been dealing through knows Karl and Jamie very well. Both families send their little ones to the same day care center. That the world is small has been brought to my attention many times over in all my travels. You always come across someone you know.
I had a nice chat with Ms. Wendland last Sunday afternoon. We both were at Perry and Beth's for a reception for Tysen's confirmation. She has not done any shrinking. Says to remind Ruth of the same old bag.
I have been following with interest the Twins. I cannot believe that they are winning a lot more than they are losing. They still have not convinced the state legislature to help in building a new ball park. The sports writers have been putting on a lot of pressure but have gotten nowhere. Dear old Sid Hartman is about berserk over the whole matter.
Well hang in there and may be summer will show up yet. Dad
V. FINAL DAYS IN BELLE PLAINE
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
It was in 1958 or early 1959, most likely 1958 that I received the call to be pastor of St. John's congregation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Pastor Brenner who had married us resigned and I was faced with the decision of whether to leave Trinity in Belle Plaine or to return the Milwaukee call. The salary was $100.00 a month more than what I was receiving in Belle Plaine.
I had no desire to go to Milwaukee. St. John's Church was in the heart of the colored district. It was a very large church. The outside bricks well worn. The interior nicely renovated. The pulpit was elevated quite a bit. The lectern was an eagle with wings spread. I had attended there quite often when I was dating your mother. The congregation was still fairly large although the members lived far out from the church. Most of them attended services in congregations closer to their homes. On Christmas Eve and Easter the church would be full otherwise Pastor Brenner would be high in the pulpit and a few members scattered here and there amongst the many empty pews. The congregation had received extensive endowments over the years so there was no shortage of funds. The school had closed down to a large extent over the years as members moved out of that area. I could not see myself filling a pulpit to empty pews. The parsonage was right next to the church, but the congregation assured me they would purchase a home in a more desirable neighborhood should I accept.
The call had been in my hands for about two weeks when the president of the district in which Milwaukee congregations were found wrote me and said I should have had enough time to make up my mind. He was not looking forward to having me in his district for my position on synod matters was well known.
I presented the call to Trinity congregation in Belle Plaine, informed them that I had no desire to accept the Milwaukee call. Then I said I would leave the meeting and leave it up to them whether they wanted me to stay or to leave. They knew full well where I stood on the synod position. They could decide whether they wanted me to continue as their pastor. I went back to the parsonage. A little while later the chairman of the congregation came and informed me that they had voted for me to stay as their pastor.
For many reasons I was greatly relieved. I just could not see my 9 children growing up in Milwaukee. For health reasons I was also happy to stay in Belle Plaine. While at the seminary which was not too far from Lake Michigan I had suffered from sinus problems. The cold lake winds were no friends of mine. I was also well aware that I owed Trinity more information on synodical matters. I had no great hopes that they would listen and follow but there was still work to be done regardless of the outcome.
The summer of 1959 was a busy one for your mother. The gardens produced bountifully. The farmers brought in an abundance of apples and mother canned apple sauce as well many, many jars of vegetables. When it came time to leave the parsonage as it did in the fall, the big question was what to do with all of mother's labor of love in the vegetable cellar. The cost of shipping them to Arizona with the household goods seemed prohibitive especially since we did not know where we would be living. It hurt your mother to see all that work lost to her. We gave hundreds and I mean hundreds of jars to a family whose father had been ill that summer and fall and unable to work. There are things in life that tug at the heartstrings. Mother never complained, but I know she was hurt by having to leave her hard work of the summer behind.
It was in the summer of 1959 that my father passed away. He was in New Ulm visiting my sister Marie. His next stop was to have been our home in Belle Plaine. You children were down with chicken pox, I believe, so I could not take you to his funeral. I must have gone with Marie's family to Wonewoc for that event. I came back to the cities by train or bus and one of them members picked me up from there and took me back to Belle Plaine.
My father had said to me sometime before his death that he had not raised me to be a fighter. He could not understand why I was opposing the synod in its stance. It was an interesting remark for it took me back to what Dr. Jergens of Belle Plaine had said to me after an examination. He too said you do not appear to be a fighter. He also was at a loss why I was involved in synodical matters. My reply to the good doctor was, You do not understand the power of the Holy Spirit working through God's Word. I could have said to my father you indeed have raised .me to be what I am for you have over the years instilled in me a love for God's Word Morning, noon, and night you have set that Word before me and through that Word the Holy Spirit guides and directs.
When in the fall of 1959 the Wisconsin Synod made their position on Fellowship clear and unmistakable, I offered my resignation to the synod.
The congregation's response to my action was, "our constitution requires that our pastor be a member of the Wisconsin Synod, and since you are no longer a member, you are no longer our pastor.
A bit more on this next time. Dad
VI. GOODBYE TO BELLE PLAINE
Notes or article author name can be added in this area.
After the meeting in which I announced my resignation from the Wisconsin Synod and at which the members informed me that since I was no longer a member of that body I was no longer their pastor, So after that meeting a fair group of members came to the parsonage and informed me that they wished me to continue as their pastor. Plans were made for conducting services in the basement of Allen Peltz's home. Several Sunday services were conducted there. We also investigated the purchase of an Episcopal Church building that for a long time had not been used. We contacted the headquarters of the Episcopal body in the cities but were given no hope for the use of or the purchase of that building.
The members of Trinity and other people from the city began putting pressure on those who were willing to follow my lead. It soon became evident that most of them would return to Trinity. One family remained steadfast in following me out of the synod and that family was the Harold Hene family. Since it did not appear likely that something would develop in Belle Plaine that family joined the group that had left the synod under the leadership of Egbert Schaller in Nicollet.
I had made attempts to find work in Belle Plaine area and also to purchase a house. That too did not develop. So now what? Egbert Schaller wanted me to go to Neenah, Wisconsin where he thought there were some of his relatives who might need the services of a pastor. That was not to be. So now what? I wanted if at all possible to take the family where there was a Christian Day School. Cheyenne, Wyoming was thought of. I made a call to Winnie Schaller about possibility of work in that city. The answer was negative. Then I made a phone call to a former schoolmate who had left the Wisconsin Synod some years before and who with others had founded an independent congregation in Phoenix, Arizona. That man was Vernon Gerlach. When I asked him of possibilities in that city, his answer was one that I will never forget. All he said was ,"The First Article is in effect here." He also said come on down bring the family and stay with us until you find something." That did it. We immediately began making preparations for that move. Lined up a moving van to pick up our furniture when we would give the order from Phoenix. Paul Knickelbein offered his services to help drive some of the family to Phoenix. So Phoenix here we come.
My father had died earlier that year, 1959. I received some $1300.00 in inheritance. My sister Marie gave me, loaned me, $1000.00 of her inheritance. Allen Peltz loaned me $500.00. With some few hundred I had in my checking account we headed out of Minnesota bound for Phoenix. This was about the end of October of 1959. Most of the older children rode with Paul Knickelbein. Mother and I had the rest in our De Soto. It was our intention to keep the two cars together, but within a few hours Kinckelbein and you older ones went one way and I another. All through the trip we would stop at police stations only to hear the other had been there left the message that all was well and were headed for Phoenix. Never did catch up with them until we arrived at the Gerlachs.
Rollie was just a baby of some 7 months. Bethany was a little girl of just a few years. When we stopped for the night at a motel, she said I want to go home. What do you say to a little girl who wanted to go home that there was no home to go to? Mother made the remark as we were driving "Let's not split up." The Lord had given me a family that I loved dearly and I would do all within my power with His help to keep them under my care until they in later years would choose to leave.
More on the journey and its destination in another email. Dad
[Note: John: (This was in 2002 Manuscript; now, also in Appendix D, Siblings’ Memories.)
I was a PK. That made all the difference, to them. It really didn’t matter to me, much, until I got home. Then it hit, the whole you’ve-got-to-be-an-example thing. Everything was tempered by this what-others-might-think thinking. It was tricky because nobody, not even Dad, knew what anybody was thinking. Why, these other nobodies usually didn’t know what they were thinking, anyway. Until Dad told them.
You see, every Sunday, his booming voice and thundering words would last well into Wednesdays, and on a good Sunday, well into Thursdays. Never until Friday, though. Fridays we ruled.
You see, half the farm town was Catholic and half were Lutheran, give or take a few Methodists, Baptists, and atheists, who always came around when dieing. The Catholics usually took the higher ground, except on Fridays. That’s when their steeples were lowered and their kids would come over for hotdogs and burgers. We Lutherans ruled Fridays.
And then on Saturdays, the Catholic kids would party out, collecting sins for Sunday’s confession. And we were left alone on Saturdays, because Dad was busy gathering up everyone’s thoughts for Sunday’s sermon so he could tell them what to think for four days and four nights. That’s what made him such a good and popular preacher. Most ministers’ sermons lasted only a day or two. The bad preachers never made it past the Sunday suppers they never got invited to. But Dad’s lasted late into the week.
That’s when my brother and I threw the Catholic kid in the ditch and left him to figure his own way out. He started it. Calling us the “Gurg” brothers. That was our marquee name. It stayed on the ball field, at the park. It was a term of respect, given to us by our team and coaches. We were the dirty “Gurg” brothers. He pitched, I caught. I was Ozzie at short, he played second. We always ran the bases faster than the others and loved sliding. We could have had our own backyard infield with all the dirt mom washed down the drain.
But it was an off-season Saturday with no ball game. The kid thought he was tough. He must have been looking for some confession. Maybe he remembered the time we were part of the troop that wanted to settle the dust on the ball field that summer. Must have been an infield’s worth of us. The ball field was the pride of the town, and we got to practice and play on the big field. The town’s constable kept the gates locked between games and practices. So we climbed the fence and turned on all the sprinklers. Somebody called the constable and he came ready for his game.
My older brother was a year older, but I was a little bigger, for my age. Or, he was a little smaller for his. And, thanks to Dad’s secret desire to be a barber so he could tell people how to look rather than how to think, we ran around with no hair on our ears so they could better hear what people were thinking. We sported the bald sport’s look before it was popular. It wasn’t popular with us then either. People thought we were twins. Why, put any two shaved bald kids together, and listen to people swear how much alike they look. The “Gurg” brothers.
It was a love hate affair. He was a year older, and smarter. I was his equal in size and speed and quickness. And, being younger, cuter, which he resented. He was always picking on me. I was always dumb enough to take the bait and get my butt beat, until he got me mad, then off the mat like a WWF madman I’d fly at him and punish him until I’d hurt him, and… Our weekly wrestlemanias lasted until our next younger brother was big enough to pick on. Then we tortured him and only released him from his bondage when he joined the Air Force.
But let anyone outside the family pick on my beloved brother—Catholic or no—the fight was on. The township was trenching sewer lines and the crew had knocked off for the weekend, leaving a deep ditch with steep walls and a mountain of dirt lot-side of the street. His words bounced off like thrown dirt clods until he started with the “Gurg brothers” refrain. No matter he was bigger and had the Pope on his side. We pitched him in the ditch. Always aware what others might think, we figured we were doing some Good Samaritan a favor by placing a bruised and needy nobody in the ditch to rescue. We knew our Bible stories. We were not without heart, however, for we checked in the ditch in morning when we got up to do our paper routes. It was dark, but we didn’t see him in there. John]