This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of LEA Shaping the Future iWhy
I was born in 1940, however my story begins in 1945 in Palatine, Ill. My three brothers and I were raised in a dysfunctional home due to alcoholism. There was no religious climate at all. Both of my parents were raised in the Salem/Danvers (MA) area and it was a custom to feed the children at 5 p.m. and parents socialized until 9 or 10 p.m. when they ate dinner. At that point in the evening, often loud arguments broke out.
A neighbor who belonged to Immanuel, Palatine approached my parents to invite my brother and me to attend Sunday school at Immanuel. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted my parents to say yes. Immanuel was an easy two-block walk. The Holy Spirit further prompted my parents to approach Immanuel and inquire about my brother and me being enrolled in Immanuel Lutheran School as tuition students. This was extraordinary because in those days Lutheran schools were for member children only. Thus began my spiritual walk with the Lord.
While I do not remember any of the names of my teachers for grades two through five, I remember their love for me and learning about Jesus for the first time in my life. My classmates accepted me as one of their own and my journey toward the Lord was well on its way.
In 1950 my dad, who traveled a lot for DuPont, came home and informed my mother that he had bought an eighty-acre farm near Plymouth, Wisc. My dad had read a lot about farming and thought it would be a good environment to raise his four sons.
Plymouth was the home of St. John Lutheran Church and School. My parents decided to continue our Lutheran education at St. John and my mother drove us the six miles one way into Plymouth every day for many years. My teachers for the next four years were male and were outstanding religious role models.
The senior pastor at St. John was Rev. Herbert Baxmann who also served as the South Wisconsin District President. (In those days there were no district offices and the District President served both as parish pastor and president.) In eighth grade he put his hand on my shoulder and said I would make a good pastor or teacher. He also told my parents that I needed to be baptized before I was confirmed. So, on a Sunday afternoon, Rev. Baxmann came to our farm home and baptized the four of us.
Rev. Baxmann also asked my parents to consider sending me to Concordia College located in Milwaukee, Wisc. Because of his east coast roots, my dad wanted to send me to a boarding school back east. But when this alternative about attending Concordia came up, he considered it good because he did not want me to attend the local high school in Plymouth. Again, I believe that the Holy Spirit prompted my parents to make this decision. I also have to be honest and say that I saw this as an opportunity to leave the toxic home environment. (I need to say at this point that two of my brothers had special needs and did not experience the home environment like I did.) Although not a teacher, Mrs. Baxmann tutored one of my special needs brothers how to read.
In 1954 I enrolled in Concordia which at that time was solely an all-boy preparatory school for the pastoral ministry. There were about sixty boys in my class and our class name was sexta, the Latin word for 6. Each of the next five years had their own Latin names, ending up with prima—number one. My first two years we were required to sit at our desks from 7–9 p.m. as a study period. Our curriculum was classical with an emphasis on foreign languages (German, Latin, and Greek). One of my most memorable moments in sexta was standing before my class (religion) and reciting the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism (with explanations) from memory with under three mistakes.
Most of my classmates came from church worker or Lutheran families. My professors and classmates were good role models for me. By my quarta year, my classmates were my family and best friends. After I graduated from prima, I felt the calling to become a Lutheran teacher and decided to transfer to Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Nebraska. I graduated in 1962 and served the next 45 years in Lutheran ministry. Lutheran schools were my safety net!!
Some Concluding Thoughts
Research tells us that, in the average Lutheran school, over 50% of the student body comes from non-member families, with 20% of those from non-churched families. Many of these children come to our schools from less than ideal home environments. They may not trust members of their family to keep them safe and provide for their needs. When they come to our Lutheran schools, they find people they can trust who continually remind them of a God who loves and cares for them. The teaching of Bible stories and life in the affective domain are perhaps more instrumental for them than for traditional Lutheran students. Integration of the faith provides them with a necessary condition for learning.
While I was at Concordia Milwaukee, the administration had a saying that “who you marry can break or make your ministry.” In 1964 I married Elise, a 1961 graduate of Seward. Her parents were both Lutheran teachers. While her expertise was early childhood education, she took off 17 years to give birth to our four children, three of whom are in church work today and the fourth is a hospice nurse. She has a servant heart and after 55 years of marriage is still heavily involved with serving the church. Having a partner of the same faith is an absolute blessing and she has been and still is a role model to me.
In our country today there is a lack of civility, hatred manifested by the use of guns, and a downward movement of spirituality. It is my prayer that there be a renaissance of faith-based education to begin to extinguish our resentment toward one another and that we love one another. I find solace in knowing that God is in charge and encouragement from Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”