From My Mango Tree


Luther G. Strasen

(Updated in 2006)

The Auto-biography of Luther George Strasen

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Chapter Five – Branches

In preparation for our marriage, Arlene rented an upstairs apartment at 201 Woodland Street, into which I moved upon arriving back in Fort Wayne. It had a mutual front door with the lower level.

Luther and Arlene Strasen Wedding

A flight of stairs in the enclosed foyer had a door at the top and led to a living room and, on toward the back, a bedroom, bath, and kitchen. It would be our first home together for about three months. Our wedding took place two weeks later, on June 29, 1957, at Emmaus Lutheran Church, with my father officiating. The evening before, the Emmaus pastor, Erwin Tepker, took us through a rehearsal, which, due to its efficiency, became a model for how I conducted rehearsals in the next years. We had a rehearsal dinner that was hosted by Arlene’s Uncle Herb and Aunt Marie Wesling. It was a beautiful wedding the next day, for which Arlene had done most of the preparation. She was exquisitely lovely in her white gown. Her maid of honor was her cousin Barbara Wesling (now Rauhut) and her bridesmaids were long time Emmaus friends, Carolyn Wambsganns (Scheimann) and Shirley John (Beneke), and a Concordia High School classmate, Sharon Basheleir (Koehlinger). My best man was my good friend Roland Barkow. Groomsmen were Arlene’s brother Jim, her cousin Ken Lytal, and my friend from Concordia Fort Wayne days, Ron Michel. Also good friend, Ted Taykowski, gave a homily based on the Aaronic Benediction, while Dad performed the ceremony.

A reception was held in an old parish building that served as a fellowship hall and stood where Emmaus’s present gymnasium was later built. We paid for our own wedding, so we had had a reception that was essentially open face sandwiches, cake, and punch. Arlene and I greeted guests and opened presents, but had nothing to eat. The reception didn’t last long, and by the time we reached the Sands Motel, on the northeast corner of Coliseum Boulevard and Coldwater Road (now replaced with other buildings), we were very hungry. So we checked in, and immediately left to have a late supper at the Fireside Restaurant on South Calhoun Street, also no longer in existence. We then returned to the motel and made love all night. Our week-long honeymoon was at an Indiana lake and then for a few more days at “Mutter” Meister’s cottage on Pine Lake, Wisconsin.

During the rest of the summer of 1957, for a time, I worked for the same cement contractor that employed me in 1953. When no longer needed by him, I sold furnace cleanings from door to door for Holland Furnace Company, not very successfully. I was glad when September arrived. Arlene finished with Dr. Land and we piled our belongings into a trailer that we shared payment for with the also newly married Ted and Sarah (Grubb) Klees. He towed the trailer with his car, and Arlene and I followed behind in our ’53 Chevy, as we headed for St. Louis and our final year at Concordia Seminary. 

We found an apartment, along with about six other seminary couples, at the Stone Ridge Apartments, a ten minute drive from the seminary, just on the edge of a decaying neighborhood. The cost was $110 a month. Arlene acquired a nursing position at Deaconess Hospital’s newborn nursery, at $220 a month. Our rectangular apartment was made up of a large room that was L-shaped, with a kitchenette on the left wall as we entered, a living/dining area to the right and the bed (with a curtain that pulled around it) in the smaller part of the L. The bathroom made up the rest of the rectangle. There was a window in the bedroom area that faced an alley between our building and the next one to it, a window we seldom opened. On a few nights we heard gunshots. At one time George, the apartment manager’s husband, had to move our stove to kill the mice that had nested under it. But we were young and adventurous, if not oblivious. It was at the apartment that we first met Fred and Mina Hubert and Art and Mitzie Preisinger. And it was there that our Timothy Michael began life nine months before he entered the world.

April of 1958 was a time of wonderful excitement. At a worship service, I was given the assignment to my first parish. LCMS seminarians have little say, to this day, where they will be first placed. That decision is made by the accumulated wisdom of a call committee of the district presidents of the Synod. A congregation makes a request for a candidate, not usually by name, and the call committee distributes the soon-to-be pastors according to needs of congregations and the amount of students available. My class numbered 154 men. I had heard that St. Martin had requested me to be Pastor Speckhard’s assistant, and the request was honored. Graduation was on May 30th. The evening before, Pastor Speckhard, who had been chosen to be the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Divinity for his work with vicars, preached at a service held at Messiah Lutheran Church on Kings Highway. He had been told that he needed another prostate surgery, again to be done at Valparaiso, and it was obvious he wasn’t in good health. But he delivered a fine message. The graduation the next day was held outside in the seminary quadrangle, with Dad and Mom, and Ruth, in attendance. I was awarded a Theological Diploma. That day I also gave Arlene, gloriously pregnant, a framed Ph.t degree diploma – for Putting Husband Through. During my first year at Peace, Fort Wayne, after taking more course work at the Senior College, I was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree by the seminary that, some years later, by a decree of the seminary, because of the amount of years of schooling, became a Master of Divinity degree.

Arlene and I visited the newly awarded Dr. Speckhard in the hospital at Valparaiso on our way to Clintonville. It was now very apparent that he wouldn’t be able to function on his return, as he was still very depressed. I’m not sure how he had made it through the previous twelve months; though he did have a vicar for the final half of the year, Ron Blau, who still had a few weeks to fulfill when Arlene and I arrived. My call document had me as Speckhard’s assistant, but, even before we left St. Louis, it was changed to associate pastor, and I was to take the leading role. Without asking me, it was figured that I would then want to live in the large parsonage by the church. So the congregation had purchased a smaller house across from the church property, at 52 8th Street., and had re-carpeted the living room and dining room for the Speckhards to move in. Pastor and Mrs. Speckhard, who were comfortable in their home of many years, quietly accepted that decision. Fortunately, I heard about it in the months that we were still in St. Louis and I was able to ask the congregation to keep the Speckhards in their home. Arlene and I would move into the house across the street. In preparation, in St. Louis we bought a bedroom set, couch and chair, and another chair, and had them shipped to our new home.

Reflecting on Pastor Speckhard’s health, I came to realize that his emotional health had deteriorated because he never took true leave and vacations. He never removed himself from his parishioners’ problems and ended up internalizing them. A cottage he owned on beautiful Pine Lake, five miles from Clintonville, gave him a place for some respite – but it had a phone. He would plan to leave town, but then would become aware of a parishioner’s proximity to death, or some such thing, and wouldn’t go. He eventually went to the Mayo Clinic for a third prostate surgery, which took care of that matter, but he never recovered emotionally. The congregation, to its credit, took good care of him. All the years that I was at Clintonville he lived in his parsonage, hardly ever leaving it, with full salary; but he only preached two or three more times during my pastorate there. During those four years he went to a mental hospital for periods. When he would return for a weekend, feeling more upbeat, the phone would start ringing. Listening to the problems of his beloved members, he would soon become depressed and would return to the hospital. I highly honor Pastor Speckhard. In the short good time we had together he modeled a faithful ministry. But in that faithfulness, he failed to truly refresh himself. When I was at Clintonville, our family went on vacations far away from Clintonville.

We settled into our new home. On July 13th, 1958, I was ordained into the Holy Ministry by my Dad. I was finally beginning what I had sought during all those years and I was enthusiastic to serve the Lord as one of his pastoral servants. A rather amusing episode followed my ordination. I knew that I was scheduled for a wedding the next Saturday for a young lady who was already with child. Early Friday afternoon, I happened to ask Pastor Speckhard whether I had to register my ordination to perform a marriage and he said that I did – at Waupaca, the county seat, twenty miles away. But I had no official papers yet, Dad had gone back to Wartburg and the District president hadn’t sent me a certificate. I quickly phoned my circuit counselor to write a letter as one present at the ordination, drove to his house that was in another direction to pick it up, and finally arrived in time at the courthouse and was registered. The marriage went according to schedule. But the next day the bride had her child, a bit premature. She had wrapped herself tightly to fit into her white dress and didn’t look that far along. Arlene and I chuckled about it. If I hadn’t been registered and authorized, there could have been a wedding and a baptism on the same day at some future date.

In the next days we took care of an immediate need. We obtained Fredericka of River View Kennels, a female German Shepherd pup that for the next years was our “Fritzie.” She lived for fifteen years and so was with us in all of our homes. She was an obedient dog and got along well with our children as they came into the family and never showed any ill temperament. All of our children have had pet dogs in their own homes, most often of the larger variety, which I think came from their attachment to Fritzie and her successor, “Nikki.” We brought Nikki, a Husky, into our home in Fort Wayne about a year after Fritzie died, and she also lived with us for fifteen years. The big difference between the two of them was that Fritzie barked when the doorbell rang, whereas Nikki, in Husky style, hardly said more that a mild “woof.”

I write first of Fritzie’s arrival in our home only to adhere to the time line. Our greatest joy at that time was the birth of Timothy Michael on August 16, 1958, at the Clintonville Hospital. Dr. Harry Caskey, a member of the congregation, presided at the delivery. I was in the room, but saw little, as nurses’ backs got in the way. In those days we had no way of knowing the child’s gender before birth. We were delighted that God gave us a healthy boy and then, in the next three and a half years in Clintonville, two girls. A side note to Tim’s birth is that Roy Eberhardt, owner of a funeral home and furniture store and a good friend all these years, told us to have our baby on his birthday. And so we did and I called him at two or so in the morning hours to inform him. At least, as a funeral director, he was used to such crazy hour calls. Sarah Marie was born on March 24, 1960. Her birth was more dramatic as she appeared as a breech footling – feet first, with one leg tucked back like a hurdler. Not as many nurses were around and I sat on a stool while Dr. Caskey patiently waited for the baby to fully emerge. He told me that she most likely wouldn’t breathe immediately (we could already see it was a girl), and it was good I was forewarned; there was a long pause before her first breath. Catherine Louise appeared in short order on December 1, 1961. I took Arlene to the hospital and waited for her to be prepped. The next thing I knew a nurse came and told me that we had a girl. So in just a few years, our house had become a nursery. Grandma Lytal was very helpful when the children were born. She would arrange for vacation time at General Electric so that she could care for the older children during Arlene’s normal five-day stays in the hospitals, both while in Clintonville and later in Greenwood. Actually, Dr. Caskey released Arlene after only four days because, due to so many visitors with gifts, she could get more rest at home. We didn’t have to buy another dress for Sarah until she was two years old.

Our two-storey Clintonville house had been a duplex, with a stairway in the back, entered from the outside and also from a door in the kitchen. The wooden frame house had many tall double windows with up and down half panes. Heavy storm windows were stored in an upstairs back room and they had to be slung in front of each window before winter. Upstairs, I sat on a windowsill, half my body outside, while Arlene held my legs tight from inside as I struggled to fasten a cumbersome storm window. At first the house had no screens, but they were added – even though a church trustee asked whether one screen on each double window would suffice. It wouldn’t. The house had a low front porch with a door on the right that opened into the living room, separated by an arch from the dining room. The kitchen and a half-bath, with washer and dryer, were in the back. A back porch wrapped around the kitchen and half bath. On the left side of the house were two rooms. The one at the front, with a door from the living room, had been newly fitted for Pastor Speckhard to be his study, with built-in bookshelves. Parishioners who came for counseling or church business with me had to be led through the living room to the study. The other downstairs room had a door from the dining room and at first we used that for our bedroom. The upstairs had a full bath and three bedrooms and a back storage room. There was a murky basement that only functioned as the furnace room. We soon stripped the wallpaper from most of the rooms, both upstairs and down, and re-papered. That allowed us to move our bedroom upstairs and have a nicely decorated nursery room and children’s bedroom. That next summer I got the congregation to move the front door of the house to the middle of the porch. A little vestibule was formed, with a coat closet, and I could take people right into the office. Some years after we left Clintonville the house was demolished to make way for the new Clintonville Public Library.

The most hilarious occurrence in Clintonville (not then, but now – in retrospect) took place in the month after Tim was born. On Sunday September 7, 1958, I turned off the alarm clock on the headboard of the bed, figuring Tim would wake us up as usual. He decided to sleep through for the first time, and the next thing I knew the church bells were ringing for the 8:00 a.m. service and the phone was also jangling. Pastor Speckhard’s son Mark, who then was studying for the ministry and was helping with the liturgy, was calling, wondering where I was. I told him to start the service. To add to the confusion, it had been Pastor Speckhard’s practice through the years to keep the communion ware and the elements at his house and prepare them himself right before the service. Now they were at our house and it was my responsibility and, obviously, nothing was ready. In a panic, I threw on my clothes and Arlene put a gob of toothpaste in my mouth. In short order, I was running across to the church with the communion ware case in one hand, a jug of wine in the other, and a box of wafers under one arm. I then realized I wasn’t wearing any underwear. The pastors didn’t sit in the small chancel at St. Martin; rather, they retired to the sacristy during the hymns. So, as I came in the side door, Mark was in the sacristy and informed me that he had announced another hymn to keep the congregation active. Fortunately, it was also Pastor Speckhard’s communion Sunday procedure to start with a hymn, then a short confessional address, followed by the Confession of Sins on page 15 of The Lutheran Hymnal, followed by another hymn, and then the regular sermon. Mark had already taken the congregation through the general confession on page 5 of the hymnbook (though I didn’t know it at that time) and he said that it would be appropriate for me to proceed with the regular sermon when the hymn ended. I asked him to ready the communion vessels. I entered the pulpit, brushed my fingers through my hair, and announced to the worshippers that since my sermon topic was “The Confession of Sins” – and, believe it or not, it was! – I would lead the more singular confession on page 15 after the sermon. During the collection we placed the communion service on the altar. By the end of the service I thought my days in the ministry were already at an end; but I would truthfully face the music. Surprisingly, little was said, except for my good friend Vilas Krueger’s comment that he knew something was wrong when I brushed my hair with my fingers. However, on Monday, the police chief, a member of St. Martin, as were many merchants, including the mayor, parked his squad car in front of the house and delivered a large package addressed to me, with a return address of Sleepytown, Pennsylvania. Enfolded in much newspaper was an alarm clock. Already that morning he had made the rounds of Main Street and collected for the “gift.” Suffice it to say that before I left St. Martin, an altar guild was formed.

Soon after we arrived in Clintonville for my pastorate, I sold the ’53 Chevy coupe and purchased a 1958 Chevrolet sedan from Pastor Aaron Schmidt of Tigerton, who, with his wife Sophia, became longtime friends. I then bought an apparatus from Sears that could be stretched over the leg area of the back compartment of the car. It was a sturdy metal platform, about two and a half feet wide, which could be expanded lengthwise from door to door in the back seat area. The length to the front was suspended with hooks over the front bench seat and the back length rested on the back seat. Comforters laid across it leveled the area and allowed the children, and at times also Fritzie, to move about freely or nap. When the children were small, we often had one of them in the front between us in a cloth seat that was slung in a metal frame that hooked over the front bench seat. On one trip we had Sarah, only a few months old, sleeping between us in a rectangular box in which a portion of Encyclopedia Americana volumes had been shipped to us. Children car seats hadn’t yet been invented, so we never used them, nor did we use seat belts, because they also hadn’t been devised. I thank God to this day that we never had any major accidents. I also purchased a waterproof canvas compartment that attached to the roof of the car, in which I stored the playpen and our suitcases. We used it for a long time, and when the children were older each was given an empty bottle-beer case with his or her name on it for their personal possessions and clothes, which also went into the upper compartment.

The five years at St. Martin, Clintonville, including the year of vicarage, were very formative years. Lloyd Goetz, the president of the North Wisconsin District of the LCMS, once said to me, “You’ve had far more pastoral experiences than most men of your age.” I also appreciated that he selected me, just a few years into the ministry, to chair an important committee at a district convention, where I led open hearings and the formulation of resolutions that led to the construction of a new office building for the District.

St. Martin had, on the average, twenty-five funerals a year, forty baptisms, forty children confirmed, and twenty weddings. On two occasions I had five funerals in one week, and one of those weeks was Holy Week, with its Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. On the day of a member’s death, the practice at St. Martin was to ring the church bells, and then follow the ringing with a tolling of one bell for the number of years the person had lived. Most funerals were from the church and the bells were also rung at the beginning of each funeral. Then, as the funeral procession left the church, there again was tolling of a bell. During that Holy Week, along with the regular services, the bells of St. Martin were heard a great deal. A number of times that week, just before I left in a procession to the cemetery, I told Mr. Lange, the custodian and bell-ringer, to wait fifteen minutes after the tolling, and then to ring and toll the bells to announce another death.

The ministry in the early sixties was unlike that of today. The pastor didn’t have to be the “gung ho” leader who had to generate new programs and liturgies and music to attract, if not entertain, the members. Most of the people of St. Martin worshipped regularly, and they only looked for the pastor to lead the worship, administer the sacraments, instruct the young and old, visit the sick, and bury the dead, perform marriages and, at times, counsel. There was a great deal of all that to do at St. Martin, and in my first year as pastor I handled the duties by myself. During that year, Dan Schnorr, a member of the congregation and a student at Concordia Seminary at Springfield, Illinois, was on his vicarage in Detroit. We had become friends during my vicarage and, when his vicarage was concluding, he told me that he wanted to vicar another year because he had been given little opportunity to preach. His seminary agreed and Dan was just what I needed. He preached every other Sunday and made hospital and shut-in calls. Best of all for him, he courted Lois, a classmate of his in his parochial school days, and I performed their marriage before he left for his last year at the seminary. Not yet retired, Dan, who continued to serve congregations in the North Wisconsin District, died of cancer.

During my second year at St. Martin the congregation resolved to get another pastor and applied for a June graduate from one of the seminaries. Donald Biester, a graduate of the St. Louis seminary, was assigned and I worked with him for the next two years. He came as an associate pastor, and a written arrangement to equalize our duties, that served well, was put in place. The congregation’s membership was divided between us; A to K and L to Z – according to names. Each of us took care of the special services – baptisms, weddings, funerals – for the members assigned to us, exchanging the names each year. We each preached every other Sunday, the preacher celebrating Holy Communion. Hospital visitation days during the week were designated, and we traded shut-in lists every month. The gratuities we received from conducting weddings and funerals and other services were divided equally each month. The only authority written into the understanding was that I had the final say in any matter about which we disagreed. I never used it, and we had a good, brotherly relationship. 

Don Biester’s presence also allowed the congregation to have three services each Sunday morning. In the previous years, with just two services at 8:00 and 10:30 a.m., the church was regularly over-crowded. Consequently, a good number of people had to sit in the basement and hear the service over a loud speaker. To give a better atmosphere, the ancient basement was re-painted, floor, ceiling, and walls, and an altar was set along one wall. Holy Communion was offered only on the first Sunday of each month, in both services and, in addition, in an evening service. The latter was called the “cheese maker service,” because it enabled the members who operated cheese factories, where they processed milk seven mornings a week, to worship and commune that evening. But many others also attended in the evening. Upon Biester’s arrival, three morning services were arranged: at 7:30 a.m. – Matins; 9:30 a.m. – Holy Communion; and 11:00 a.m. – Worship without Communion. For the next two years, when it was my turn, I preached three times a Sunday, and four if it was a cheese maker Sunday. Especially gratifying was that members attended Holy Communion more. With two services, and only once a month communion, people didn’t attend the sacrament very often, because there were so many communicants with so few services and the lines were long. Holy Communion every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. brought people more regularly to the sacrament.

The changes that Don Biester and I made nudged St. Martin into another generation. Pastor Speckhard, who was always up and about, but hardly ever leaving his house, said little, even though he was aware of the changes. Unfortunately, the changes, by their very essence, must have made him feel that he was being regarded as behind the times.  I had already made some changes before Don arrived. One Sunday in my first year as pastor, I felt a need to greet the people at the front door after the service, and so I announced what I was going to do and did it. During Pastor Speckhard’s years, greeting the people just wasn’t done; he would simply retire to the sacristy after the service, take off his clergy robe, and take the short walk to the parsonage. Shortly after I first greeted, he told me that it would be fine for a short time, but not to continue. But I did continue, and the people appreciated it. After we went to three services, he commented one day that there were few cars in the parking lot during the 7:30 service, and it probably was a schedule that should be reconsidered. I had to tell him that the church was very full, because most of the people who attended that early had walked to church. 

When Don joined the pastoral staff, the congregation built an office on the back of the church for secretary Viola Ebert. Don and I saw to it that it was set up with new office machines and more comprehensive record keeping. When I came to St. Martin, already as a vicar, 500 and more service bulletins for each Sunday were printed on an aged mimeograph that few knew how to operate because of its idiosyncrasies. The Boy Scouts of the congregation folded the bulletins every Saturday. A new mimeograph, folding machine, and congregational membership card files, to contain newly gathered information about each member, were purchased. Again, all of the changes, though not intended to do so, tacitly conveyed the message that Pastor Speckhard’s administrative procedures were antiquated. Yet, Don and I had to do what was best for the congregation. Pastor Speckhard was God’s gift to St. Martin, and his wisdom and faithful spiritual shepherding enabled the congregation to flourish. In that respect, he was the best. But it was also true that he was a man of his era and didn’t think it necessary to do things differently than he had for so many years. In my own ministry I can appreciate how that happens. To Pastor Speckhard’s credit, he never said much more than I report above, though, when I left St. Martin, his son Mark expressed to me some chagrin on his part over what he perceived his father endured.

I resigned my pastorate at St. Martin in August of 1962. It was the congregation where I had “grown up” – and maybe too fast. While Don Biester and I had a good relationship, there still often was need to compromise so that our relationship was maintained properly, and I felt it was time to be by myself in the pastoral office. Fred Hubert, who then had a pastorate in Indianapolis, told me about Concordia, a young congregation numbering 150 communicants in Greenwood, Indiana, and I told him that I was open to having my name put on their call list. He followed through, and I received their call and accepted it. The decision wasn’t easy. To this day I have fond memories of St. Martin, the Clintonville area, and especially the good friends that Arlene and I enjoyed there, with whom we’ve remained in contact even to now. The principal of the school and his wife, Florian and Lillian Felts, and their children, became our good friends. And we still hear at Christmas from Caskeys, Eberhardts, and Kruegers. Another factor that made the move more difficult was that in 1960 Dad had left Holy Cross in Wartburg, Illinois, to take the pastorate of Immanuel Lutheran Church at White Clay Lake, Wisconsin, about twenty-five miles from us. For two years our children had enjoyed grandparents close by them to know and visit; but even the separation from them didn’t last for long.

St. Martin gave us a loving farewell and, after packing our belongings for the moving van, we drove to Fort Wayne for a brief vacation before we went to meet the members of Concordia, Greenwood. Coincidently, at that same time the Speckhard children moved their parents to Denver, Colorado, where one of the children was a teacher. Pastor Speckhard died there some years later and was buried in the St. Martin cemetery, just outside of Clintonville. Mrs. Speckhard returned to live for quite some more years in Clintonville before her death. She still had a married daughter there. Arlene and I saw her again when we attended an anniversary of the congregation. She was the model pastor’s wife for her era (and still today); a woman who stayed out of congregational affairs, reared the family with love and pride, and was a gentle, cheerful person.

We traveled to Greenwood with three children and the dog in a small-sized ’61 Chevrolet Chevelle station wagon that I purchased during my last year at Clintonville. The station wagon configuration gave us more room during that journey than the prior way we had transported the family on vacations. The parsonage at Greenwood was at 511 W. Broadway. It was a Cape Cod style home, with a garage on the left attached by a covered walkway. A large yard sloped gently to the back, and behind the garage was a grove of tall trees. The back half of the downstairs of the house had a good-sized kitchen, entered from a door off the garage walkway. A small dining room, a hallway, the only bathroom, and a bedroom, Sarah’s and Cathy’s, extended over the remainder of the back half.  The front half consisted of a small, seldom-used, screened porch, the living room and its front door, and our bedroom. A stairway at the hall went up to two rooms that extended the length of the loft. The first one we used as a television room and the other, over the bedrooms, was Tim’s. A stairway from the kitchen led to a basement that had a pool table in it, left by the former tenant. A big purchase was a stand-alone dishwasher that stood in the middle of the kitchen. Whether I did that for Arlene or myself is your guess.

We stayed with Huberts in Indianapolis until our furniture arrived in Greenwood, but did meet with the leaders of the congregation during that time. Harold Laut was the chairman of the congregation. He and his outspoken (still today) wife, Janet, divorced a few years later, but soon remarried each other. Arlene stood as her bridesmaid in the second ceremony. Others who were there when we arrived included Cliff and Dottie Query, Jesse and Lee VanDyke, Gene and Donna Hankins, Reid and Marie Erdmann, Harold and Anna Hehman, Tom and Martha Heininger, Virgil and Elsa Waltz, and Charlie and Betty Mellencamp. They, along with others who joined in later years, such as Keith and Donna Rhoades, Herb and Barb Hoeltke, and Dave and Phyllis Shutters, enhanced the life of the congregation. I was installed as Concordia’s pastor on September 5, 1962.

Greenwood, in those days a city of 8,000, was just beginning a tremendous growth spurt. It was a “bedroom community” ten miles from the center of Indianapolis in Johnson County, which lies immediately south of Marion County. Highway 31, which runs north and south through Indiana, was then on its western boundaries, with only a few traffic lights in the five miles north of Greenwood. Today that length of highway, up to I-465, is glutted with a large shopping center, numerous commercial buildings, and traffic lights at most intersections. Greenwood has annexed large areas of housing developments, some of them very pricey. After our time there, the new Interstate 65 passed Greenwood to the east and took on most of the truck traffic that had been on Highway 31.

Concordia congregation was not thriving in 1962. The Indiana District Mission Board had organized it on October 4, 1956, and it was served by a retired pastor, John C. Kaiser. It’s first full-time pastor, seminary graduate Howard Hilsabeck, came in the summer of 1957; but after four years he accepted a call elsewhere. So there had been a pastoral vacancy for about a year, little growth in membership, and continued need for monthly financial subsidy from the Indiana District. It was the only Missouri Synod congregation between southern Indianapolis and Columbus, Indiana, thirty miles to the south. (Frankly, most people in that area didn’t know what a Lutheran was or even how to spell the word – far different than all those Lutherans in Wisconsin.) The Indiana District had purchased a two-story house with a basement in downtown Greenwood, on the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and Pearl Street. The first floor was remodeled into an attractive chapel, using pews and chancel furnishings obtained from some other congregation. A small sacristy/office was in the back of the chancel, with a door also to the outside. The second floor at first was the parsonage, but by our arrival was classroom space, and the basement, with a kitchen, was a fellowship and meeting area. The vacancy, however, left the members wondering whether they should move to Whiteland, the next town south, to be more centrally located for members, like the Erdmanns and Hehmans, who lived even farther south in Franklin and beyond, on and around Highway 31. I counseled them to stay in Greenwood. We needed to build a new church in Greenwood, I said to them, because some day Franklin would have its own congregation and build a new church there. I didn’t realize how true a prophet I was in those days; a Franklin congregation began soon after I left Greenwood.

The members of the congregation responded. A building committee was formed; eight acres were purchased west of Highway 31 at 305 Howard Road. James Associates of Indianapolis was chosen to be architects, and a new church building with offices and classrooms was built and then dedicated on November 8, 1964. The Madison Avenue property was sold to a merchant and today it houses a restaurant. The new A-frame church cost $140,000(obtained by a loan from the Indiana District Church Extension Fund), and it was a gem. Early on the building committee realized that James Associates had put the project into the hands of a young Englishman, Peter Sugar, who eventually designed not only the building, but also the pews, chancel furnishings, candle holders and a Chi Rho cross, so that all harmonized. He and I worked together closely. The building committee allowed me to plan the worship area with Sugar according to my ideals of worship space – lengthy communion rails with no steps to them, the baptismal font prominent in the chancel, and no lectern, with the Scriptures lessons read from the horns of the altar. Since that time, the building has been added to and, in some respects, has been sadly altered from its first state. But it was an exciting and busy time for me. Not only did the congregation have a beautiful building, but also in the six years that I was there it more than doubled in membership.

I also began to be more involved in the community. In Clintonville, Missouri Synod Lutherans were such a majority that we bordered on being spiritual snobs. I not only didn’t join any civic organizations, but I even wrote a few letters to others pastors in which I dissented with some programs they offered. Such arrogance! Greenwood, on the other hand, brought me some reality. I came to know Jim Roberts, the new ELCA pastor in town, and he and his wife Marilyn continue to be our close friends. With Jim, I joined the local Toastmasters Club, though some members regarded us as “over qualified” in speech matters. I wanted to do more with humorous speech, as sermons in those days were very serious and formal. I also served two terms as the president of the Greenwood Ministerial Association, in which most of the various denominations’ pastors participated. Greenwood had been a center of the Klu Klux Klan in years past and even at my time only a few light-skinned blacks lived in Johnson County. We pastors had the courage to sponsor a program that asked the question of how blacks would be received in the expanding community in the future. The forum was well attended and accepted. The mayor and other civic leaders added their support and the responses were positive.

Laura Ann joined Timothy, Sarah, and Catherine on July 2, 1964. She was born in the Franklin Community Hospital. That morning on the way to the hospital I stopped in the Whiteland area to talk with the man who had taken that year’s confirmation pictures. Arlene told me to hurry more, but I didn’t take her seriously. However, she was in the birthing area only about twenty minutes when a nurse, from a second floor window, called to me outside the front of the hospital, where I had gone, and told me that the baby was born. Laura arrived so quickly that even Dr. Charles Link didn’t get there in time and a nurse delivered her. When Michael John’s time came on July 18, 1966, I moved quickly. But it also was the day when I was to take an airplane flight to St. Louis for a meeting. Grandma Lytal arrived that afternoon and I did go to St. Louis the next day.

Our back yard neighbors were Cliff and Dottie Query from our congregation, and Bert and Annette Kite, all who became our friends. Their younger children, especially Tommy Kite and Tashona (Shawnee) and Mike Query, played with our children. As neither Dottie nor Arlene worked outside of the home, I often returned after making my afternoon calls to find the two of them visiting together in our kitchen (or, as they put it, “deciding what to fix for supper”). Cliff was a machinist (he machined and donated seven large candle holders on the chancel screen of the new church) and he and Dottie were a joy to be with. We spent many an evening in our basement shooting pool into the late hours. Arlene could stroke a cue stick quite well around her pregnant abdomen. Cliff was also a pilot. He purchased a plane in Michigan and illegally, without any cross country training, flew it back to Greenwood, simply eyeballing Highway 31 and skirting Grissom Air Force Base near Peru, Indiana. I took some flights with him and he was daring, but very careful. One late afternoon, as the sun was setting, we took off and after an hour or so he made his first night landing. But I also officiated at his funeral. Some years later, coming in for a landing at Franklin, a student pilot in another plane clipped the tail of his plane and when it hit the ground the engine crushed back into his side of the cockpit. His passenger limped away with only a broken toe.

Tim, Sarah, and Cathy went to kindergarten in Greenwood. As Janet Laut taught kindergarten at Advent Lutheran Church during Tim’s kindergarten year, he attended there. Sarah went to a kindergarten a few blocks from our house, and two years later Cathy went to Advent with a different teacher than Janet. Tim and Sarah then went on to attend Calvary Lutheran school about five miles north of Greenwood in southern Indianapolis, and Cathy attended first grade there for a few months in 1968.

The house on Broadway was a place of happy memories; Christmases and Easters with our young children, playing in the snow, Grandfather and Grandmother Strasen’s and Grandma Lytal’s visits, even Tim hiking down the hill to run away from home and crossing busy Highway 31, only to be blocked by a stream and so deciding to return home. We would also exchange visits with the Huberts and saw a great deal of the Jim Roberts family. But it was also at Broadway that we watched the TV in stunned silence when, on Arlene’s birthday, the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated unfolded and we followed the funeral rites the next days.

In October of 1965 I experienced pain in my right chest that radiated into my neck area. I went to our doctor and he had me get a chest x-ray that showed that my right lung had collapsed – a spontaneous pneumothorax. It probably was a congenital condition, as my brother Ted has said that he experienced one. A bleb on the lung wall opened and air leaked out into the upper chest cavity, with the result that the lung collapsed down as it gave way to the pocket of air. The doctor told me to go home, as the bleb had sealed and the air in the chest cavity would dissipate in a week or so by passing through the chest wall by osmosis. That’s what did happen, and that’s also what happened when I had a second occurrence in September of 1967. But it wasn’t the last lung collapse.

Sarah Laura Mike Tim and Cathy Strasen

When Arlene was pregnant with Michael, it was apparent the parsonage on Broadway was going to be inadequate for seven of us. So the congregation agreed to build a new parsonage at the back of the church parking lot on Howard Road. We moved into it in February of 1967 and it provided the space we needed. The front door led into a hall, to the left of which was a living room and dining room and to the right a study. This picture (l-r) of Sarah, Laura, Mike, Tim and Cathy was taken in the living room. Arranged along the back of the house was the kitchen with an eating area; also a family room and half bath. The two-car garage was at the right front of the house and opened to the side. Four bedrooms and a full bath were upstairs.

Jesse Van Dyke, a church member who farmed, planted corn or soybeans in the back four acres of the church property, the crops starting at the edge of the parsonage’s back yard. One day I saw Sarah and Cathy walk into the rows of corn, heading to the back of the property. I quickly skirted around the outside of the crop and entered the rows farther down than they were and proceeded to make loud goblin noises as I came near them. Their screams were probably louder than my menacing noises as they rushed back into the yard, only to realize it was me as I appeared. I was laughing; they weren’t.

Bernhard and Henriette Strasen

Dad and Mom had the above pictures taken after their return from India, probably in the late 1950’s. Dad decided to retire from the active ministry in 1964 and resigned his pastorate in Wisconsin. It became apparent to Arlene and me that Dad, as he had moved close to us in Wisconsin, again wanted to live near me, his pastor-son. And that was fine, our children were the only ones of my family that had grandparents about them regularly most of their young lives. He and Mom moved to Indianapolis, purchasing a house near St. John’s Lutheran Church at Five Points, on the southeastern side of the city. For a few years, Dad assisted Pastor Cecil Skibbe at St. John’s. However, in 1967, Dad had some heart problems and was in a hospital for almost a week.

My years at Concordia came to an end in the fall of 1968. As Fred Hubert and I often talked together, we would at times evaluate other congregations that also would be enjoyable to serve. We both agreed that Trinity in Elkhart, Indiana, and Peace, in Fort Wayne, would top our lists. On July 4, 1968, Pastor Hartwig Schwehn of Peace died of a heart attack. In the next months I came to know that I was on the list of candidates they had drawn up from which to select their next pastor. Pastor Schwehn’s brother, Walter, a well-regarded member of Peace and also a member of the Indiana District Stewardship Board on which I was then serving, had nominated me. One Sunday in August, five men, who I didn’t know, together attended the Concordia worship service. As I greeted them after the service, I asked the last man (it turned out to be Ralph Franke) where they were from and the answer was Peace, Fort Wayne. So they were checking me out. Later I learned that Walter spoke favorably about me at the Peace call meeting (which was on my birthday). I think he was used by God to move the congregation to elect me, even though I was the last name of six candidates on the call list. I had received calls before while at Concordia, but they didn’t effect me as this one. I maintain that a pastor knows when God wants him to accept a call. There was an excitement that I felt when called to Concordia and now it happened again with the call from Peace. And so I did accept.

Grandma Lytal

Arlene and I made two trips to become acquainted with the leadership of Peace congregation and we were warmly received. We moved the week of November 6, 1968. Through the years in Greenwood I had traded for various other cars. We now traveled to Fort Wayne in a different Chevelle station wagon and a Volkswagen Beetle, with Arlene and three kids and the dog in the Chevy, and I with the other two kids in the VW. We stayed with Grandma Lytal (pictured here) and by the end of that week, after the moving van had delivered our goods, moved into the parsonage at 4607 Lafayette Esplanade. Edythe Schwehn, the former pastor’s widow, was most gracious and had already moved to a home on Sherwood Terrace. She had remained a member of Peace and made us feel very welcome. A month later she informed me that she was going to marry a widowed pastor. I performed the ceremony the next spring, on the Sunday following Easter, and she then moved to where he served in Illinois. The Schwehns had reared three children in the Lafayette Esplanade parsonage, but it was obviously inadequate for our size family. It was a square colonial-style two-story structure with a living room, dining room (into which our table and chairs just fit), kitchen, and half bath on the first floor, with a later-attached den-style room straight off the back of the living room. A small full bath and bedrooms were upstairs. There was no garage. But there was a basement in which we stored unpacked boxes, waiting to move again. The congregation, recognizing the need for other housing, had already arranged the purchase of our present home at 1003 Crestway Drive, into which we were scheduled to move after the closing in January, 1969.

I was installed at Peace on November 13, 1968, in an evening service and quickly took up my duties in the days that followed. But I did find time in January, before we moved into the newly purchased parsonage, to antique its kitchen cupboards with a dark green base color. Also, in a one-day enterprise, parish volunteers painted all of the rooms. We moved in the first days of February and enjoyed the roominess of the house – a tri-level. The main floor has an entryway, living room, dining room, kitchen, and an attached two-car garage. Three bedrooms and a full bath and a half bath are on the upper floor, and a large family room, a bathroom with shower, a bedroom, and utility area are in the lower level, which is half beneath ground level. The house cost $29,000 and was owned by the congregation.

There was a lot of activity in the house; human, canine, and feline. The three girls used the other two bedrooms upstairs and Tim and Mike were in the lower level, using a bunk bed in the room that now houses my computer. I’m not sure how we all managed every morning, but three bathrooms helped a great deal. Fritzie was with us for another five years in Fort Wayne and added to the mix. We finally had to put her to sleep in her fifteen year and it was a sad day for me when I took her to the veterinarian. But within a few months Niki the Husky, was added to our family. She also was a loving animal all of her fifteen years of life. Cathy, bless her, took her to her final moment. For a time we had a large male cat, Blue by name, that Sarah gave to us. Arlene loves cats, but I’m not that taken by them, as I see them as creatures that have a mind of their own and deign to be loved only when they want to be loved. Blue left us one day, and even to now there are those that think I did something dastardly to him. Not true. When Niki died, we decided to have no more pets so that we could travel freely. Arlene and I enjoyed having the animals and, as I already wrote, so did our children, some of them still keeping pets.

Most congregations don’t spend a great deal of money on their parsonages, and Peace was no exception. In 1979 I asked to purchase the house on a land contract and the request was accepted, to start in January of 1980. The house was reappraised for $62,000, but the congregation took $13,000 off, for the years I had served, which became equity. Peace still held the mortgage, but they raised my salary so that I could make monthly payments. I could now make my own improvements, paying for them as I borrowed on and repaid insurance policies. I had the house sided the summer of 1980, added new shingles in 1982, and had full air conditioning put in for the summer of 1989. Up to that time we had a large window air-conditioner in the family room and a small one in our bedroom. In heavy heat, the kids all migrated to the family room and used the couch and sleeping bags each night. Through the years the carpet has been changed a number of times. In March of 1994 the kitchen was redone and I re-painted all of the kitchen cabinets. That summer we had the lower level waterproofed. The grading of the backyard causes rain water to flow towards the back of the house and, if the downfall is especially heavy, the water comes in through some cracks that formed through the lower bedroom when the house was only a few years old. There were times that I would suction at least 100 gallons of water out of the carpet there. The waterproofing added a sump pump into the closet in that room and it’s done its job ever since. We did wait until August of 1996 to see if all was well and then refurbished the whole lower level with paint, carpeting, and new furniture. That changed it from an area which I avoided for some years to an area in which we spend a great deal of time. A large TV, now with digital recording, and a DVD player, have also been improvements.

In September of 1996, when Arlene and I both retired, we still had about $15,000 to pay on the house. However, the congregation gave us the paid-up mortgage as a farewell gift. We decided to add a sunroom over what had been an outdoor concrete patio that stretched behind the kitchen and dining room. Busche’s drew up the specifications for a Branstrator room and installed it during the first week of December 1996. We didn’t spare much on the price and have enjoyed it these past years. While not heated, it’s well insulated and, being on the south side, can be very pleasant on a sunny day even when the outside temperature is in the 30’s. A table and chair area and our spa take up the space. In the spring of 1999, we engaged Brad Springer to renovate all three of our bathrooms. Then, in December of 2000, we replaced all of the exterior windows, and so have a much better temperature sealed interior. In a few more years the roof will need new shingles. Gutter guards, placed in 2005, now save me from risking my life removing leaves and debris from the gutters. Before the improvements, I was promoting a move to some other house, but now I hope that we can enjoy 1003 Crestway for many more years. 

I came to Peace in the first year that Redeemer Lutheran Church and Peace had made an arrangement, well thought through and implemented, to conduct their individual parochial schools as a joint school. Redeemer, to the north about fifteen blocks away, provided classrooms for the kindergarten and primary classes and the upper classes were at Peace. Tim continued in the 5th grade at the newly named Peace-Redeemer Lutheran School, and Sarah the 3rd, and Cathy the 1st. Laura started kindergarten in the school in the fall of 1969 and Mike in 1971. 

The first year that all our children attended school, while I still had the Volkswagen, I transported them to the Fairfield site in it. I can still see Lee Goldner laughing as Tim got out of the passenger side, the three girls out of the back seat, and finally kindergartner Mike appeared from the little cubby hole behind the back seat. Not much later, Paul Bradtmiller, who had an interest in Don Ayres Pontiac, saw to it that I was given a dealer car to use, a different one every six months. So we had large station wagons (our first air-conditioned cars) for quite some years, until Paul sold his interest. After that, with no more children to transport, we bought Hondas, Accord sedans for Arlene and Honda Civic hatchbacks for me, and, more recently, Pontiacs for her. 

Some years later, Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Waynedale joined the school arrangement and I proposed that the name of the school not be Peace-Redeemer-Mount Calvary Lutheran School (quite something to say), but Unity Lutheran School. Some snickered, but others accepted the name and it is that to this day. For a time, all three church educational facilities were used for classroom space, though we didn’t have a gymnasium. It was a rather clumsy arrangement, trying to get pupils to each school each day and also gathering them for special occasions. Redeemer, on the counsel of their dissatisfied pastor, left the association some years later, but Mount Calvary and Peace continued the enterprise. In 1981, Peace projected plans to add a gymnasium and library and update the Fairfield Avenue facilities by adding on to the south of its buildings. At the same time, however, the Fort Wayne Community Schools had a low student census and had closed some schools on the south side of Fort Wayne. Their South Calhoun School, on ten acres of land not far from the Peace Fairfield site, was put up for sale and Peace purchased it for 25 cents on the dollar for the building and 10 cents on the dollar for its furnishings. In September of 1982, all of Unity School’s operations were consolidated in the newly purchased South Calhoun site and it continues at this time to serve the two congregations. 

All of our children graduated from Peace-Redeemer (or Unity) and they all attended Concordia Lutheran High School for their first year of high school. Arlene and I told them that they each had to start at our alma mater, but, if they desired, they could change to Wayne High School in their sophomore year. Concordia, after our time there, had built a new campus on North Anthony Boulevard. It primarily relies on tuition payments to operate and we were ready to cover the cost. Arlene had started to work part-time at Lutheran Hospital in December of 1969 and her added earnings would enable us to do it. Tim, Cathy, and Mike graduated from Concordia, but Sarah and Laura took the option to attend Wayne, from which both graduated. Sarah did enroll at Concordia for her senior year, (she wasn’t satisfied with Wayne’s scholastics) but decided to remain at Wayne when, just prior to any shift, she was accepted into its best choir programs.

The years in Fort Wayne with the children at home run together. But they hold good memories. I took many slide pictures of family events, starting in Clintonville. We’ve always celebrated birthdays and the holidays. Once, while viewing some of the slides, Jim Roberts remarked that he never saw so many pictures of children caught with puffed cheeks, just about to extinguish candles on a cake. Our kids picked up on the party spirit. When they were older and we would leave for a weekend, we could always tell when they had a party; some pieces of furniture weren’t sitting in the indentations in the carpet where they had sat before they had moved the pieces to make room for their fun. 

In Fort Wayne our children remained close to their grandparents. Of course, Grandma Lytal was here, but we didn’t think my Dad and Mom would come to Fort Wayne. As we left Greenwood, Mom spoke of moving from Indianapolis to St. Louis to be close to Betty. But, early in 1969, I received a telephone call from Dad asking whether we would mind if they would now move to Fort Wayne. Of course we didn’t mind, even knowing that really wasn’t Mom’s desire; but she had acquiesced to Dad. I rented a truck in Fort Wayne and, accompanied by Michael, drove to Indianapolis, loaded their belongings, and brought them to a pleasant, second-floor apartment at 4601 Kekionga Drive in Indian Village Garden Apartments in Fort Wayne.

Actually, Mom was now closer to relatives and friends from the past. Mrs. Heckel was in Fort Wayne, as were Aunt Emelie and Uncle Henry. Our home became a gathering place for them on special occasions, as well as a site for my out of town siblings to visit. But all of us were together for only a few more years. Dad’s heart flared up again and he had some stays in Lutheran hospital. In those days there was little that could be done for heart problems, other than medication with morphine. Dr. Bob Stanley, also our doctor, once prescribed too high a dosage that made Dad delirious, so much so that Mom called me one night and I found him thrashing about, almost falling out of bed. The dosage was cut and he improved, but it was also decided to move them to the Fairfield Apartments at 6400 Fairfield Avenue. Dad could no longer manage stairs and at Fairfield there was an elevator. It was also closer to where we live, just across the St. Marys River. While we were transferring their belongings to the Fairfield apartment, Dad had to be hospitalized again at Lutheran Hospital. Mom, already living in the Fairfield apartment, and I visited him the afternoon of December 30, 1971, and he was very unsettled. So we said our good-byes, expecting to return the next day. That night I received a phone call from a nurse that she had seen Dad, left his room for fifteen minutes, but on her return found him dead. I waited until morning to tell Mom. While I was with her, I received a phone call from Mount Morris, Illinois, that Uncle Arthur, Mom’s brother, had died the same day as Dad had. Of course, none of the families were at the others’ funeral. Klaehn Funeral Home, then on Fairfield Avenue a few blocks north of Lutheran Hospital, took care of Dad’s funeral arrangements and the service was at Peace church on January 2, 1972, with all of my brothers and sisters in attendance. Interment was in a lot in Concordia Gardens on Lake Avenue that Dad had already purchased for them. After one enters the cemetery, the main road continues north after a crossroad. About half way to the next road their surface marker is on the right, in the second row from the road. Since then, Arlene and I also purchased a plot next to theirs and also a gravestone marker.

Mom adapted well to being alone. She lived in her apartment on Fairfield during the next three years. While Arlene and I were visiting Jim and Marilyn Roberts in the fall of 1974 in New York City, where he was stationed as an army chaplain, we received word that Mom had experienced a heart attack and was in Lutheran Hospital. Fortunately, Dad and she had put money down for each of them to enter Lutheran Homes, if necessary. Mom wanted to live alone in a self-care apartment at the Home, but it quickly became obvious that she wouldn’t be able to care for herself, and so she entered the “special care” area of Lutheran Homes and shared a room with another lady. The morning after her first night at the Home she called me, very distressed, wanting to be taken to St. Louis to live with Betty. She would live in the attic area of Betty’s home and not bother anyone. I visited Mom, listened to her, and pointed out some of the difficulties with her wants. The next day she called me and said, “Luther, I’ll never do that to you again.” I hope that, if I get in a similar situation, I’ll act the same way as Mom did. 

Mom lived just over one more year and during that time busied herself with helping people to read, and did other acts of kindness to those who lived in her area of the Home. While she was frail and walked slowly, her mind was active to the end. Every night she read her devotions and went through her flip cards of favorite Bible passages that she had memorized. On February 4, 1976, in the late afternoon, Arlene and I visited her, and Arlene noticed that her legs were swollen from fluid. A nurse made an appointment for the next day to see a doctor for an anticipated higher dose of her diuretic pills. That evening a phone message informed me that Mom had died. She had just finished her reading, her lungs suddenly filled with fluid from congestive heart failure, and she died quickly. Her body was still warm when I arrived. Her funeral, arranged again by Klaehns, was held at the Lutheran Homes chapel, with interment next to Dad at Concordia Gardens. All of my siblings, except Dave, were again present; he feeling that with Dad gone his attendance wasn’t that essential. We all understood. Mom’s sisters Alma, Hilda, and Emelie, and her friend Gertrude Heckel, were also in the congregation.

If one can find something amusing about a funeral, there was a moment at Mom’s. But the humor has its roots in Uncle Henry Stemmler’s funeral. He died in 1974, and retired Pastor Walter Barth conducted the funeral. Henry’s widow, Aunt Emelie, in the car on the way to the old Concordia Cemetery on Anthony Boulevard, noted to me that Pastor Barth had never once said Henry’s name during the service. I sidled up to Walter at the cemetery and told him Emelie’s concern, and the result was a committal service that was replete with Henry’s name. So, as Ted Taykowski conducted Mom’s funeral service, I realized as he began his sermon that he hadn’t mentioned her sisters as he spoke of the survivors. And Emelie was sitting right behind me! Being in the front row, I took a pew card and in quite big letters wrote on it “MENTION SISTERS” and raised it chest high so that Ted could see it. I still chuckle as I recall his momentary pause to read it and how he then wove in the sisters’ names, ala Barth, but not as much as Barth did. So Emelie was surely satisfied again.

Emelie was also one of my cares in her last years. She had come back to Fort Wayne in 1968 for Henry’s sake, thinking he would have friends here, but most of them had already died. After his death in 1974, she moved to Concord Village at Lutheran Homes and enjoyed the socialization there. She was always cheerful and had many friends and made it her monthly task to make a poster, appropriately decorated, which announced upcoming Concord Village activities. As I had done with Mom, I took her shopping. Also there were trips back to Columbus to visit her sisters and then to attend their funerals. Her booklet that I’ve already mentioned, The Ziegfelds – 1884 to 1939; Growing up on Mohawk Street in Columbus, Ohio, covers more years than the title states. It affords a view of a way of life without today’s conveniences and with far less wealth. Emelie wrote it when she was 87 and was rightly proud of  it. She planned to throw a big party for her 90th birthday in 1989, with food and cake for all the residents of Concord Village. Her “adopted daughter,” Beverly Pangle, who had been a neighborhood child when Emelie and Arthur lived in Columbus, and had also “adopted” Emelie, had helped arrange the party. It was to be on a Saturday, but Emelie, just the day before, suffered a stroke that paralyzed her right side and also took away her speech. To her credit, she didn’t give up, even using her typewriter to type out jumbled, but somewhat coherent, sentences. She also died in the “special care” area at Lutheran Homes, on October 9, 1991.

Grandma Lytal

Grandma Lytal was also a frequent part of our family life. After her retirement from General Electric, she sold her home on Brooklyn Ave. and for a time lived in an apartment on Tennessee Ave. She then moved to the Foster Park Apartments, where my mother had lived previously. We always looked forward to her annual “treating the family” when she took us all to a nice restaurant. Hilda lived a quiet life and socialized mostly with her brothers and sister when occasions arrived. She had good health for many years. This is the last formal picture she had taken. But suddenly, on August 13, 1994, she felt like she had flu and had no appetite and her doctor admitted her to the new Lutheran Hospital for observation. Her legs starting getting numb and discolored and it was decided to do surgery. Arlene and I and some of our children gathered around her for Scripture and a prayer as she waited on a gurney. I then had to leave to travel to Lake James to preach at the chapel the next day. The doctor emerged before the surgery ended to report that she had multiple blood clots in her bowels and her left leg, and an amputation and colostomy would be necessary. Arlene, Jim, and Tim counseled that no more should be done. Hilda regained consciousness and lived until August 15, 1994. Services were held at the new Klaehn, Fahl, Melton Funeral Home on Winchester Road, a pastor from her Emmaus congregation officiating. Hilda is buried in Concordia Gardens, across the road from the Strasen lots.

Arlene Strasen 1990

Since our children remember the Fort Wayne days, I’m not going to deal much more with the events of their lives while growing up, but more with what Arlene and I did. In December of 1969, she took a refresher course in hospital procedures at Lutheran Hospital when it was on Fairfield Avenue. She began part-time work there on the 6th floor, a sub-acute coronary care area; two evenings, during the week one week and on the weekend the next week. Mike was three, but I could be home most of the evenings that Arlene was away. I began to cook more and the children haven’t forgotten the first meal that I prepared – a whole Spam, heated according to directions on the can, with pineapple and cinnamon cloves. Some years before her retirement, Lutheran Hospital built anew in Aboite Township and she worked there, full time (three twelve hour night shifts a week) in the last years of her employment. A bonus from being employed at Lutheran came about when Lutheran, a non-profit hospital owned by Lutheran congregations, was sold to Quorum, a for-profit company, and the money that had been set aside for her pension was given to her in a lump sum. Otherwise, it would have been kept and doled out for the years ahead, to cease at her death, with any remaining funds staying with the plan – the way my Missouri Synod pension is set up. The amount she received increased greatly during the excellent stock market years of the 1990s and is all hers and, if all continues well, her heirs.

Luther Strasen

Arlene was busy working at home and also as an employee at Lutheran Hospital. With a schedule less defined than hers, I was able also to do other things outside of the parish while at Peace. I list them for the record. Already in 1964, while in Greenwood, I was elected to a position as a pastoral member of the Indiana District’s Board of Stewardship and chaired the board from 1966-1972. Pastor Fred Hubert became the executive of that board and we worked well together. That’s where my interest in stewardship matters originated and was cultivated. From 1978 to 1981, I served as the elected president of The Greater Fort Wayne Association of Lutheran Churches. When the Missouri Synod was having doctrinal troubles in the late 70s and the Fort Wayne pastors were divided between two camps, I brought the Association to an end, as it had lost its purpose and will. The Association, in 1975, did start The Fort Wayne Lutheran newspaper, which is still being published at this writing, and I chaired the committee that started it. Likewise, I chaired the committee that in 1982 purchased Concordia High School’s 10-watt radio station, increased its power, and moved its studios to the Concordia Seminary campus. I suggested the call letters WLAB, incorporating “laboratory” to signify the initial goal of the station to train seminarians in radio operations. Today, WLAB, now renamed STAR and owned by the Indiana District – LCMS, has become a very successful Christian contemporary station – which the liturgical seminary people abhor. Actually, I seldom listen to it, as most of its music isn’t to my liking either. In 1985, I was elected to serve on the board of directors of Lutheran Hospital and continued until its sale to Quorum in 1995. I also chaired its new Ethics Committee in 1985 and remained in that capacity until 1997, even after the sale of the hospital. The Lutheran Foundation, with assets of 135 million dollars received from the sale of the hospital, was formed in 1995, and I continued as one of its directors and also was on the committee that produced its constitution, by-laws and guidelines.

The Master of Divinity degree that I had earned from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, allowed me to teach a theology course for Valparaiso University at The Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing from 1984 to 1988. The school received its accreditation by being staffed by Valparaiso professors and instructors and the course I taught was mandatory for all Valparaiso students. I also taught 3rd year homiletics (sermon preparation) for Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, in the fall of 1996 and a 1st year seminary class in the spring of 1998.

I’ve always enjoyed teaching adults, but found myself unsatisfied in my approach to teenagers in confirmation classes. I wanted them more involved in discussion, instead of me just talking at them. In Cathy’s 8th grade year, 1975-76, I started to innovate, and some classroom experimentation evolved into my first confirmation book, The Path of Life, published in 1983, followed by Run the Race in 1985. The Path of Life is based on the general outline of Life with God by Rev. Herman Theiss, an adult manual that I had regularly used and from which I learned much. Rev. Theiss encouraged me to use his work, and his publisher, Morse Press in Seattle, a company with mostly Lutheran authors, also published my books. Morse Press went bankrupt after a man bought the company and financially bled the publication portion. Due to the bankruptcy, my contract gave me publication rights and I entered into a new arrangement with Seven Hills Publishers, now out of Bolivar, Missouri, and the books are still being promoted and bought. Through the years, I’ve received more than $10,000 in royalties (not counting the more than $3,000 for which the bankrupt charlatan stiffed me.)

I was asked in 1994 to be one of the regular speakers on “Worship for Shutins,” a half hour TV program that was originated in Ohio in the 1970s by Rev. Oswald Bertram. Upon his death, Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne continued the programming, using Fort Wayne’s WPTA, Channel 7, as its primary outlet, with distribution also to stations in Indianapolis, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Arizona. Alternating with four other area pastors, my messages were taped about ten times a year at Holy Cross’s chapel. I finally ended my association with the program in 2000, because I didn’t want to be tied down to the schedule that had us pastors deciding for the year ahead when we would be present to tape.

Outside of Lutheran connections in Fort Wayne, I was the first chairman of The Tri-State Ethics Consortium, from 1994 to 1997, which promotes forums and seminars on ethical matters. Also, I’ve been a member of The Fort Wayne Quest Club since 1985. The Quest Club is a unique and singular organization in the United States (it has no network like Rotary, Lions, or Kiwanas) that since 1911 has gathered at lunchtime, from October through April, to hear its members deliver papers on topics assigned to them. I already had read about them while in college in Fort Wayne, as the local paper would occasionally give a synopsis of a paper that had been delivered, and I also saw that President Bredemeier belonged to it. Reid Chapman, the former manager of WANE-TV, with whom Arlene and I were acquainted, encouraged me to join and sponsored me. I’ve given four papers: “The Psychology of Aging”, Why Read Poetry?”, “Utopian Novelists – Thomas More, Orwell, Huxley, and Skinner”, and “The New York Times.” Listening to other presenters has been rewarding, but researching my own papers broadened my understanding of my assigned topics. The Quest Club has a cap of 110 members, now including women in the last ten years. They’re of the social upper crust of Fort Wayne – mayors, judges, doctors, lawyers, and corporative executives – except for such as I, who was accepted because the Club likes to have clergy as members. But Arlene and I have had some marvelous meals and entertainment at the two formal dinners held each year (paid for by the annual dues) at country clubs or other swank spots. Little did Arlene know that she would have so much fun by marrying a relatively poor pastor. You see, we get by because we know our social manners!

Starting about 1990, I’ve been a regular reader for The Northeast Indiana Radio Reading Service. Its signal is sent to special receivers that are in the homes of people who are blind or sight impaired, at no cost to them. Every Friday morning, when I’m not out of town, I join another reader on a two-hour live broadcast during which we read the local and state news in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Readers also do the same with the evening News Sentinel. We’re told the obituaries are the most listened to segment of the newspaper programs. Other taped programs of interest are also aired throughout each day. I also tape a half-hour program every other week that highlights articles in various magazines and also re-read Quest Club papers. Again, it was Reid Chapman who introduced me to this service and I continue to enjoy participating in it.

Arlene retired from Lutheran Hospital in August 1996 and I retired from Peace as its pastor at the end of that September. I had told them my plans at the November voters meeting in 1995. Lutheran Hospital gave Arlene a cake and punch farewell gathering and Peace congregation arranged a farewell supper for me at Goeglein’s. We’ve remained members at Peace, but I removed myself from being involved in congregational affairs, other than at various times I rehearsed and sang with the Senior Choir. We both have the ease of retirement, but continue to see familiar faces and friends at Peace. While Arlene retired completely, I continued part-time work. From October 1997 through 1998, after resigning as a director of the Lutheran Foundation, I served as a half-time grant advisor for the Foundation, while Bill Hoerger served full time in the same capacity. The Foundation has as its mission to “demonstrate the compassion of Christ,” and I sorted through and shepherded financial requests by congregations and organizations that desired to help people in need.

I resigned my position at the Lutheran Foundation at the end of 1998 because I was earning too much to apply for Social Security. The Indiana District of the Missouri Synod then hired me to be its District Stewardship Counselor, working quarter time. Conferences associated with that position allowed annual trips for Arlene and me to Tempe, Arizona, and sightseeing in areas of interest around that area, such as the Superstition Mountains, Sedona, the Painted Desert, and the Grand Canyon. When meetings were changed to the Los Angeles area, we made side trips up the seacoast to San Francisco, visiting San Simeon and Carmel on the way, and then to the Napa Valley, and, at another time, south to San Diego and its zoo and over to glittery Las Vegas and nearby Hoover Dam. But to be even freer to travel, I ended my salaried position with the Indiana District at the end of 2002. Other than conducting services on scheduled Sundays to give the pastor at Emmanuel, Soest, just south of Fort Wayne, a break, and also occasionally filling in for pastors on vacation, my weeks became quite free.

In 2003 and 2004, I took some training to be an interim pastor; one who works with a congregation for a designated period of time after a pastor has resigned and until a new pastor is called. The program enables the congregation to renew its identity, mission, and ministry, and also to overcome any problems that need to be resolved before the next pastor arrives. That’s different than being a vacancy pastor; simply caring for the day by day affairs of a congregation, without any introspection on the part of the congregation. New Life Lutheran Church, at 2424 S. Coliseum Boulevard in Fort Wayne, with 75 members, contracted me to serve them from April through December 2005, as their interim pastor. Their much-loved pastor, Larry Merino, formerly a gypsy, who had converted to Christianity, had told them months before that he would be leaving. After twelve years as their pastor, he had formed a ministry to gypsies in Eastern Europe and also that helps congregations in America assimilate immigrants. New Life was a far cry from Peace, with its more “high church” worship. New Life had an excellent praise team, contemporary music, no vestments, and little liturgy and many of its members were not reared as Lutherans. The nine months were a highpoint in my ministry, as Arlene and I were among very spiritual people who prayed for us regularly, responded to my ministry, and were ready to receive their new pastor, who God brought to them as 2006 started.

Besides my “business” trips, during these last years Arlene and I have traveled and cruised a great deal more than previously. In earlier years we occasionally visited my brother Ted in Maine, but more often visited my sisters in Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri. In 1989, brother Dave arranged a tour of Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula, as well as Vancouver Island, Canada, for the family, except for Ted, who wasn’t able to join us. In September of 1991, Arlene and I, with Woody and Annette Shure, took our first cruise, a four-night Carnival voyage that visited the Bahamas in more bad weather than fair. But in subsequent years we visited the Caribbean on more extensive cruises, some with groups from Peace and others with members of our family. A trip in 1997 with Ted, Ruth, and Polly around the islands that surround Puerto Rico enhanced family ties. In 1998, we joined Bob and Betty Long, Ted, and Polly for a tour of Nova Scotia that presented vistas of woods and water. A journey to England and Ireland in 1999 was arranged by Bob Long and we, with him and Betty, and Ruth, spent a few days in London seeing major sites, then a week in a cottage in the Cotswold’s (Shakespeare country), with drives to Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge, Bath, and Wales, and then four days in Ireland. In September 2000, Jane Roehm arranged a land/sea cruise that included many Peace members, as well as the Shures and the Roberts, flying first to Anchorage, Alaska. A train trip up to Fairbanks was replete with spectacular scenery, even a clear view of Mount Denali (Mount McKinley) that is usually not seen due to the clouds that usually surround it. A few days later we returned south and boarded a ship in Seward for a cruise past the southern portion of Alaska. It took us to see glaciers, whales, bears, and forests, and provided salmon feasts on land, and the usual too-much food on board ship, until we reached Vancouver for a flight home. We had a Hawaiian cruise planned for December of 2001, but it was cancelled because of the tragic events of September 11 of that year. In December 2002, we flew to Munich, Germany, saw its sights and then visited Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Vienna in Austria. All of the cities had Christmas Markets, outdoor booths in the old city squares, with Christmas trimmings and gifts on display for sale. In January 2003, we went on another Caribbean cruise during which Craig and Laura (their first cruise), Mike and Cathy, my sister Ruth, and Phil Gastineau were also on board. The Hawaii trip finally took place in December, 2003, during which we toured all of the islands on a cruise ship, with land tours to see a volcano and a canyon, and also motored around the Honolulu area. 

We’ve also gone with friends to Myrtle Beach for golf and beach-walks and to see southern cities, such as Charleston and Savannah. And, of course, with trips to see the Jacobs family in New Jersey and Maryland, the Jim Roberts in the Washington D.C. area, Phil Gastineau in Florida, and other relatives and friends in various places, the roads in those directions have become quite familiar, but the scenery is always lovely as the seasons change. Actually, we’ve been in every state east of the Mississippi River and hope to travel in the years ahead to those in the west where we haven’t yet been.

Luther and Arlene Strasen

While both Arlene and I were in good health in our working years, taking few days off because of sickness, there have been some major surgeries for both of us. I wrote about my right lung collapsing twice while at Greenwood. In May of 1972, between services on a Sunday, it happened the third time. Fortunately, Fred Hubert was able to conduct and preach the second service for me. I spent about five days at Lutheran Hospital with a tube in my chest wall that allowed the air to escape and my lung to regain its size. Again, in May 1975, as I was playing squash with Dr. Bob Shugart, I realized that the lung had collapsed a fourth time. It was decided to do surgery. My chest was opened and portions of the lung were excised and sewn back together and the lung was also roughed up at the top so that it would heal to the chest wall. My “lung vulcanization” has served me well for more than 30 years. More recently, kidney stone attacks in ‘90 and ’93 were painful episodes, but I must have passed the stones in due time.

Arlene has had more surgeries and physical situations than I’ve had. On July 2, 1985, a teenager passed our car on the right, just as we started to turn right into Kaysans, a restaurant on Old Decatur Road, and plowed into the passenger side of our car. Arlene immediately knew that her collarbone was broken and for the next weeks endured the supportive sling she had to wear. Dr. Shugart operated on her right hand in 1988 for carpal tunnel and her left hand in 1994 for growths that appear on her hands. In October of 1995, a phone call from her head nurse at work informed me that she was having physical problems with her gait and speech and was in the Lutheran Hospital Emergency room. By the time I arrived, she seemed quite normal and wanted to go home. Instead she had a stay at the hospital where tests revealed she had a minor stroke, for which she was put on medication. On March 3, 1999, she elected to have a hysterectomy. Add to that bunion surgery; her right foot in 2000 and her left in 2001. The bunion surgery curtailed her activities the most because she wasn’t allowed to bear any weight on each operated foot for six weeks. So I cooked up a storm during those surgery times and waited on her – you’ve got it – hand and foot. 

However, the most traumatic physical problems for Arlene started on September 21, 2004. As she was in the kitchen, preparing supper, she suddenly fell to the floor with a loud thud. I thought she was dead and did haphazard CPR on her and called 911. Actually, she was rendered unconscious from her head striking the floor. She came to just before the EMTs and the fire department arrived, saying to me as I was thumping her chest, “Stop that! You’re hurting me.” While in the ICU at Lutheran Hospital, twice she developed torsades de pointes – a form of ventricular tachacardia. On the screen the heartbeats looked like circles, instead of spikes. She was zapped to bring her out of the deadly rhythm and, after the second time, was put on a temporary pace maker, which was then replaced with a permanent one (which Treva Strasen oversees as head of the Pacemaker Clinic at Lutheran). With all the body scans taken at that time, two aortic aneurysms were detected, the worst starting just under the arch where the aorta leaves the heart and the other in her lower abdomen. During the next year, the aneurysms were monitored and the decision was made to do preventive surgery so that they wouldn’t bleed or burst. We were advised not to travel so, if an emergency occurred, not to be far away from the Indiana/Ohio Heart surgeons, for whom Tim works, and who knew her case. On January 24, 2006, the surgery (to prevent her aorta from bleeding or bursting) was performed by Dr. William Deschner. A Dacron tube to carry her blood was placed within her aorta, from just below the arch and down to where it divides to serve the legs. Vessels, such as to her stomach, kidneys and spine, were severed and then reattached to the tube. Her recovery was remarkable. The surgery itself didn’t last as long as was projected; Arlene knew us soon after being brought to the ICU that evening (we were told that she wouldn’t know us until the next day); and she came off the respirator just six hours after surgery, rather than the up to two days that we were told to expect. She came home the seventh day after surgery and slowly, but surely, regained her strength. Doctor Deschner said that he had never had such a surgery go so well. The anesthetist was “amazed.” For those days, she was Lutheran Hopital’s “poster child.” We were very thankful to God that He answered a great multitude of prayers.  

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