Mr. Thielmann

MrThielmann2by Mr. Lesser (GHG)4/11/15
It was the 3rd Sunday in May of 1994. I remember that because in the traditional Lutheran Church, children are confirmed when they’re in the eighth grade and the ceremony is spread across the first three Sundays in May – Confession Sunday, then Confirmation Sunday and finally First Communion Sunday.

This particular year was my elder daughter’s time for this rite of passage and as it so happened I was scheduled to be the Elder on duty at that service. One of the duties the Elder performed was assisting the Pastor in serving communion, which meant I was going to get to serve my daughter her first communion. I was very much looking forward to it.

The church service was going to be held in the old chapel and we would do kneeling for communion instead of the continuous method normally used – less expedient, but more elegant and formal for First Communion. I told my daughter that Pastor usually takes the pulpit side which means I would have the lectern side so make sure she lines up correctly so she would be funneled to kneel on the lectern side.

Everything was going swimmingly. We arrived in plenty of time to say hello to many of the parents of the other first-time communicants and still had plenty of time to go into the sacristy and get robed up and go through the perfunctory stuff checklist. Pastor was not there yet so I took a peek into the sanctuary – the place was packed. Not surprising with parents and grandparents of the kids getting their first communion, along with the usual “more traditional worship service” attendees who preferred the intimacy of the old 19th century chapel to the new modern church we had just built and opened a few years earlier.

Finally Pastor arrived and he walked straight up to me and said in a barely audible voice that he needed me to do the Old Testament reading because he was losing his voice and was worried about his voice holding up through the whole service. I couldn’t refuse.

That was when the panic started. You see, I’m afraid of public speaking. I can be a blabber mouth when it’s a casual setting, often the life of the party guy wearing the lamp shade, but put me behind a microphone when I’m facing north and everyone else is facing south and it’s hum-in-a hum-in-a time.

So I quickly grabbed a program and a Bible and sat in the chair on the lectern side of the altar. I found the O.T. reading and turned to it … great … there were weird O.T. names and it was a somewhat lengthy reading. I tried to will myself to be calm. I prayed. I would just do this. I told myself I could do this.

So when it came time, I stood and walked to the center of the altar, bowed to the cross, turned and stepped up to the lectern. I switched on the light and positioned my finger on the verse and started reading at a not too fast and not too slow rate. I was on the second or third line when all of a sudden a loud baritone voice exclaimed, I can’t hear you.  I looked up in time to see the owner of that voice was an elderly gentleman about half way back on the pulpit side. Then I noticed my daughter sitting in the first pew pointing at her ear and shaking her head indicating that she couldn’t hear me either. Just then Pastor was at my side and whispered in my ear “just start over” as he reached up and flipped the microphone switch to the ‘on’ position.

Well … by now I’m totally flummoxed. The Elder robe seemed to have gotten a lot warmer and I’m sweating profusely, and with that white robe I’m sure my radiantly red face looked like a cherry on the top of an ice cream sundae. But, I did the reading, and the rest of the service went well. I even got a little “I love you dad” whisper when I was serving my daughter the wafer.

A couple years went by and I decided to get involved with Stephen Ministries, a Christian care-giving outreach program my church was sponsoring. After completing the required training, my mission was to visit shut-in members of our church who could not, for one reason or another, attend worship service regularly. I would let my visit flow by each person’s direction, but generally I would just chat with them, pray with them, read the Bible to them, serve them communion if they wish, etc.

The Stephen Ministry coordinator set me up with about a dozen people that I would visit once a month. One of the people on my list was Mr. Thielmann, the elderly gentleman who couldn’t hear me on that traumatic Sunday. When the day came to visit Mr. Thielmann, I wondered if he would remember the incident, but concluded he probably wouldn’t. I mean, why would he – it was a couple years before, plus he wore thick glasses so he probably couldn’t see me that well from where he was sitting that day. Mr. Thielmann had lost his wife less than a year earlier and was living by himself in an apartment at a local assisted living community. When I arrived, he greeted me warmly and invited me to sit at the kitchen table with him.

After a little small talk I broached the subject of his wife having recently passed. He told me he had been married for 67 years – to three women. He and his first wife had been married over 50 years when she passed away. He remarried several years later and was married 12 years before his second wife passed away. He met his third wife in the assisted living community and as he put it, he decided he “better make an honest woman of her after all the time they spent sitting together on the courtyard bench.”

They were married for 3 years before she passed away. All told, three wives, 67 years of marriage. He must have seen my wheels turning and knew I was trying to figure out how old he was when he said with a laugh, “I look pretty good for 97, don’t I.” Yes he did. I figured 80’ish. And he was still sharp as a tack.

I visited Mr. Thielmann for almost 3 years before I moved away. We became friends and I looked forward to visiting him and asking him about his life and I could tell he enjoyed telling me about his experiences and the things he had seen and done. He told me about seeing the Chicago Cubs play when he was a kid, the last year they won the World Series in 1908.

He told me about courting his first wife for almost 2 years before she would marry him. Every Saturday he would take three buses back and forth from one side of Chicago where he lived to the other side of the city where she lived, just to take a walk with her. They had 2 sons together, one had passed and the other was in his mid-70’s and not doing very well. We talked about so many things during my visits that mentioning just a couple of them  doesn’t do it justice. But I learned a lot through his eyes and memories, and not just specific details about his life, but also perspectives from a different era, a different world.

The last time I saw him was about a week after his 100th birthday. I had gone to one of those greeting card outlet places thinking they would have a better selection of “Happy 100th Birthday” cards than the card section at the local grocery store. I was pleased to find they had several to choose from so I found one that was humorous. I knew he would get a kick out of.

When I got to his apartment, the front door was plastered with birthday cards. Mr. Thielmann had many friends. We chatted and he knew I was moving away and this would be our last visit. It was more upbeat than I thought it might have been, but that was Mr. Thielmann – you don’t survive 100 years of life, three wives and one son to get all pouty because some whippersnapper is moving away. Before I left I decided to ask him if he remembered that incident in church almost 5 years ago. He nodded his head and said, “I think I embarrassed you. I didn’t mean to.”

It’s often said that a caregiver can get as much if not more reward out of the relationship than the person receiving the care. That was certainly the case for me. I’m a better person for having known Mr. Thielmann. I look forward to our next visit on the other side.

GHG (Mr. Lesser to his friends) is an infrequent public speaker and budding freelance writer. • (988 views)

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10 Responses to Mr. Thielmann

  1. Anniel says:

    Mr. Lesser, I’m so glad you are writing more. This was lovingly told and I had to dry my eyes more than once. I, too, remind myself of the people waiting on the other side for that welcome visit.

    • GHG says:

      Well, obviously I still think about the old gent, and maybe it was a “right time, right place” type of thing, but he had a positive impact on my life in a way that I didn’t see coming. I went into Stephen Ministries with the intention of giving my time and love to those who were needy. What I learned is we’re all needy. The circumstances of our lives are just details. Important yes, but giving ourselves is more important. In the few years that I knew Mr. Thielmann, he demonstrated for me how to take life in stride and keep a joyful heart. The best lesson of all.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Geez. I actually enjoyed reading this. Oh, no offense, Mr. Lesser. I don’t mean that your other efforts were not readable. I mean that I just read so much stuff on the web, that if something doesn’t grip me after two or three paragraphs, I go to the next one.

    This one read like a story. It was interesting. It was fairly well-written. And I think it worked because it was real. This is either natural for you or you took my general advice for people not to be just another talking head, to not sound like Charles Krauthammer or put on airs.

    I am so tired of fake, phony, ramped-up, and just plain obsessively political. I hate to lay it on too thick for fear of scaring you off, but you showed a real person. In a world that is brimming full of falsehood, image-making, pseudo-experts, and micro-marketing, real is a rare commodity.

    That doesn’t mean people have to write “true confessions” type of stuff. There are many “real” styles and subject matters that one can have. But your article does once again confirm my belief that there are people in fly-over country who have much more humanity and sense in their little fingers than the entire media has in their collective talking heads.

    • GHG says:

      Brad, I want to thank you for your invaluable editing effort, and for introducing me to that new (for me) writing format method called the “paragraph”. You transformed my block of text into a readable essay. Thank you.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    Interestingly, I was also in the 8th grade when I was confirmed as an Episcopalian in 1965 at Fort Campbell. I don’t recall many details, nor do I know on what basis the timing was decided. I do remember that the local pastor did classes for those who were scheduled to be confirmed. (Later, I came across a family prayer book that was autographed by the Bishop of Kentucky, perhaps handed out at the ceremony.)

    I don’t recall any such personal visitations either as an Episcopalian or a Baptist (i.e., Elizabeth). She did once put a hospitalized friend on a prayer list, and her pastor visited him even though he wasn’t a member of the congregation (or even a theist of any sort, much less a Southern Baptist).

    • GHG says:

      We had two full time pastors at that church and they would do visitations as requested, but they also had some folks that were disabled or unable to get out so they visited them regularly. The Stephen Ministry program help to reduce their workload as it put guys like me into some of the roles that would otherwise be handled by clergy – not everything of course, but any help the pastors could get was a godsend. And then there were things that only a male Stephens minister could do, like serve communion, due to the traditional church doctrine. But there were other Stephen Ministry outreach programs that offered the ladies an opportunity to serve too. In fact, the Stephen Ministry coordinator at our church was a lady (Sue) and she was a dynamo. She did all the training and was the energy that got the program off the ground and kept it running. Without her I doubt any of that would have happened at our church … and I would never have been blessed to get to know Mr. Thielmann.

  4. Rosalys says:

    A beautiful story! I’ve had a number of friends a generation or so ahead of me. The sad part is losing so many of them and a few I miss dearly. The joy will be the reunion on the other side.

    • GHG says:

      I’ve become somewhat of a history buff as I’ve gotten older. I enjoy learning about the way things used to be. Like looking at an old photo taken 100 years ago and wondering who the people were and what were they like and what happened in their lives? Getting to know Mr. Thiemann was like having a live photo from a 100 years ago. A truly rewarding experience.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        A friend of mine had an ancestor he met once who had served in a North Carolina regiment during the War of the Rebellion. Sadly, it didn’t occur to him at the time to ask about his experiments. Now, of course, it’s much too late to do so. (It’s a little bit like my lack of sufficient appreciation for the places we visited during my father’s tour of duty in Greece. And I doubt we’ll ever see them again when I would appreciate it.)

  5. Jerry Richardson says:


    It’s often said that a caregiver can get as much if not more reward out of the relationship than the person receiving the care. —GHG

    Yes, it is true isn’t it? It is often more blessed to give than to receive.

    P.S. I really enjoy reading your stuff.

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