Eulogy for our father.
A number of years ago our father, Norman, wrote down his preferences for a memorial service to be held after his passing. In this, he stated his reasoning for not wanting a eulogy of his life included. Since what he wrote provides an insight into his thoughts, and him as a person, we thought we’d read it out on this occasion. In his words:
I’ve always felt uncomfortable with services which include eulogies that focus on the life, relationships and/or accomplishments of the deceased. My life was not exemplary nor did I accomplish anything of note. I’m only a poor sinner, saved by God’s grace. Our Lord deserves the focus because he created us, sustained our lives and paid the ultimate price for our redemption. It is he, and he alone, that deserves our worship, honor and praise!
Now with that being said he later gave us a bit more freedom in planning his memorial service, telling us to say what we felt was appropriate, so we have added the following narrative about his life:
On Monday, September 2nd 1929, Norman William Frederich Kuehne was born in a homestead farmhouse in Long Prairie Township, Todd County Minnesota as the eldest child of Otto and Ruth Kuehne. He arrived just a few weeks before the Stock Market Crash that would plunge the country into the Great Depression throughout the 1930’s. Six siblings would follow – four sisters and two brothers – and there was never a shortage of work to be done or hands to do it. The five-bedroom farmhouse had been built by his grandfather to accommodate his eight children, plus relatives from multiple generations, and extra farmhands. The wood to build the house came from trees on their property that were cut and milled locally. Even though the Rural Electrification Act lines had not yet reached their farm, grandpa had the house wired for electricity when it did. Times were difficult, but the family made do with what they had, and were generous to the passing drifters who would knock on their door, asking for something to eat. Not only were they provided for, but were invited to sit at the table and partake with the family.
Though it sounds like something out of Little House On The Prairie, he really did have to walk a fair distance to a one-room elementary schoolhouse in the country, and found his first day there especially daunting, as English was spoken rather than the German he had grown up with at home and church. Students were required to bring their lunch, and leave it in the coatroom, which was unheated in the winter. On many days they all ate frozen sandwiches at lunch. He adjusted quickly to the new routine and did well at school, and blazing a trail for his siblings to follow in the years ahead. This was altered one winter morning when he was about 10 years old. Following a serious asthma attack, he awoke with a terrible headache, finding he couldn’t move one leg; he knew what it was, but he hoped he was wrong. Infantile Paralysis, later known as Polio, was an epidemic in the late 30’s and early 40’s had struck. He was diagnosed by their local doctor and was later admitted to Gillette Children’s Hospital in St Paul for extended inpatient treatment. He said that the lowest point of his life was being dropped off by his parents and entrusted to the care of people he didn’t know in a city far away from home at such a young age, facing a frightening prognosis.
While Polio could be a devastating disease, he was hugely fortunate to be evaluated by Australian nurse Sister Kenny, a groundbreaking pioneer in Polio treatment and physical therapy. Her methods were unconventional and viewed with skepticism by the medical community, until they proved so successful, that her approach became the accepted method of treatment. While Polio left its mark on him for the rest of his life, he eventually returned home able to walk, and with a strength of Faith and a force of Will that that never departed him.
Back on the farm, they had begun transitioning from farming with horse teams to early tractors. Even so, when it snowed heavily in the winter, Dad’s father Otto still used a horse-drawn sleigh with a heavy blanket in the back for warmth, to ferry the children back and forth to their township school. Stories such as these come from a time that feels distant to us now, and unfathomable to a younger generation. Indeed, upon hearing about the sleigh a few years ago, Ross’s young son Zachary pondered it for a bit, and asked with a quizzical look: “Does Farfar know any Reindeer?”
Dad’s education in the one-room schoolhouse continued through 8th grade, progressing on to Long Prairie High School, graduating in 1947. He then moved to the Twin Cities to attend Minneapolis Business College, graduating in 1948. He started work as a bookkeeper at International Milling, and later moved on to Lew Bonn Electronics, where he became an Office Manager in charge of Credit. He then spent 25 years at Douglas Corporation, retiring in 1998 as Vice President of Finance. While working for Doug Skanse at Douglas, he had a serious pituitary incident, which went undiagnosed for several months. This was discovered during an examination at the University of Minnesota hospital, which referred him to the Mayo Clinic. Over the next 30 years he received outstanding care from multiple departments at Mayo, and Doug Skanse supported Dad above and beyond, every step of the way.
Yet, for all he achieved from modest beginnings, there is no question that his greatest accomplishment came in 1953 when he married Janet Mae Stanway of Virginia Minnesota. He told me more than once, that the biggest problem in the world was that there weren’t enough Methodist Minister’s Daughters from the Iron Range to go around. She stood by his side through good times and challenging ones for 62 years, and we cannot understate our profound appreciation of what she has done in single-handedly caring for him over these past few difficult years. Our father never played the lottery, perhaps because he knew he had already struck the jackpot at home.
Without question, the underlying bedrock of our father’s life was an abiding faith in Christ, a source of strength and comfort throughout his days. He grew up in a Christian family, being baptized and confirmed at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Long Prairie Township. He and our Mom were married at the Covenant Church in Virginia Minnesota, and when they moved to Southwest Minneapolis, became active members of Edina Covenant Church, serving in a number of roles over many years. When growing up, our family’s circle of friends were drawn as much from the families we knew through church, as it was from our extended family of relatives, friends, and our home neighborhood. I also want to mention how much all of those groups supported our parents over these past few years, and how grateful we are for their assistance.
Now, because our father was a stoic man who dressed neatly, drove a sensible car, and brushed after meals, he sometimes gave the impression of being the sort of person who loosened his tie before going to bed. And while it’s true that he was a serious man of purpose who had lived though some difficult times, he also had a dry wit and a genuine enjoyment of life which might not have always been obvious to others. He was an avid follower of Minnesota sports, loved the outdoors and playing golf, and was a very good writer, in later years emailing reflections on events and life far and wide. He was willing to join in with his sons’ childhood hobbies and interests, to the point of playing Frisbee, driving us out of the city to launch Model Rockets, and getting up at 4am on cold winter mornings to help drive us along our newspaper routes. Especially treasured memories are numerous family vacations over the years from Florida to the Canadian Rockies, and later from England to Germany.
As for his Dry humor, as a teenager I remember coming home one summer night in the 1980’s when our mother was away for the week, opening up the refrigerator, and seeing a six pack of beer, which was quite a surprise in a household such as ours, which seemed unaware that Prohibition had ever ended. Playing it as low-key as possible, I walked into the den, sat down on the couch and after a minute or so asked my father if he had noticed that there was a six-pack of Bud in the fridge. Without missing a beat, or lowering the newspaper he was reading, he told me it was for watering the tomato plants in the garden. I never did see what happened to the beer, but couldn’t deny that the tomatoes grew well that summer.
Our father lived a surprisingly long life for someone who faced as many physical and medical challenges as he did, and I don’t think that anyone was more surprised about that than he was. Such challenges were not easy to face, and he certainly didn’t welcome them, but he accepted them, and moved on. I remember once when I was young, asking him if he was bitter about having had so many hurdles to overcome. His response has stayed with me: “You can be defined by what happens to you, or you can be defined by how you work to overcome what happens to you.”
Until we are reunited by Faith and Grace in the next life, here’s to us all working to overcome the challenges we face in this life.
We give thanks for the life of Norman William Frederich Kuehne, grateful for all he accomplished, and thankful he is now free of earthly tribulations, and starting again with a new body, and a new life, eternal.
Amen and Amen.