On this All Souls Day, I would like to take a moment to remember two individuals who recently left us — Walt Schryver and Etlar “Duke” Johnson.
They were not alike but both people played an important role in my life as well as others.
From Walt’s obituary: “Walt’s biggest love was being a volunteer fireman for Wheaton Township. Walt was the founding father for the Chippewa Falls Fire Protection District. He was the first deputy chief for Wheaton when the Fire District was formed in 1977.”
While the above is completely true, Walt loved the entire fire service. The term “fire buff” was created just for him. Walt had a collection of fire memorabilia that consumed his entire basement.
He had pictures of every fire truck in probably two states. Thanks to Walt, I have pictures of all the Marshfield Fire Department’s apparatus from the time I was growing up until I left Marshfield.
As the obituary states, Walt was the first Deputy Chief at Station 2 of the Chippewa Fire District.
While Walt lives in Wheaton, his focus was the Chippewa Fire District as a whole, not just the town of Wheaton. Walt was instrumental in hiring the Chippewa Fire District’s first chief, Ron Salter.
In semi-retirement, he could be found running Engine 2 or on scene taking pictures.
During fires we would chat about the old days. I would call him “Old Horse” as a sign of respect for his years of service and he would call me “John-O.”
Walt had a way of understanding fire and was always on the lookout for his firefighters. As his health faded, I saw him less and less. But his devotion to the Chippewa Fire District was unquestioned.
Another person who passed recently was Etlar Johnson of Eau Claire. I know of no one who called him Etlar. Etlar is a good Norwegian name, though. I always knew him as Duke. Duke was a successful banker during his early life but then as it may happen he felt a call to become a Lutheran pastor.
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I know no other person who has left banking to become a pastor and none that I know who has left being a pastor to become a banker. Perhaps the world would be a better place if more pastors became bankers. Duke would laugh at that one.
I got to know Duke because our wives taught at Cadott together. Our wives belonged to the Red Hatters, then a knitting group; finally the women forgot any pretense of Red Hatting or knitting, they just went out had dinner and wine.
The men were allowed to accompany them about twice a year. The purpose of this coed gathering would be to have the men sit together and pay for the dinner. What our other function at the event was, Duke and I never figured out.
Duke was never assigned to a lofty church congregation. He never became a bishop. Duke served the parishes of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Augusta, Norden Lutheran Church, Gilmanton Lutheran Church and Rock Creek Lutheran Church.
Duke told me that at one parish, folks provided him the wood needed to keep the parish house warm in the winter. He informed me that by the end of his tour there he became a pretty good hand “keeping the home fires burning.”
I had the opportunity to hear Duke preach several times.
He had a dry sense of humor and a low-key but clever wit. I think being a banker in the earlier part of his life gave him a perspective on what people went through in their daily lives.
I believe this influenced his understanding of the gospel. From our time together, he knew that economics and religion were intermixed.
Duke passed away from Lewy Body Dementia. Lewy body dementia is a term that includes Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies; characterized by abnormal deposits of the protein in the brain. Hallucinations are part of the disease. We often say people “fight” diseases. Unfortunately many times disease wins.
Every so often people come into your life that you know will make an impact. Walt and Duke were two of those people for me. Godspeed to both.