“It’s not hard to find opportunities to serve,” said Irma Fuerstenau, member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Bend, Ore. “You truly don’t have to look far.”
Fuerstenau would know. She is 90 years old, a lifelong Lutheran, and has served her church and family in dozens of ways over the years, finding joy in her vocation for the sake of her neighbor. Having grown up in South Dakota during the Dust Bowl, she understands what it means to be creative to get by in life, and to bring Christ to others along the way.
“I was born at the beginning of the dust storm years, on a farm,” recalled Fuerstenau. “It was hard times for the farmers, but they were pioneers. It was hard – we learned to work, learned to make do with what we had. Learned to do and re-do if we had to. Of course, we couldn’t just run to the store when something broke or we needed something. There were no neighbors within a mile, so I played together with my brother and sister with whatever we could find to play with.”
Fuerstenau’s late husband, Maynard, understood. He grew up in North Dakota during those years, and his family left for Oregon in 1936 to escape the dust storms. Since the time the couple married in 1952, they served their church and especially loved supporting mission work and education.
“Maynard was always involved with the Walther League and Lutheran Laymen’s League,” explained Furstenau. “He loved being in choir and was a great Sunday school teacher, and he also led home Bible studies and studies at church. My involvement was in teaching Sunday school and VBS, but I was especially active with the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML). I also served as LWML district president at one time.”
Together, Fuerstenau and her husband raised three children, and they served as examples to them by supporting their church with both time and treasure over the years. They also chose to invest with Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) right away, from the time they were married, so that they could bolster the mission work of the Church through their savings and investments.
“We’ve always felt strongly that we wanted to use the resources that God has given us to support the Church,” mentioned Fuerstenau.
With their investments in place, Fuerstenau was free to spend her time caring for her family, church and community, creatively keeping a home and remembering all that she learned as a child in South Dakota.
“I’m a homemaker at heart,” she admitted, “and when my children were born, I quit teaching in school to care for them. I love sewing, baking and cooking. I’ve enjoyed canning food and raising vegetable gardens and spending time with the children and their activities. My husband was a fisherman and loved it. When I saw they needed help at the local hospital, I spent years volunteering in general services there three hours a week.”
Although Fuerstenau may not be able to serve as actively as she used to, her joy and zeal for service is extended through her and Maynard’s lifetime support of LCEF, and thereby the mission of the Church. A grandmother now to five grandchildren, she embraces her role of being an example to them, by the grace of God. And that’s enough.
“God’s love never ends, and likewise there’s no end to how we can serve others,” she said. “There’s always something you can do. Maybe I can’t do what I used to do, but I can be an example.”
Irma, you have been more than an example. You’ve been a shining light. Thank you.