“When the sun goes down below the horizon, he is not set; the heavens glow for a full hour after his departure. And when a great and good man sets, the sky of this world is luminous long after he is out of sight. Such a man cannot die out of this world.” Beecher
Sunday, October 25 marks the 12th year since my beloved grandfather, Rev. Kenneth R. Bertholf, passed away. This saying was on the cover of his funeral program. It seemed so fitting. But when I created it and his obituary, I struggled with trying to condense 92 years into a few paragraphs. How can one do justice to a whole lifetime on a single piece of paper?
Grandpa Ken was born in Tekoa, WA on April 28, 1905, one of ten children. He was quite an athelete and especially loved baseball … the Braves. He was also a country musician. He had a wonderful bass voice, and played the fiddle, guitar, steel guitar and harmonica. (Would playing the washtub in a kitchen band also count?) He was an old time lumberjack, short order cook, insurance salesman, vitamin salesman and carpenter.
When he was 29 years old, he became a Christian and felt called to be a minister of the Gospel. He married my grandmother, Blanche Payne, in 1935 and they spent the next 46 years planting, building and pastoring churches around the northwest.
But these are only public and general details “about” my grandfather. They don’t tell you about the kind of man he really was …
As a young child, I lived with my grandparents on a church campground in the mountains of beautiful northern Idaho for two years, and spent every summer with them until I was a senior in high school. I have wonderful memories of long, lazy summers in their home. Almost every evening after dinner, I would sit on my grandpa’s lap to hear stories from God’s Word, the Bible. Grandpa loved the outdoors and took my brother and me on long hikes in the woods on Sunday afternoons. He showed us the needles of different pine trees; some had two, some had three, and some had five separate needles. Then he would run them through his mouth, and no matter how many strands it started with, they would all form one strand, one complete needle. He wondered at this simple miracle. He whittled us whistles out of sticks and told us we should never try to outrun a bear! He taught us the parts of the flower and how to blaze a trail through the woods. He used to jump over picnic tables and kick the tops of doors well into his 60’s. We played math games and made snow angels and went sledding. I’ll never forget his silly Indian talking and dancing. He always had a huge garden and we loved the fruits of his labor! But by far our favorite activity with Grandpa was sitting at his feet while he sang his cowboy songs with his guitar and harmonica.
Yet even more important than these more intimate family things, was the fact that Grandpa loved people to Jesus. He was always the center of attention; children and young people flocked to him. He always had a silly joke or a silly song or a silly face. He made people laugh and feel comfortable. You always knew when he was in the room. He had a special love for those who didn’t know Jesus and led many to Christ over his lifetime. It was his passion. Through his sacrifices of time and salary and worldly possessions, God used him mightily to change the lives of thousands of individuals and families. His life was always focused on others.
My grandfather was always the one unchanging presence in my life. As a child, he gave me the stability I needed in my very unstable world. After his passing, I felt rather alone and adrift … unanchored. I had so depended on his predictability and steadfastness for my strength. Grandpa had become my father image. Because of him, I knew that God, my heavenly Father, was wonderful and loving. But I have remembered what he taught me about God: that He is the only one from whom I can draw lasting strength and peace and direction. Because my grandfather loved and mentored me every summer, I grew up to realize that God alone was the one immovable and unchanging force in my life.
Grandpa was 92 when he died; he said that 92 was old enough to die. He was ready for heaven. I will always carry a part of Grandpa Ken inside me. I especially miss him at this time of year. But I remember what he taught me and who he pointed me to.
Kenneth Ross Bertholf … a great and good man.
“Let this be for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” Psalm 102:18