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Feature Article on Lois Lenski. Topic: WOMEN & PEOPLE
Written by Marguerite Mittermaier Ressler in April, 2000

RETURN TO SKIPPING VILLAGE - ANNA, OHIO

"Childhood is a preparation for life. It is my hope that the books I have written have enriched the lives of children." So wrote Lois Lenski, gifted author and illustrator of children’s books. She drew heavily on her own childhood and family life in Anna, Ohio, to write her first creative work. Over the years, I have developed a deep interest in Lois and the Lenski family. Like her, I grew up in Anna and can relate to her background and experiences through my own.

Richard Charles Henry Lenski, the father of Lois, studied for the ministry at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. Later upon earning his Doctor of Divinity degree, he became dean of the seminary. He was a brilliant man whose personal magnetism brought him early recognition. He wrote numerous religious books and commentaries. He also possessed innovative talents, abilities, and hobbies. It was known that he undertook every task with intensity and thoroughness both in his ministry and personal life. Strict adherence to a schedule was his credo. Even as a pastor he found time for his photography hobby and took all the pictures for the church and events in the lives of parishioners

.skippingvillagebyloislenski.jpg (77914 bytes)

Skipping Village was one of Lois Lenski’s most popular books and one of special attachment to the Shelby County, Ohio community. It is closely based on Lenski’s growing up years in Anna and contains many references of unmistakable origin. Architectural style of the homes on this book cover mimics that of Anna homes, particularly the Lutheran parsonage pictured on the next page. To those who have read the book, Skipping Village is Anna, or at least what Anna was 100 years ago.

Lenski Arrived 100 Years Ago

In 1899, the Lenski family took up residence in the Anna parsonage as Pastor Lenski began his duties. In 1907, he saw the dedication of St. Jacob Evangelical Lutheran Church which he helped design and oversee in construction. Today this 92 year old edifice still stands as a testimony to his vision and foresight to build a magnificent house of worship.

In 1930, my father, Rev. F.J. Mittermaier, became the pastor of St. Jacob Church. He had been instructed at the seminary by Dr. Lenski. My father devoted all his energy to the work of the Lord. He loved to read scripture in the original Greek and would often have to be told to "put down his book and eat his oatmeal before it got cold." Receiving an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree as the most outstanding rural pastor in Ohio, he preferred not to be known by any title but that of pastor. Throughout the 33 years of his ministry in Anna, he maintained the deepest regard for his mentor, Dr. Lenski. For him it was a special blessing to be pastor of the Anna church. Often he loved to go to the church, sit in the pew, and watch the rays of the setting sun as it shone brilliantly on the head of Christ window above the altar.

In 1932, the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary. Dr. Lenski returned to preach. As a small child, I clearly recall seeing this man who had olive skin, a heavy mustache, and intense blue eyes. Dressed in a white linen suit and Panama straw hat, he was a striking figure as he smoked a large cigar. After asking permission of my mother, he took my hand and off we went to the local ice cream parlor.

Marietta Young Lenski, mother of Lois, was very gifted in her own right. She was a beautiful lady who dressed in the latest fashion, in clothes which she sewed for herself. Skilled in all aspects of homemaking, she regretted her lack of education. She enjoyed gardening and especially raising flowers, but her dedication to the five Lenski children was her strongest passion.

My mother, Magdalene, reveled in both domestic and church life. My father called her "his right hand." She loved to teach Sunday School and together with my father organized and orchestrated the yearly children’s Christmas program, youth pageant, and Vacation Bible School. She sewed extensively, was known for her delicious baking, grew flowers, and arranged them in large baskets for church services. There were four of us children to tend and nurture.

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Lois Lenski's father, Rev. R.C.H. Lenski, pastor of Anna Lutheran church
at the time it was dedicated in 1907.
 

Early Anna

Anna, Ohio, in the early 1900’s was a perfect child’s town. It offered all a child could enjoy and comprehend. Commonplace and ordinary, it had no particular beauty or grace, but it soon became my own, a compound of sights and sounds and smells and buildings and people that became a part of me...To have lived it and savored it and been a part of it, has given me great comfort through ensuing years.

Journey into Childhood, The Autobiography of Lois Lenski.

Lois wrote a great deal about the parsonage in which she and I were both privileged to live. She felt it was "a perfect house for children to grow up in." Her mother called the house preposterous and hard to maintain. It had many, many rooms, seven gables with "gingerbread trim," small porches, long narrow windows, no gas, no electricity, no inside plumbing. Twenty-one years later upon my family’s arrival, my Mother told one of the trustees to "chop off a few rooms!" However, in time, we found need for all the space.

annahome.jpg (43245 bytes)

"This conglomeration of architecture, so many gables and roofs and porches, made an inviting place for the boys to climb. They would go up to the highest peak of all, yell down at us timid girls and try to frighten us."Journey into Childhood, The Autobiography of Lois Lenski, J.B. Lippincott Co., New York, 1972.
— Journey into Childhood, The Autobiography of Lois Lenski, J.B. Lippincott Co., New York, 1972.

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Detail from Lenski’s Skipping Village back cover flyleaf shows clear similarity in architecture to the Lutheran
parsonage in Anna in which Lenski and Mrs. Ressler lived some 30 years apart.

We soon discovered the closet where Lois signed her name; we dug up remnants from Dr. Lenski’s photography; we enjoyed the Concord grapes from the vines which the Lenski family had planted under the arbor. The house was for both of our families a busy place and often the setting for a baptism, wedding or stay by an overnight guest preacher. The door to the parsonage was always open.

In 1961 Lois, then 68, returned to Anna to retrace her childhood footsteps. Stopping at the parsonage, she asked my Mother if she could go through it once again and point out some of the things she remembered. She went to the wooden archway between the parlor and the dining room. There now covered with coats of varnish, but still legible, were the initials of the five Lenski children and a dash beside each initial. She said her father measured each child at the end of the year and whoever had grown the most got a silver dollar.

In my possession is a book signed by Lois in which she thanks my Mother for "letting her see again every nook and cranny of the old house." Over the years, many changes have been made and many people have occupied the house, but yet it stands.

Lois penned her remembrance of happenings in Anna: the little houses, stores, businesses, and schoolhouse. She vividly recalled the names of childhood friends and acquaintances. Her dearest childhood friend, having grown up, was our church organist for many years; another friend became the mother of one of my close friends. The same neighbor lady we came to know so well had been married by Dr. Lenski. The love and friendship of church people was always held dear by my parents and I hold that same affection for those now gone and those who remain.

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St. Jacob Lutheran Church, Anna, Ohio. ca. 1915. The church was planned, built, and dedicated during the pastorate of Rev. Lenski. (From a postcard in possession of Mr. & Mrs. Richard J. Line)

As I have reflected on the life of the Lenskis and my own family, the Mittermaiers, there seem to be parallels. The stance of both was that life should not be lived in a worldly or materialistic fashion. First, in the family’s life should be the church and all its facets. A pastor’s family must strive to practice what the preacher preaches in keeping high standards and morals. This is not an easy task as I can attest to when growing up.

Both of our families lived frugally and adhered to the motto "waste not, want not." Lois used the paper between cakes of shredded wheat for her sketching; my father used the back of signed communion cards for notes which he carried in his shirt pocket.

Both sets of parents emphasized work and learning, but above all a life of service, the joy of helping others and sharing with fellow travelers on the road of life.

A hymn I recall puts it so clearly:   Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, Not for world’s gain nor the hope of reward, Only to minister, humble and meek, Only in all things His glory to seek, Living to labor that others may live, Ready to love and to serve and to give.

As an avid collector of Lois Lenski’s books, my appreciation of her and her family has grown and deepened over the past 25 years. She and I both had wonderful parents, we lived in the same house, we loved the church, grew up in the village of Anna, and called it our childhood home.

reverendandmrsmittermaier.jpg (28184 bytes)

Rev. and Mrs. F.J. Mittermaier, Mrs. Ressler’s parents, were called in 1930 from Willowdell in Darke County to the Lutheran post in Anna. They took up residence in the same parsonage in which the Lenski family once lived. "This picture of my parents is my favorite," writes the author, Marguerite Ressler. "This was taken on Dad’s 40th year in the ministry. My Mother’s maiden name was Schmalz. Translation: Chicken fat! My Dad totally disliked his name Felix and so always opted to go by F. J. The J was for Julius. His third name was Richard and he loved that because that was Dr. Lenski’s name."

 

 

 

Frugal Living

My mother had a frugal upbringing, without a father. She constantly warned us of the sin of wastefulness. It was a sin to throw away or to waste food.

"Somewhere a child is hungry," Mama often said. "If you waste food, you will go hungry yourself some day." The ladies of the Church packed missionary barrels to be sent to India and China. This was a frugal period, too. Americans had not yet become "waste makers." We were taught not to waste anything. We saved string and rolled it into balls. We saved wrapping paper and used it over again. We hoarded used envelopes and backs of business letters to use for writing and scribbling. My mother and grandmother used old clothing for carpet rags, to be made into rugs.Journey into Childhood, The Autobiography of Lois Lenski.

 

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