Friends, in spite of our best efforts, a video of Al Ahrens’ funeral is unavailable.
The best we can do is to share the homily and prayer with you.
A Homily for Al Ahrens
by Reverend Lori Wunder, April 22, 2023
John 14:1-6, 25-27
Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been thinking a lot about Al Ahrens over the last several days. One of the privileges of being a pastor is sitting with the family at this tender, holy time and hearing their stories.
I have heard so many great stories and remembrances, more than I can share with you all today—and I hope you have been doing that amongst yourselves and will continue to do so at the luncheon following the service.
But what keeps going through my mind is, Al was LUCKY.
I mean, he got not one, not two, but SIX holes in one in his lifetime. Who does that?!?
I am not a golfer so I did a very scientific survey of holes in one on Facebook. I learned that Tiger Woods got a single hole in one each year of his first three PGA tours and hasn’t had one since.
I don’t mean to suggest there wasn’t skill involved in those six holes in one, but Al Ahrens was a lucky man.
When I asked his family about that they agreed—he would often win if there was a drawing or a door prize. He always came out on top at any visit to a casino. And everyone knew not to bet against him because Al always won.
He was lucky in many other ways, too.
Al was lucky to be born into his family, parents Adolph and Hazel and sister, Sally in Mechanicsville. Mechanicsville was a great place to grow up, a small town with lots of kids that were in and out of each other’s homes and with some kind of ballgame going on all the time. It was a wonderful community where everybody knew everybody else and the village helped raise the kids, supporting them in all they did. Al’s dad loved sports as much as Al did, had played semi-pro baseball. Adolph umpired and refereed across the state. It was no surprise that Al played baseball and basketball at school.
When Al was in high school, Hillcrest Country Club here in Mount Vernon opened with Adolph as one of the founding members. Father and son shared a passion for golf and spent many, many hours on the links. Al also worked at the club in a variety of capacities.
After Al graduated from Mechanicsville High School in 1957, he worked a few different jobs but didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. So he enlisted in the US Army in 1960. And even in this regard, Al was lucky.
I mean, he got to play basketball for Army as part of his service. He also served as a company clerk for a tank battalion, spending a year and a half of his three years in Germany. While everyone else regularly got assigned to KP duty (that’s “kitchen patrol” if you don’t know), Al rarely did and he finally figured out why. There was another Ahrens in their unit, and that poor guy got assigned to KP duty all the time. You might even say, enough for two soldiers.
If that wasn’t enough to prove Al was lucky, get this: when generals or other high ranking officers came on base and wanted to play golf, they needed to find people to play with them. So guess who got that assignment? Al got to play golf, all in the line of duty. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.
Needless to say, Al enjoyed his three years in the army. He told me about meeting other soldiers from all different parts of the country (a good experience for a kid from small town Iowa), driving around on the Autobahn and exploring Germany and other countries in Europe, and being there for the historic moment when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961.
It was also during his time in the army that Al learned he was good at administrative work, especially numbers. After his discharge, Al returned to Iowa and attended Cedar Rapids Business College, and began working as an accountant with Rockwell-Goss in 1966. He worked for Goss for 35 years, retiring in 2001.
When Al wasn’t working, he was playing sports or refereeing, just as his dad had done.
One evening in early January 1968, after playing a basketball game in a Y league, he and a teammate went to Russo’s in Cedar Rapids, a local bar and grill that had live music and dancing. Becky Fisher was also there with one of her roommates. This roommate knew Al and his friend so she introduced everyone and they all spent the evening dancing and having conversation.
A few days later, Al called Becky to ask her out and they again went to Russo’s. Fast forward a year and a half later, and they were married.
Al was 28 when he met Becky (who was a tender 20). His married friends teased him about being single, saying he would never get married. Al made a bet that he would be married before he turned 30. He and Becky got engaged late summer in 1968 when Al was 29 and Al suggested they could get married in December. This idea was vetoed by Becky and her mother because the weather might be bad and you need more time than that to plan a wedding. So on his wedding day, May 3, 1969, Al was thirty years and three months old. Possibly the only bet he ever lost.
Before too long, Sandi was born, followed by Brenda and Brian. Al loved being a parent. He played with the kids, wrestling with them, teasing them and making them laugh. He enjoyed their activities and their friends.
He was a bit of a prankster, too. All three kids remember one snowy night when they were walking home from a neighbors’ house. There had been enough snow that school was cancelled that day, and there was quite a deep bank in front of the house. Sandi said her dad pointed at the snow drift, said, “Well, would you look at that! Sandi, bend down and take alook!” And when she did, he promptly pushed her face first into the snow. And laughed and laughed, as did everyone else…including, I think, Sandi.
Brenda remembers one vacation when they were canoeing. Sandi and Brian were in one canoe and she was in the other with her mom in the front of the canoe and her dad in the back. Well, Brenda had been to camp that summer and was sure she knew what she was doing so she stood up to change places with her mom…and promptly turned the canoe over, getting all three of them soaking wet. And again, with her dad laughing the whole time.
While the whole family golfed together, it was Brian and Al who most enjoyed the game and they would play together often. Brian remembers they were playing at Hillcrest when he was 12 or 13, and the game was going really well for Brian. He was starting to think this might be the day he would beat his dad when…on Hole 6, Al got a hole in one! and it was all downhill for Brian from there.
Al loved spending time with his kids, and then with his grandkids, Tyler and Emily, and Bella and Zoey. Until just a few years ago he always greeted them with a hug and tried picking them up. He so enjoyed going to any of their sporting events or concerts. Bella and Zoey loved to visit so they could go in the golf cart with Grandpa down to Hillcrest and play around on a putting green. He even let them drive the golf cart!
He loved spending time with his family.
And he was great with kids. As soon as Al retired, he started coaching when a friend asked him to be an assistant coach for the varsity girls basketball team at Lisbon high school, and to coach the girls JV team. He was always a competitor and in showing the girls how good he was, he would sometimes end up on his can—and he would be proud of the girls for their tough play!
From there he moved on to a combined Lisbon-Mount Vernon Girls Golf Team before becoming the Mount Vernon Boys Golf Coach. He truly enjoyed coaching and he was good at it.
Also in retirement, Al golfed as much as he possibly could—as soon as it was warm enough until the course finally closed for the season. I remember one year his last game was in December. He had a regular group of guys that played one day a week at Hillcrest (now Kernoustie), and another group that played at Hunters Ridge, and another big group of retirees.
The family had always traveled—Becky planned road trips for them to Colorado and Mt. Rushmore and Washington D.C. and Tennessee and Kentucky, and Florida to see Sally and Max.
When Al retired, he wanted to go back to Germany to revisit where he had been stationed and to travel to other parts of Europe, including Norway where Al had distant cousins.
When Becky retired, she wanted to go to Hawaii. They also did some Viking River Cruises, a trip to Alaska, and many trips so to see Sally and Max and Sandi and Tony.
And speaking of luck—Al not only had a brother-in-law he really enjoyed, Max worked for Robert Trent Jones, golf course architects, so Max could get Al into some really nice golf courses on their visits.
Al was healthy and strong and sharp and active and fun to be with. I remember joking with him about how good his genes were, since his dad lived to be 101.
So it was a real shock when things were a little off. When Al repeated stories, or didn’t remember things he and Darin had talked about, and wasn’t as steady on his feet. It was so hard to see that, and harder when visits to the doctor didn’t provide answers. And then Al started falling more frequently which was frankly dangerous for Al and Becky both.
Finally, the diagnosis was ALS–amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for the legendary Yankees first baseman and power hitter. I just shake my head that Al Ahrens, our favorite sports nut, ended up with a disease named for a famous athlete. Again, you can’t make this up.
With ALS, the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord degenerate and die, breaking the link of communication with the muscles. This caused Al to have trouble getting up from the sofa or wherever he was sitting, and to fall at home and outside. After two falls in a weekend, Al ended up in the hospital, and care providers agreed Al needed full time care. There was a place for Al at the Anamosa Care Center and he settled in well.
He was such a good sport about everything. He never complained. He was patient, appreciative, kind, an easy patient. He kept his sense of humor through it all. He quickly became a favorite of all the staff at Anamosa. But he also steadily lost the ability t0 use his hands, his arms, his legs… his ability to walk, and finally the ability to talk.
And what remained until the very end? Al’s big laugh, and smile and that twinkle in eyes.
As the ALS was progressing, I found myself thinking about this passage from 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For our slight, momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen, for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
For we know that, if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Now, I do not mean to suggest that God was glorified by Al having ALS or that his illness and suffering “earned” him anything or was God’s plan for Al. Crappy things happen, and God is with us in them.
What I do mean to suggest is that in spite of what this horrible illness did to his body, it could not take away the heart and soul of the person God created Al Ahrens to be. His physical body was literally wasting away because of that cruel disease, but who Al was at his core continued to be visible. Al’s spirit remained.
Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS back in 1939 when Gehrig was 36 years old. Gehrig retired from baseball, having played 16 seasons with the Yankees and 2,130 consecutive games; he had earned the nickname “the Iron Horse” because he was so strong and dependable.
Shortly after his diagnosis, between games of a doubleheader on July 4, 1939, the Yankees hosted “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” After being showered with praise and tributes and gifts, Gehrig spoke to the crowd:
For the past two weeks you’ve been reading about a bad break. (pause) Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth…
Gehrig went on to acknowledge with deep gratitude his teammates, everyone in the organization from the manager to the ball boys, his rivals, his parents, his in-laws, his wife and what blessings they were to him in his life.
As I read through what is known as “baseball’s Gettysburg Address” I couldn’t help but think that had Al been forced to make a speech, his might be similar.
Al was lucky, and he knew it. He lived life to the fullest and loved life to the fullest, along with the people and the world around him.
And he wasn’t afraid to die. Al had hope, the same hope that is available to all of us:
We have hope because we trust the promise that in life, in death, in life beyond death, we belong to God.
We trust that because of the resurrection, death does not have the last word.
Yes, Al has died, but he is not lost to us.
He is with God, and with his mother and father, and so many others. And one day we will see him again.
The gift of Al’s life does not die with him. That inner spirit that was being renewed in him? It is still with us, because love never ends. The fruits of his life remain here for us, and in us.
So, yes, we shed tears and we feel a sense of loss at Al’s death, an emptiness where our friend should be, even anger that such a terrible disease cut Al’s life short. We can also smile and laugh at the good memories, recognizing that our tears are a tribute and testimony to a man who lived and loved and served so well.
And most of all, we can know how lucky we are to have known and loved Al. And so, we say thanks: Thanks be to God for the life and witness of Allen Ahrens. Amen.
PASTORAL PRAYER AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
Let us pray:
O God, our Maker, from whom we come, unto whom we return, and in whom we live and move and have our being:
We give you praise for the gift of life you give to us; for the wonder and mystery of it, for the family and friends with whom we share it.
We thank you for the ties that bind our hearts, one to another. We are ever grateful for the steadfastness of your love, and for your guiding hand along the way of our pilgrimage.
O God, on this day we especially give you thanks for Al Ahrens, recalling all in him that was good and kind and faithful. We give thanks for the love Al knew from his parents, Adolph and Hazel, and sister Sally growing up in Mechanicsville; for the love Al found with Becky and for the 53 years of marriage and partnership they shared; for the fun Al had and the pride he took in his children, Sandi, Brenda and Brian, and as the family expanded to include Tony, Darin and Karen, and grandchildren Tyler and Emily, Bella and Zoey; as well as the extended family—Sally and Max, sisters-in-law Connie and Kathy and their Jims, and many nieces and nephews.
O God, there is so much about Al for which we are grateful:
- For that twinkle in his eye, that wonderful laugh, and his ability to poke the bear and get away with it, and the way he could light up the room with a joke or a story.
- For his love of fun, whether he was wrestling with his children, instigating a prank, on the court or on the course, or playing cards with other couples
- For the friend he was to so many, and the loyalty of those friendships through the years, especially during Al’s illness
- For the sports that were a central part of Al’s life:
- that he was able to play for so many years at a high level —baseball, basketball and his true love, golf
- the ways he made it possible for young people to learn and grow in the sports he loved as a referee, and as a coach
- for the enjoyment he found in watching others play—his own kids and grandkids, but also kids in the neighborhood and the community
- For Al’s faith and his pride in being a lifelong Presbyterian, and all the ways he served this congregation and community
- For Al’s love for Becky, the great team they were for 53 years, and his devotion to his children and grandchildren, and all the ways his family gave him so much joy
Even as we mourn Al’s death, we give thanks, O God, for the goodness and truth that passed through his life into the lives of so many others, and that the world is a better place and we are better people because Al lived among us.
We thank you, God, that for Al death is over, that you have welcomed him to his eternal home, and that he now lives forever in the joy and peace of your presence. We pray that those who loved Al best will find comfort and consolation in the memories of the love they shared, in his life so well-lived, and in the trust that as you cared for him in life, so you continue to care for Al in death.
O God, you know the secrets of our hearts;
you hold what is hard to hold within.
You bear our pain, you bear our anger,
you bear our tears and our loneliness.
You bear the questions that have no answers.
Comfort us in our grief; Come close,
and in the darkest places, give us hope. Amen.
And now, with the confidence of the children of God, let us pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
The obituary can be found here.