Monday, September 6, 2010

The Final Hooding of Dr. Les

The picture shows Dr. Ratzlaff and me visiting sites around Grand Junction that were once the stories in The Book of Noah (Stultz and Welch), published by the Church of God Historical Society. Accompanying Dale Stultz on a tour of Grand Junction in a recent year, Les and I are observing the one-time site of the Gospel Trumpet Company near “where the lightning tracks cross.”

D. S. Warner and Company shipped printed religious materials to the four winds from this railroad intersection that connected him to his world. His rail lines were the “lightning tracks, described in his poem “Innocence.”

We were two friends absorbing as much Church of God history as we could. The picture shows us caught up in some detail of the location, now site of an unfinished Memorial Park and a walking trail beside an abandoned rail line in rural Grand Junction, MI.

Dr. Leslie Ratzlaff was a multifaceted man to say the least. He came from the South Dakota prairies; his uncle Jonas was a lay preacher and Canadian evangelist. Les was Princeton educated, with an Ed.D. This longtime Church of God minister had a heart for missions and the qualifications of an educator, and he gave them all to God.

When I met Les a decade ago, he had been a career missionary, had taught at my Portland alma mater (WPC), and retired as founding Dean at Warner Southern College of Lake Wales, FL after 17 years. He had raised a family, lost a wife (sister to one of my favorite professors, Irene Caldwell), and spent his life serving the church.

This time he was courting, a widow lady I had known as Grace for several decades, a person I admired greatly and dubbed as “Amazing Grace.” My wife and Grace developed a special bond through our years of volunteering at Warner Camp. We listened as she wrestled with herself over Les.

She was competent and happy, fulfilled, had a great family, and satisfying work. We encouraged her to bi-pass marriage with another German who was probably just that - very Germanic. Little did we know! Grace finally agreed to marry this German and we have watched and shared with them for almost eight years now. They were a perfect couple. Les treated Grace with gracious grandeur, as a lady of true grace.

We found so much in common, and Les and I dialogued over Church of God history, church practices, doctrine ... Retired at WSC, he stayed active physically and mentally, volunteering at the Heart Institute, where missionaries learn how to live in third world circumstances. Then, he would come to Grand Junction and do grubby work around camp, change hats and teach, but you best be ready to learn.

I learned to love and admire this gentle scholar, a dozen years my senior. I remember how surprised I was after having an article published in a major religious publication not frequented by most Church of God readers. I received the nicest note of commendation from Dr. Leslie Ratzlaff at the Lake Wales campus; he read my writing with warm appreciation.

Being with Les and Grace at our recent NA Convention in June, and again at Warner Camp in July, we knew Les was losing ground. We read the signs, while he continued as sprightly and energetically as ever. Yesterday word came--terminally ill. Grace was aware; he had held up while coming home from their last trip west, after almost eight years of treating her to many of the things she had always wanted to do but couldn’t.

This morning, Ray Selent Jr called to inform us Les was gone. I quickly sent messages informing friends that Dr Les had graduated from this stage and been eternally hooded at 7:15 this morning, Labor Day Monday. God enriched my life through a decade of friendship with Dr. Leslie Ratzlaff, minister--missionary--educator--volunteer of 27 years.

My WPC friend, former President Jay Barber, put it into terms I could “feel” when he responded to my note informing him of Les’s passage:

I'm very proud and grateful to have Dr. Ratzlaff's signature on my "yellowed" and old diploma! He truly was a great man of God and "heavens gain is our loss".

Yes, you enriched our journey, Les, and it is with sadness that we say “so long for now. We do anticipate time later when we can celebrate together in the presence of our Risen Lord.Maranatha! So come, Lord Jesus!

From Warner’s World, I am


PJ said...


Both the creative title and the wonderful recollections provide an apt tribute to Dr. Les. Thanks for your words.


Dr. Jeffrey W. Frymire (it still takes something to get used to the title).

Robin said...

I am Leslie's niece. My dad, Arnold, is Leslie's brother, younger by only one year. I greatly appreciated your telling of memories of my uncle but wanted to clarify one point. My grandfather, Isaac Ratzlaff, was neither a lay pastor, nor from Canada. He was from the Marion/Freeman, South Dakota area and farmed and raised livestock south of Highmore, South Dakota. He and my grandmother Eva gave birth to 18 children but only 12 grew to adulthood.
My spiritual life was enriched deeply by Uncle Leslie's faith in the Lord and love of each of us nieces and nephews.
Robin Ratzlaff Sivertsen said...

I can't imagine how you found me Robin, but am flattered that you did. Sorry I confused the facts; I don't like to do that. Perhaps you could tell me who was the Ratzlaff that preached in early years in Canada, Jonas, if I remember right, without checking the source. Les was a good guy, much appreciated at our house. :-)