Andrew John (“Andy”) Tetzlaff died on Jan. 8, 2021, in Georgetown, Ind. Born on May 18, 1930, in Albion, Neb., he was 90 years old.
Andy had a remarkable life, one which mirrored much of the American experience in the 20th Century: born on a small farm in the Midwest, losing that family farm in the Great Depression, being drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict, getting married to the love of his life, and raising six healthy children.
The child of Herman and Emma Lind Tetzlaff, Andy was one of six children: Oscar, Art (his twin brother), Velma, Elsie and Esther. He spent most of his young life in rural Nebraska and was from “strong German stock.”
Andy had vivid recollections of growing up during the Great Depression. His clearest memory from his childhood is “the first man in a suit” that he’d ever seen: the banker who came to repossess their farm. Without the family farm, they were forced to move to a tiny house in nearby Petersburg, Nebraska, where his mother raised chickens and grew vegetables in a struggle to feed their family. The challenging situation worsened when his father suddenly passed away; Andy was in junior high school at the time.
In 1946, while in high school, Andy was a passenger in a tragic car accident. Six people were in the car: the driver and three passengers died. One passenger was seriously injured. Andy, according to newspaper accounts at the time, was “cut and bruised.” The vehicle “hit the concrete abutment on the left-hand side of the road, after coming down a grade, and rolled down a ten-foot bank into a ravine.” In the brutal cold of a Nebraska winter in early February, Andy (then 16 years old) “crawled up the bank onto a gravel road to flag down a passing car.” For years, Andy would not speak of this accident to anyone. Only in his latter years did he discuss this tragedy.
Despite these challenges, Andy graduated from Petersburg High School and went on to college, getting his teaching degree from Nebraska State Teachers College at Kearney, Nebraska. He was soon working as a teacher.
Andy and Dora May met at a small school in Bartlett, Nebraska, where both were young teachers. As Dora May recounted it, she was teaching a music class when a “handsome stranger” walked in and joined in the singing. His beautiful voice – a hallmark during Andy’s entire life – was one of many things which captivated Dora May. They were soon dating; they married in Orleans, Nebraska, on March 1, 1952. Music remained a bond throughout their marriage as they performed together, he singing, she playing the piano.
Both continued teaching until Andy was drafted into the military. Andy served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict, retiring as a Sergeant. When he left the military, he felt a “calling” to become a minister and enrolled at the Seminary at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.
Andy had a gift for preaching rivaled only by his gift for singing, and – after several “student pastor” assignments – was given his first parish shortly after graduation. He spent nearly ten years at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altona, Illinois. In 1967, he accepted a calling at St. Marks Evangelical Lutheran Church in Polo, Illinois, where he preached until his retirement.
Their first children were twins, Jay and Sheila. Within just a few years, they had two more children, Stephanie and Jonathan, so they had four preschoolers simultaneously. In the following years, Clark and Andrew were born. When Andrew started first grade, Dora May returned to teaching for many years, focusing in the Special Education area.
Struggling to support six children on a limited income, Andy and Dora May still managed to provide college educations for all. They were also able to plan for retirement by purchasing a small plot of land on Paulsen Lake in northwestern Wisconsin, paying cash from their meager savings. Over several years, with multiple eight-hour drives between Polo, Ill., and Osceola, they built what became known as “The Log Home” on the property, doing much of the labor themselves. They also had the invaluable assistance of Max Donaldson, the father-in-law of their daughter Sheila.
They lived in their beloved Log Home in Wisconsin for thirty years, the only home they ever owned. Their prior residences were rentals or parsonages. Andy worked as a Substitute Pastor during his many decades in Wisconsin, enjoying preaching in many churches throughout the northwestern part of that state.
For 13 years, Andy and Dora May were “snow birds” for several months each year in Mesa, Arizona. During the winter months, Andy was the pastor at a small church in a retirement community near Mesa.
Shortly after Dora May passed away in 2017, Andy moved to an assisted living facility in southern Indiana, near the home of his daughter, Sheila. Sheila’s tireless support during his final years was invaluable.
Andy was a man of strong opinions, and he expressed them openly over his lifetime. As a small-town minister in the rural Midwest, his vocal support in the 1960s for the ministry of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was not always popular. Similarly, his strongly-expressed opposition to the Vietnam War and his support of campaigns to ban nuclear weapons were also controversial to some parishioners and townspeople.
Andy and Dora May vocally and financially supported minorities, Native Americans, the lesbian/gay community and others suffering injustice, discrimination or oppression.
Andy is survived by all six of his children, along with six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by Dora May, the love of his life during nearly sixty-six years of marriage; she passed away in February 2017. He is also preceded in death by all five of his siblings.
Andy and Dora May lived in Asheville, North Carolina, for four months in 2015-16 near their son Jonathan C. Tetzlaff. With their son, they were regular attendees at Asheville’s Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.
He was preceded in death by Dora May (McGrew) Tetzlaff, his wife for almost sixty-six years.
Because of risks related to COVID-19, no memorial service will be scheduled at present. In coming months, however, we will be establishing a date for such a service, which will be held at Grace Covenant. All will be welcome to attend and celebrate Andy’s life. The family would like to thank the skilled caregivers at The Villas at Guerin Woods, Georgetown, Indiana, for their care and dedication in Andy’s final years.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina (https://homewardboundwnc.org/) or any charity which helps the homeless, fights poverty or supports social justice.