A Condolence Card Ministry

Bud Knoedler ’51 & Ruthie Knoedler Howard R.N. ’75

Words: Emily Bratcher
Photos: Tony Hughes

Wheaton College IL Bud Knoedler and Ruthie Knoedler Howard

When Bud Knoedler ’51 retired from the Wheaton College Board of Trustees in 2002 after 34 years of service—6 of those as chairperson— members of the Wheaton College Alumni Association Board of Directors wondered if he and his wife Betty Burtness Knoedler ’50 might have some time to assist with a core function of Alumni Relations—personally signing condolence notes to grieving alumni.

“We both prayed about it and figured that this was something good to do,” Bud said.

Special Assistant to President Philip Ryken ’88, Marilee Melvin ’72, who was serving as Vice President for Alumni Relations at the time, remembers the Knoedlers as “big encouragers” of the College and the association.

“Bud and Betty saw the time it required to personally correspond with the growing number of alumni mourning the deaths of loved ones, and they volunteered to take on this project. They corresponded with thousands of alumni on behalf of the Alumni Association on their own time and at their own expense,” Melvin said. “Their efforts have blessed many alumni, as well as the College.” That was nearly 20 years ago. Since then, Bud has written condolence cards every month with his “co-editors,” first Betty, who died in 2013, and then daughter, Ruthie Knoedler Howard R.N. ’75.

The process behind the affectionately coined “condolence card ministry” is the same today as it was years ago. Each month, the Alumni Association sends Bud a list of recently deceased alumni. Bud and Ruthie sit at his kitchen table and go through the list, reading the alumni obituaries. They then pen a handwritten message inside a card that bears a photograph of Blanchard Hall and the verse, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Psalm 91:2, NIV).

“It’s interesting to read these obituaries before we write the notes of condolence and realize what a role the College has played in the lives of these individuals and how that’s multiplied over the years to bless other people,” Knoedler said.

Howard agrees: “Some of the obituaries are such a blessing to read,” she said. “You sit there and think, ‘Wow, what a life well-lived. What a servant of Christ this person was.’”

For Knoedler, the timing of the condolence card is just as important as the messages they ink. “The grief process has a low point, at least in my experience, about a month or so after the memorial service,” he said. Several weeks after the funeral, long after relatives have returned home and after all the sympathy casseroles and cookies stop coming, there tends to be a lonely stretch. Knoedler calls it “a slump.”

“Part of the intent is to cover that slump with a note of encouragement and a message that there’s someone out there that remembers and is praying for them,” he said.

And pray he does.

“It’s a privilege, on a daily basis, to pray for these people,” he said. “We do as we promise, and we do continue to pray for them as they grieve their loss.”

Throughout the 18-year outreach, Knoedler has written thousands of cards to people who have lost their loved ones. He estimates that they send about 300 cards each year.

“They have done so with humility, grace, and compassion, and all of us at the Alumni Association are deeply grateful,” said Cindra Stackhouse Taetzsch ’82, Executive Director of the Wheaton College Alumni Association.