Mid-Missouri is blessed with women whose dedication to education and volunteer work has created a legacy that continues to resonate throughout the community. Among this distinguished list is the late Erna Raithel, whose contributions to shaping young minds in local schools and within her beloved church serve as the basis for pleasant reflections among those who remember her spirit. selfless and generous.
Born in 1919 and raised on a farm between Russellville and Lohman, Erna Raithel and her eight siblings have become first-generation American citizens since their father emigrated from Bavaria in the 1890s. Like many others who reached majority in rural communities in the early 20th century, she was instilled with a deep and enduring work ethic.
“She went to elementary and high school in nearby Russellville,” Raithel’s niece, Becky Verslues, explained. “The family attended Trinity Lutheran Church in Russellville and remained with the congregation throughout their lives, volunteering for many roles within the church.”
Raithel, 14, was confirmed as a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in 1934.
Inspired by her first grade teacher, Hazel Schubert, she decided to pursue a career in teaching. After graduating from Russellville High School, Raithel enrolled at Central Missouri State Teachers College in Warrensburg (now University of Central Missouri) to help usher this yearning into reality.
“She actually raised and sold turkeys to help pay for her education,” Verslues said. “In 1940 she began teaching at the Lohman School and during the summer months attended college. She often took classes with Margie Fahrni and Thelma Kraus (other well-known local educators ).”
Raithel taught at Lohman until 1945, the same year she received her Bachelor of Education from Warrensburg. She was then hired as a teacher at Simonsen Junior High School in Jefferson City, remaining there for the next two years.
In 1947, 28-year-old Raithel returned to her alma mater, Russellville High School, teaching English, general math, literature, and American history. The 1954 school yearbook notes that she was eventually appointed headmistress. Raithel again demonstrated his commitment to lifelong learning by earning his master’s degree in English from the University of Missouri in 1954.
“My Aunt Erna started teaching at Jefferson City Junior College in 1954 and stayed there for two years,” Verslues said.
According to the August 8, 1957, edition of the Sedalia Democrat, the junior college closed after the 1957–58 academic year, in part due to the integration of the student population at nearby Lincoln University.
After junior college closed, Raithel taught drama, English, and an adult education program at Jefferson City High School, eventually becoming chairman of the English department.
The following decades were marked by a mixture of teaching and volunteering, but also included her decision to buy a house in Russellville, where she lived for many years with her sister, Augusta.
Verslues explained: “She became friends with Gert Raithel of Lohman, whom she always said was a distant relative. Gert attended Lohman’s Lutheran Church and did not marry until later in life, while Erna attended Russellville Lutheran Church and never married, so they shared common background and interests.”
In 1963, Raithel wrote some highlights of an adventure she and her friend Gert had while traveling in Europe. It was a packed itinerary that included stops at locations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, England and Scotland.
During the trip, she visited the Robert Raithel family, cousins who lived in Munchberg and Stambanch, Germany. After his return, Raithel wrote, “A trip to Europe, particularly to England, had been a dream cherished for many years; and last summer that dream finally came true.”
She added: “It proved everything I had hoped for. There were many memorable days and impressions, some impossible to describe.”
His involvement in the church reflected much of his day-to-day educational endeavors – selfless service as Sunday School superintendent, member of the parish education committee, and development of a teacher’s guide and training program teachers for Sunday school teachers.
His many passions were quickly followed by various distinctions.
“Miss Erna Raithel was selected as one of the five ‘Achievements Women for 1969’ by the Jefferson City Chapter, American Association of University Women,” Democrat Sedalia reported on January 14, 1970.
The Jefferson City Community Teacher Association presented him with the “Outstanding Teacher Award” for 1981-82.
After retiring from Jefferson City High School in 1985 after 35 years of experience in the field of education, she found peace and pleasure in tending to her home’s flower garden. She also helped preserve local history by editing and writing much of Russellville’s sesquicentennial book in addition to Trinity Lutheran Church’s anniversary books.
In the last years of her life, she clung to her Christian faith and remained active in her church despite developing infirmities. On April 2, 2008, the 88-year-old retired educator died and was laid to rest in Trinity Lutheran Cemetery near Russellville.
Becky Verslues became very close to her aunt over the next few years, learning to appreciate the kind and gentle nature she graciously shared with the world.
“My mother was killed in a car accident when I was only 30, and Erna became a second mother to me,” Verslues remarked. “We often did things together, and I could see firsthand the kind heart she possessed.”
Smiling, she concludes. “Throughout her life she exercised her Christian faith and was very generous to everyone. There really is no way to accurately measure the wonderful influence she had on the lives of others. “
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.