In February, I received a note with news that the man who edited my first academic publication and mentored me through the difficult years of my first academic job had died. His daughter asked me to write my memories of the man we each loved in our own way.
Gottfried Krodel’s name said much. The English translation of Gottfried is God’s peace. Gottfried had little peace in his life. Hitler’s Nazism blighted his childhood but failed to obliterate his enduring faith. I knew him best in the years in which his wife fell ill and died then he struggled with the psychic pain of her loss as well as the physical pain of surgery and recovery. Throughout his agonies, his faith brought enduring peace. He taught me, “man proposes; God disposes.” Gottfried was at peace with that. It’s a lesson I still struggle to learn.
Before I ever met Gottfried, his voice traveled across the miles to instruct that I open a bottle of champagne and celebrate my first article in a refereed journal. I had a baby at my breast and forewent the bubbly, but I can still see the room and hear Gottfried’s voice, which proved a more enduring memento than an empty bottle or a dry cork.
Gottfried did not interview me for my job at Valparaiso University where he spent much of his career. Nonetheless, I know he played a role in my hire as a candidate who had yet to defend her dissertation and nursed her baby between events during the campus visit. He certainly had a great deal to do with why I applied for the job and why I accepted the offer. I knew I would have someone to offer guidance as I struggled to find my feet on the tenure track.
I remember Gottfried and his wife, Eltaine, settled in my Valparaiso living room armchairs, my parents ensconced on the sofa, my best approximation of ‘Kaffee und Kuechen’ on the table, and erudite conversation echoing in the air. When I slid into a pew among strangers to honor Eltaine’s passing, Gottfried managed to make me feel as needed on a day that was supposed to prioritize him.
Those of us who leave the tenure track know we have disappointed those who worked so hard to land us there. I carried – still carry – the guilt of jettisoning Gottfried’s expectations. He brought me to his university. He sat with me in the local diner to review reader’s reports and strategize revisions. As he struggled with physical therapy and pain, he demonstrated a fortitude evocative of the Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He fought to recover so he could write more. He told me of the day he decided to stop the pain killers prescribed for his recovery. They muddled his mind, and a muddled mind cannot write. My decision to quit the academy for full-time motherhood felt like a cop-out compared to such scholarly devotion.
Even after I left his university and his town for my new life, Gottfried followed my Christmas cards with long phone calls to get more details than the holiday missive offered him. Finally those ceased, and I should have sought him out despite my fear that I had failed him. His daughter wrote me in response to the Christmas card I sent Gottfried nearly six months after he took his final breath as she recited the final verse of his favorite hymn. Gottfried found God’s final peace.