Serving God and Community - The Missourian: Senior Lifetimes

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Posted: Friday, August 1, 2014 6:32 pm | Updated: 4:55 pm, Mon Aug 4, 2014.

The first time Donald Elbert considered becoming a deacon, he had a lot on his plate.

He applied in 1994 but, with his full-time teaching job at Union High School and other responsibilities, it wasn’t in the cards.

“I had a young family, I had the (Army) Reserves, I had school where I was teaching and a number of various duties with the organizations I was in,” Elbert said. “They felt that I probably needed to not be accepted at that particular juncture.”

In 2007 he decided to give it another shot, but again he was turned down, this time for being too old. He was 62 and was told the cutoff was 60.

However, Elbert got a break.

“The Holy Spirit must have wanted me to continue,” Elbert said.

Elbert had met Archbishop Robert J. Carlson at a meeting at Our Lady of Lourdes. He introduced himself and the two became friends.

At the encouragement of a friend, Elbert contacted Carlson and said he felt his age shouldn’t hinder his chances of becoming a deacon.

Classes were supposed to start on a Wednesday and the Saturday before Elbert got a call. Elbert was told he had been granted an exception and was expected in class in four days.

Elbert began his studies at the archdiocese at St. Louis at the Cardinal Rigali Center. He had night classes for five years.

“Everybody said it will go fast,” he said. “And I’m sure, when we consider how short life is, it went by fast. But it was very, very torturous, very, very dedicated. Truthfully it was gratifying.”

Elbert, now 67, passed all his tests and was ordained a deacon June 7.

Elbert said he was deeply connected with his Catholic faith before becoming a deacon and the process intensified his faith.

“What it did for me is it gave me the opportunity to go deeper into my faith than I would have normally done otherwise,” Elbert said.

Just because he was ordained doesn’t mean he’s done, however. Elbert said he’s still has 2 1/2 years left of work to do, including prison ministry and a marriage tribunal.

Still, with the ordination, he can do deacon work at Our Lady of Lourdes Church — a place he knows well. Elbert said deacons can be placed anywhere and he got placed at his hometown church.

“I was here from the very first day the parish was started,” Elbert said. “That’s one of the blessings I’ve had.”

Elbert said he had many reasons for applying for deaconship a second time. One was that he had retired from the Army Reserves.

He joined the Army in January 1970 and served on active duty for two years. Following that, he spent the next 30 years in the Reserves until his retirement in 2002. He retired as a full colonel.

Elbert said he served, not only because he loves his country, but to honor his father. During World War II his dad, Elmer Elbert, was in charge of the family farm and received a deferment.

Elbert said the deferment didn’t sit well with some so he wanted to serve because his father couldn’t.

“Some of my uncles that went were not real kind with him, they were upset with him because they thought he should have gone, too,” Elbert said. “I always felt this was my way of paying back for my father’s time.”

Elbert was a teacher both in the Army and in civilian life. When he left active duty in 1973 he began teaching at Union High School.

He was an agricultural education instructor at Union until 1999. He taught a number of different classes at the school and enjoyed working with the students.

“I loved teaching and working with the kids,” Elbert said.

One of the reasons he retired was to take care of his mother, Irene. Elbert said she was battling dementia and he helped take care of her until her death.

While teaching, he worked closely with the FFA. He was the co-adviser with Kenneth Berghorn.

“We were considered one of the top 10 chapters in the state at the time,” he said.

He remains involved with the FFA alumni group.

In May of this year he was honored with an Emeritus Award during an FFA awards banquet at Washington High School. Elbert, who was presented with a jacket, was honored for helping with the inception of the Nelson H. Hall Agricultural Achievement Award Foundation.

His interest in farming led him to the Washington Town and Country Fair. Since 1999 he has been a volunteer who has done a little bit of everything at the Fair.

Elbert said he’s worked the pig chase, the cattle show, helped with parking and even drove a tractor to shuttle to people from the parking lot.

He is, however, probably most well known for emceeing the Super Farmer Contest.

“I enjoy working with the kids,” Elbert said.

Elbert said he enjoys working at the Fair.

“I’m just trying to support the community,” he said. “Trying to show everyone what the folks in this county are all about by putting the best foot forward.”

In addition to teaching, Elbert is proud of his work with a group that helped create and set up the emergency numbering system around Franklin County. They created the program that placed the black signs on rural routes to help emergency personnel locate rural homes.

The system was created in 1985.

Elbert lives in Washington on the farm where he grew up with his wife, Christine. The couple met in 1973 on a blind date. In June 1974 they were married.

The farm has been around since 1904 when it was started by his grandfather, Louis. His father Elmer took over at age 11 when Louis died. Don took over for his father and still runs the day-to-day operations of the 80-acre farm.

He said the farm produces hay, corn, wheat, soybeans, fireword and grapes.

The farm currently has four sheds and all are named based on Elbert’s faith.

When the farm had just three sheds, Elbert said they refered to the sheds as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The fourth shed is now just referred to as the Holy Trinity.

Don and Christine have four children, Allen, Jennifer, Theresa and Ryan and two grandchildren, Blake and Adam.

Elbert’s youngest son, Ryan, has had three kidney transplants. After complications with the first two, Elbert said he hoped the third time would be the charm.

Elbert said Ryan is doing well with his new kidney.

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