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Johnson man thanked for six decades

of service to local church

Tony Riedel helped build St. Bernadette Church,

and didn't stop for 60 years

Click on the photo at left to see Tony's handiwork. Photos are by Kathleen Arnold. (Please note: The SKR is working to remove the black and white specks from the photos that appear during the upload process. They are not on the original photos.)

By David Myers
Southwest Kansas Register

If someone were to remove from St. Bernadette Church in Johnson all the items built or re-furbished by resident Tony Riedel over the last 60 years, you’d have a nearly empty church.
    In fact, you may not have a church at all.

    Take back all the money Tony Riedel received for his work on and in the church, and you’d have … well, you wouldn’t have dollar one, because Riedel has never accepted a penny for his efforts.
    Since those busy weeks begun so long ago – 60 years ago May 7, to be precise -- when he was one of many community members who volunteered their time helping build the church, Riedel has rarely gone long without swinging a hammer, raising a saw, or taking sandpaper to some part of the church, within or without.   
    “I’ve worked on just about everything, even the pews,” he said. When the church needed to make room for wheelchair accessibility, Riedel went to work cutting pews in half, and used the extra wood for other projects in the church.
    He built the altar, and then when Vatican II turned altars around so the priest would face the congregation, Riedel built another to suit -- the wood for which was purchased by Virginia and Ralph Amerin, who then donated the altar to the church.
    Riedel  built tables, pedestals, the baptismal font and podiums. He built the cross for the body of Christ, the tabernacle, and a cabinet for the holy oils.
    Not to mention – with the help of other volunteers – he helped build the church itself after a contractor was reported to have skipped town with their construction funds and those of several other communities; rumor has it the contractor was destined for South America.
    Riedel proudly attended the first Mass at St. Bernadette, celebrated Dec. 4, 1949, as well as the dedication by Bishop Mark K. Carroll of Wichita on April 18, 1950, one year before the Diocese of Dodge City was established. Prior to completion of the new church, Mass was celebrated in the garage of W.E. Niles.
    According to Tim Wenzl’s “Legacy of Faith,” “Three lots were donated by a non-Catholic. Church linens and a complete set of vestments were donated by the Mission Society of St. Francis de Sales Church at Belle Harbor, NY. A retired policeman in Chicago made a general financial contribution through the Catholic Extension Society. A beautiful chalice was donated by the Knights of Columbus Council at one of Bishop Carroll’s former St. Louis parishes in memory of a deceased parishioner.”
    A parish hall and catechetical center was constructed in 1970, again largely with the volunteer help of Riedel and other residents who valiantly offered their time and treasure to see their parish blossom.
    Today, Riedel’s wood-working tools have been retired. Instead, Riedel spends much of his time restoring old tractors, including a 1927 John Deere. He also has enjoyed gunsmithing since his youth. In fact, when the SKR spoke to Riedel by phone, Riedel was busy smithing an 1830 black powder shotgun from Belgium.
    “I repair, build stocks, anything they need,” he said.  
    Riedel was born just west of Hays, one of 11 boys and one girl. His mother was born and reared in Germany, as were his fraternal grandparents. His father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. Riedel and friends began coming to Johnson for the summers at age 12, and moved there after World War II.
    Riedel, 82, is married to Lucille and has two children, Mike and Terri, and four grandchildren. He attended gunsmithing school soon after leaving the Army as a corporal in 1946. Riedel recalled being stationed in Japan barely a year after the atomic bombs fell.
    “We went right into Nagasaki and Hiroshima,” he said. “They dropped them in ’45, so in ’46 there wasn’t anything there yet: just ruins, ashes. The Japanese did the rebuilding themselves. We just made sure they behaved. I was in the Second Armored Division when I took my training, but when we got overseas they put us where we were needed. My brother was a tail-gunner and was shot down over Germany where he was a prisoner of war.”
    When asked what he thought of Riedel’s wood working, Father Francis Khoi Nguyen, who serves the mission parish, said, “Oh, wonderful. Very talented. He’s a very nice man. Any time we need help, he’s ready. He’s never said no to one thing in the nine months I’ve been here. He’s wonderful. He has done a very, very good job.”

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