Each year, for the past nine years, people have gathered to honor individuals who have taken their faith out of the pews and into the marketplace — into the lives of the working men and women of our diocese, to the clients and customers who will reap the rewards of these laborers, in the clinics and hospitals, caring for the sick, in the courtroom making sure justice is served, in the lives of grief-stricken families, in the care of our children and “walking the talk” of faith in everyday life.
The gift each person receives is a ceramic bowl that is unique, similar to the others but not exactly the same because each was made by the hand of an artist, making each distinct, a one-of-a-kind vessel, as a reminder that each of you is a treasure in an “earthen vessel,” one that holds the promise of being filled to overflowing as you have reached out to those in your places of work and beyond.
Seven people were honored Sept. 17 at a reception and dinner at St. Nicholas Parish in O’Fallon, and following are snapshots of who they are. (Please go to The Messenger facebook page for more photos.)
In the community, at a bank or car dealership, or in a parish, one woman stands out as someone who “walks the talk” as her pastor said.
Anne Kehrer, a member of St. George in New Baden, has been sharing her gifts and talents with co-workers, clients and parishioners.
“Anne Kehrer has in her own unique way, lived her faith in the marketplace of New Baden, New Memphis, Trenton and beyond,” Father Eugene Neff said.
As a branch manager at a local bank in Trenton, Kehrer worked with people of different backgrounds but treated everyone the same, a co-worker, Cheryl Bair said.
Bair described Kehrer with an incident she remembered at the bank: “I recall a time when a customer came into our financial institution who was not our customer; she was in the incorrect financial institution altogether. The customer was elderly, lost and confused. Anne made some phone calls, and “we pinpointed which financial institution she needed to be and made arrangements for the customer to get to the other location.”
She not only “walks the talk,” but goes the extra mile or so to care for others, including those for whom she is not responsible.
While in the banking business, Kehrer instituted policies and practices that benefited customers rather than the institution, but in so doing, the bank benefited immeasurably as well.
If bank customers were in a nursing home, Kehrer went to the customer to “take care of their business,” thus making a strong impression on other residents about the services the bank provided.
“It was part of my ministry, talking to older people, she said. “That was huge, and I liked the people, meeting their needs, reconciling their checkbooks or opening an account.”
Some residents decided to move their business to that bank because of the service, but Kehrer offered the service out of respect for the client, not to gather new clients for the bank. Sometimes things just work out.
“I do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Kehrer said, and that includes any job that she takes on.
As bookkeeper at her brother, Bob’s, dealership, she comes in contact with people of different backgrounds every day.
If a family comes in to look at a car, she might suggest they look at a variety of makes and models, not just the Camaro they think they want, she said.
“Mom taught that customers like to feel valued,” Kehrer said, so “I try to be a good person, a caring person, and I don’t sell people what they don’t need.”
Kent Johnson, manager of Hanover Automotive, formerly Kehrer Chevrolet, works with her daily. “Working with Anne is refreshing,” he said. “Anne displays her faith to everyone she comes in contact with, and that’s a lot of people each day.”
“Service is at the heart of who Anne is,” Father Neff said, “not to seek recognition from others but because it is simply the right thing to do and the right way to live.”
Kehrer doesn’t waste time sitting around, unless she’s quilting at St. George or sewing. She spends a good deal of time volunteering for one parish function or another, including the parish picnic where “holy rollers” help with Kehrer’s famous cookies and dumplings, dinners and fund raisers at other places as well, including a dinner for 150 people at Immanuel Lutheran Alumni and Friends in Okawville.
Whether working at the bank or at the dealership, Kehrer is “all in” for any job. “My energy is God given,” she said. “God gives me everything I need.”
Bair encapsulates the type of person Kehrer is.
“During our lifetime we cross paths with all types of people. Some of those people leave a lasting impression on us individually, as a group and as a community,” Bair said. “Anne has definitely left a lasting impression on me and has showed me that a little faith goes a long way.”
Kehrer said she has lived her life following the Golden Rule, to “help others with the gifts God has given me.”
Anne has many nieces and nephews that she mentors as well as youth in St. George Parish.
When a group of children find a bug in the grass, how many people would run for a magnifying glass so that everybody could get an “up close and personal” look at that bug?
If you said Janette Kocher of Dundas, you’d be right. Dundas is seven miles north of Olney in case you weren’t sure.
Kocher owned and operated Janette’s Share and Care Daycare for years before closing it and going to work for Laura Sterchi who reopened it as Little Sprouts Daycare.
The business began when Kocher started taking care of neighborhood children as her own six children began going to school.
“The neighborhood kids needed someone to watch them, and then more and more people started calling,” Kocher said.
Loving the work also made it easy to continue, even after 25 years slipped by.
At the beginning, Kocher used what she described as “teachable moments” with children to highlight not only good behavior but also life lessons.
To teach youngsters compassion, “We had something we called ‘friend alert’ if someone needed help,” she said.
She also taught the children “it’s better to use your words rather than your hands” when disagreeing with someone.
Kocher also instilled in the youngsters the desire to give to others. When one child was in need, the others helped.
Sometimes “we had a trike-a-thon to raise money” for a child, she said.
Mona Kocher, a distant cousin, described some of the ways Janette Kocher brings her faith into the activities at the daycare.
“She prays with the children at mealtimes, helps a child recite a prayer before taking a nap … and teaches the children right from wrong,” Mona Kocher said.
Mona Kocher said Janette also uses the “spiritual works of mercy in activities with daycare and 4-H meetings.”
Jenny Kocher Hancock, Janette’s daughter, described her mother as “an awesome Christian role model to all those who have been a part of her daycare. She is there to help them and share her faith with even the littlest ones.”
Janette and her husband, Werner, brought their six children to church at St. Joseph in Stringtown, and Gary Zwilling and his wife, Dorothy, sat behind the Kocher family in church.
When the Zwillings began having children, they thought about the Kocher family and how the children behaved in church, hoping their children would behave the same way. Eventually, the Kochers changed places with the Zwillings so their children could see what was happening at the altar at church.
As the Zwilling family grew, they searched for someone to care for their children, someone they could trust when members of their own family were not available. They approached Kocher who “welcomed all with open arms,” Zwilling said.
In his dealings with Kocher over the almost 40 years he has known her, he said: “She knows no stranger and she welcomes all to the table of Christ.”
One of Zwilling’s daughters, Laura, now puts the lessons she learned as a child and then as an employee to work these days in her own business.
“The arrangement of Janette and Laura trading places seems fitting,” Mona Kocher said. “Janette jumped at the career choice (all those years ago), and now a complete circle has been made. Laura was a young child in Janette’s Share and Care and has grown up to be the owner of Little Sprouts Daycare.”
When Kocher began her career in daycare, she put herself in God’s hands and grew with the business, completing educational requirements and then becoming licensed by the state.
Janette and Werner Kocher have six children: Wayne, Melany, Jenny, Sara, Doug and Gary. Among their children and spouses, the Kochers have 21 grandchildren. They belong to St. Joseph in Stringtown.
Ready for anything and anxious to get started, whether it’s a meeting to come up with new ways to spread the Franciscan charism at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital or gather toiletries for hygiene kits when she goes out into the community, Donna Meyers sees the big picture.
Meyers is director of Mission Integration/Pastoral Services and Community Benefits at the hospital.
With that title she oversees not only mission but also the volunteer program, community benefit program, volunteers and the gift shop.
Because “mission” is fundamental to the sisters, Meyers concentrates on services and programs that support and spread the Franciscan mission.
Instead of celebrating St. Francis with one day in early October to mark his Oct. 4 feast day, Meyers promotes activities to bring more information about Francis to the employees, like Franciscan Week.
Using stories from the life of St. Francis, Meyers and her team apply the lesson to today’s reality. In the story of St. Francis and the Sultan, the saint visited and preached to the sultan of Egypt during a ceasefire between Christian and Muslim armies.
In that vein, Meyers and the team invited a Muslim doctor on staff at the hospital to share his story and information about his culture at a “lunch and learn” during Franciscan Week this year. The doctor will be joined by others who will share their cultural experiences as well.
“We help people connect the dots every day” between their mission at the hospital and St. Francis, whose charism drives the Franciscan sisters who own the hospital.
Meyers, trained as a nurse, goes to Cosgrove’s Kitchen in East St. Louis with another person once a month to do outreach in the community.
She and her companion sit in the back of the Kitchen and wait for people to finish lunch before inviting them to have their blood pressure checked and get a bit of health education before leaving.
The “hook” to interest the people in the health check is the hygiene kit they receive after the checks. “It took us about four months for people to trust us,” she said, “but it meets a need in the community.” People at the hospital and a West Belleville Rotary Club among others, donate items for the kits.
After doing this for a year, Meyers said she sees the benefits of the service. “When we’re helping the people know somebody cares about them.”
Her faith informs her life. “Faith is the heart and soul of everything. It’s foundational.” Being part of HSHS health system, going out into the community and working within the hospital gives her a real sense of “what it means to be Franciscan.”
She and her husband, Mark, are both retired Air Force colonels who wanted to stay in the area and continue to be part of the St. Clare Parish family in O’Fallon.
“My faith comes from my family,” she said and that brings her back to Indiana where her 95-year-old mother, Rachel, still lives at home.
Her sister, Joanne Marie, is a member of the Sisters of St. Cyril and Methodius. While “she’s a lot older, she’s awesome,” Myers said.
Remembering growing up in Indiana, Myers said: “My parents always had an open home; we had uncles who lived with us when they needed a place. My mother was a gatherer of people.”
Part of what Myers learned at home as one of four children was her mother’s “hospitality.”
It’s where Myers’ mother taught her — without words as Francis would say — the key to forming and strengthening relationships, that is, treating everyone with dignity and respect.
Donna and Mark Meyers have two children: Dana, 25, and Matt, 21. They belong to St. Clare Parish in O’Fallon.
The Hon. John O’Gara Jr.
How many people are excited and enthusiastic about going to the courthouse every day? At least one man is: the Hon. John O’Gara Jr., can answer that question without reservation, and name himself as the person ready to go, ready to listen and ready to preside in a courtroom in St. Clair County as an associate circuit court judge.
Judge O’Gara practiced criminal law for more than 20 years, handling about 30 capital cases —read that death penalty cases — he said, “and on many levels, I realized the death penalty was not right. It was easy to agree to represent somebody because the Jesuits say to ‘see God in all things.’”
A product of Catholic schooling from St. Stephen’s in Caseyville to Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville to Quincy University, the judge’s faith has been a mainstay of his life.
“I was formed in my faith by my mom and dad,” he said, and “I have great friends; I’ve been extremely lucky.”
The death of his father in 1983, just as he started law school, “hurt a lot,” he said, because the father and son were very close.
A judicial colleague, Judge Julia Gomric describes Judge O’Gara’s stand on life. “John is a faithful Catholic and a zealous believer in the right to life. What that means to John is that all people born and unborn deserve and are entitled under God’s will and plan to his gift of life.”
Retired Judge Milton Wharton also supports Judge O’Gara as a “person of faith” whose faith “is reflected in his unconditionally and unequivocal faith-based support of the right to life, even for the least of our brothers.”
In describing Judge O’Gara’s stand, Judge Wharton offered then public defender O’Gara’s courtroom argument against imposing the death penalty “upon a man convicted of murdering his wife and two young children: ‘When I was a young public defender,’ O’Gara said, ‘I volunteered for these cases. I volunteered because I thought it was maybe the highest calling of a lawyer to plead for a man or woman’s life. Maybe my faith was a part of the reason I’ve always been involved in these cases,’” Judge Wharton quoted attorney O’Gara as saying.
Later, O’Gara said in his argument: “The mercy that I seek is for you to put him in a cell and have him die there, not at your hand on that verdict form, but in God’s call.” The man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
As a young man, O’Gara, the first child in his family to attend college, remembers wanting to be a lawyer and “get into the courtroom.”
He has done just that, first as an attorney and now every day as a judge.
Looking at his career as an attorney, he said: “The constitution demands the prosecution does his or her job, and I can sleep at night knowing I did my job. People need to realize we know we have given even the most contemptible person the benefit of doubt and the benefit of a trial in this country.”
During his remarks at the dinner, O’Gara said, as he walked the halls of the courthouse in Belleville, seeing people in orange jumpsuits at the defense table, sometimes the only person standing with the accused was the public defender.
He realized then, he said, he and other public defenders were “serving the least of these,” as Jesus commands everyone to do.
A friend and fellow retreatant at the White House Jesuit Retreat Center in St. Louis, attorney John Stobbs II described Judge O’Gara this way: “John is a lion dressed in a lamb’s skin. His gentle nature hides a voracious advocate who never quit and who always put his clients first. … but John O’Gara is incapable of anything other than (giving) 110 percent.”
In practicing his faith in his work, Judge O’Gara said he looks to the Beatitudes. “You are standing up for ‘the least’; that’s why what I do is so important and why it means so much to me.”
Now, in his role as judge, one which he says he loves, his faith plays a part in each and every day. According to Stobbs, “John practices what he preaches, and the world is a better place for that.”
In part of his argument against the death penalty in one case, defense attorney O’Gara said: “I believe this, that there comes a day when we all meet our Maker, and I believe that we will then be asked what and how did you treat the least of our brothers? What response did you give? Did you react with mercy? For the measure which you measure mercy will be measured onto you.”
During his career as an attorney, he has been a lecturer on trial issues, the death penalty and voir dire among other topics.
John O’Gara and his wife, Anna, have two daughters — Maggie and Mary Kate. They belong to Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Belleville.
Ron and Pam Pechacek
Hospitality and comfort are key words for funeral directors. Just ask Ron and Pam Pechacek who own three funeral homes: Pechacek-McClure in Chester, Welge-Pechacek in Evansville and Welge-Pechacek in Red Bud.
And they know well the pastors in the communities they serve. Father Eugene Wojcik, St. Mary, Chester, pastor, said: “In their profession, they demonstrate exceptional care and mercy for those whom they serve. They are ethical in their business practices and are sensitive to their clients’ emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual needs.”
Few situations can produce more emotional tension than preparing for and attending the funeral of a loved one, yet the Pechaceks do this on a daily basis.
They attend to each of their clients with care and concern. “The reward is that they feel comfortable with us,” Ron said.
The three communities the Pechaceks serve are small, and therefore “everybody knows everybody,” Ron said.
People know they can look to the couple for guidance at a terrible time in their lives. “They know when they come here they trust we’ll take care of the family in a way it should be taken care of,” Ron said. Some deaths “stay with you always,” they said, reminding you of the preciousness of life.
For example, they remember a husband and wife “who buried their only child one New Year’s Eve.” They also remember helping to lay to rest members of the Coleman family, whose trial and conviction for the deaths of the mother and children still remain with them.
The Pechaceks run their business, they said, the “way we run our lives. We respect every family we deal with as we would want our family treated,” Ron said.
Because of their Red Bud connections, the Pechaceks help the Adorers of the Blood of Christ when one of the sisters dies at the Ruma Regional Center.
Sister Barbara Biver is director of Community Life and Mission at the Ruma center. She describes working with the Pechacek family, including their daughter, Elizabeth Pechacek Phlau. “They are always very helpful and considerate,” Sister Barbara said.
As an organist for funerals in various parishes in the area since 2001, Sister Barbara said: “I witness their compassionate care to the grieving. They go the ‘extra mile’ to be of assistance.”
Msgr. Dennis Schaefer, pastor at St. John the Baptist in Red Bud, has seen the Pechaceks work with families who are experiencing the loss of a loved one.
Ron and Pam help guide them as they prepare for the funeral. Often, the Pechaceks said, families “don’t know what to do.”
Msgr. Schaefer described the Pechaceks as “wonderful to work with as together we work to show the love of the Good Shepherd to families who need support during a most difficult time.”
Not only do the Pechaceks care for clients who have lost loved ones but they also treat employees with great respect and love.
Judy Renner said she has been an employee at the Evansville facility since 1995. “Ron and Pam have treated me as if I were a member of their family.”
When her husband underwent surgery for cancer, “the Pechaceks were by our side with great concern and constant prayer,” Renner said. Her description of the way the Pechaceks prepare to move to the church for the liturgy paints a vivid picture of how they conduct their “business.”
“Before leaving the chapel for the funeral liturgy, Ron leads prayers with the family gathered there,” Renner said. “Our traditional Catholic prayers are beautifully recited by Ron, leaving the bereaved family calm and peaceful.
“When closing the casket, Ron folds in the pleated cloth on the sides so gently, like a father covering his child for the night. This truly shows what respect he has for the life that has passed,” Renner said. Their faith is evident in all they do, the priests with whom they work, said.
“They reflect their faith and share Christ’s compassion and caring with those whom they serve,” Father Wojcik said.
The Pechaceks have two children: Elizabeth Ohlau and Derek Pechacek and five grandchildren. They belong to St. Mary Parish in Chester.
Dr. Steve Raben
The doctor is in, and he definitely has time to see you. In fact, he’s a doctor who gives you whatever time you need to discuss health issues. Dr. Stephen Raben, a physician for 26 years, has roots in far southern Illinois with farming in his blood. He grew up in Galatia, in Saline County with his home parish as St. Mary in Harrisburg. His grandparents, Leo and Millie Raben, also farmers, lived in Ridgway.
“I decided to be a doctor in third grade,” Dr. Raben said. “I liked science, and I enjoy helping and caring for people.”
The doctor loves his interaction with his patients, but the paperwork that goes along with being a doctor these days, not so much.
Growing up on a farm gave him his work ethic: hard work, long hours, good morals, were his basic foundation.
He became acquainted with Family Hospice of Belleville when he was a very new doctor, and Family Hospice was just starting, he said.
“It’s a need and fulfills a different part of medicine,” he said. “You’re taking care of the patient and the family.”
He has been Family Hospice’s medical director for more than 20 years.
Raben’s faith informs everything he does, he said. “You have to have a pretty strong faith to do what you have to do on a daily basis. Especially with hospice, you need something to give you strength.” That “something” is faith.
Using a sports metaphor, he said: “I look at medicine as if I’m your coach and you’re my player. I get you as much playing time as I can in the game for as long as I can.”
The game, of course, is life. “I want you to play as good a game as you can play until the game is over,” he said.
His colleagues vouch for his abilities. One of seven physicians who make up Rural Family Medicine, Dr. James Althoff sees how Raben “coaches” his patients and deals with the business of being a doctor.
“He treats his patients well and spends time with them in an era in which that has become rare,” Althoff said. “He has been integral in setting up retirement plans and other benefits for our employees to allow us to be competitive in the market and give our employees health care insurance despite rising costs and uncertain times.”
One of Raben’s patients, Patti Warner, testifies to his care and concern. “He is always willing to answer questions and engage in conversation about himself and his family as well as inquiring about mine,” Warner said. “He was keenly attuned to my mental, emotional and physical health following the death of my husband, and extended kindness and sympathy through my time of grief.”
Raben’s nurse practitioner, Angie Herndon, said she knew she wanted to work with him after she saw “first hand how caring he is towards his patients and his calling as a physician. I knew in a very short time that I needed to work with him and his colleagues.”
As a physician, Althoff sees the struggles doctors face when trying to follow governmental guidelines, keep up with paperwork and continue to spend quality time with patients.
“Rural Family Medicine is one of a few independent groups that remain in Madison and St. Clair counties,” Althoff said. Raben “has been integral in supporting Southern Illinois Health Care Association, an organization of independent doctors.”
Raben “continues to have to adjust to increasing government regulation and declining revenue by adapting new technology and staying up to date on new guidelines,” Althoff said. “This is difficult to do while remaining available to your patients.”
Somehow Raben pulls it all together. He admits to spending many hours at his practice, but his wife, Nancy, his partner in life, understands his commitment.
Raben is currently the president of the St. Clair County Medical Society among his other responsibilities.
The Rabens have three boys: Josh, Jacob and Jordan. They belong to Holy Childhood Parish in Mascoutah.