Thursday, August 22, 2013

Elizabeth Bagger has died: Tireless LTSP benefactor and volunteer, career English teacher

Elizabeth "Betty" Bagger, a career English teacher who was also a benefactor and volunteer to the cause of education for many years, died after a long illness on Saturday, August 17, 2013 at Luther Crest, a retirement community in South Whitehall Township, PA, near Allentown where she resided.

Mrs. Bagger was born Feb. 18, 1923 in Burlington, Iowa, the daughter of the late Daniel Lawrence and Irma Goezer Hodges. She graduated from Burlington Senior High School and the College of Commerce in Burlington. Her first career post was serving as an office assistant for the Des Moines County Farm Bureau in Burlington.

Mrs. Bagger decided to head east, where, during World War II, she studied parish administration and graduated from the Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouse in Baltimore, MD. After graduating, she became parish secretary at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster, PA, where the Rev. Henry Bagger was pastor. While working there, Pastor Bagger told Elizabeth, "You should meet my son, Ralph, when he returns from service in the war." The meeting subsequently took place, and the couple married. Pastor Henry Bagger went on to become president of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), which was to become a focal point for Betty Bagger's considerable volunteer exploits.

Ralph W. Bagger followed in his father's footsteps to become a parish pastor, serving at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Allentown (1951-1955), Immanuel Lutheran Church, East Lansdowne (1955-1959), Friedens Lutheran Church in Hegins (1959-1968), all in Pennsylvania, and finally working in Philadelphia as Periodicals Editor for the Board of Publications of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), a predecessor body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) denomination. During the years Ralph Bagger held his editor's post, he and Betty lived in nearby Norristown, Montgomery County, where Betty last taught before the couple retired. Ralph Bagger died in January 2005.

During the Hegins years, Mrs. Bagger completed her college studies, commuting to both Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, and Kutztown University, where she was awarded a master's degree in education with a concentration in English. She then began her teaching career at Tri-Valley High School in Hegins. During the Norristown years, Mrs. Bagger taught English and Literature of the Bible at Norristown Area High School. While there, she initiated student exchanges to England, Wales, and Germany. During this period of her life Mrs. Bagger became involved in the Auxiliary at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), where her father-in-law had served as president. She was president of the Auxillary for many years before its membership began to decline and it disbanded in the mid-1990s. Through Auxiliary events and tireless campaigning, Mrs. Bagger was a force in raising funds to upgrade spaces on the seminary's 13-acre Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, campus. Projects included improvements made to dormitory rooms and the now more than 100 year old Krauth Memorial Library.

Mrs. Bagger was a liaison of the Mt. Airy Lutheran Archives Board, an extensive church history repository housed on the LTSP campus.

From 1954 to 1984, Ralph and Betty Bagger served as writers and editors for the official biennial convention summaries of the former United Lutheran Church in America, also a predecessor church body of the ELCA, and Lutheran Church in America. They sat together in the front row at the assemblies, taking careful notes and then working far into the night to produce detailed summaries for quick distribution to voting members and other church audiences. They were known for their meticulously careful reporting and writing.

"Betty and Ralph were very precise in their work," recalled Robert Blanck, Esq., a Philadelphia attorney and Trustee at LTSP who knew them both for many years. "Betty helped her husband with regard to editorial matters during his work with the Board of Publications." Blanck remembered Mrs. Bagger as "a good person who was interested in people. She had a delightful sense of humor. You could sit and chat with her for hours."

When Blanck was treasurer of the LCA and the Baggers were doing their summaries, Blanck recalled, the Baggers would persistently urge him to include humor in his reports to the assembly to "liven up" the content. The Baggers, he remembered, also accumulated voluminous materials from their church work over the years. "When it came time for them to retire, downsize, and move from Norristown to Luther Crest they found it to be an impossible task," he said. While some of the materials went to the Archives at LTSP, because of the remaining volume the couple ended up combining two Luther Crest apartments into one in order to meet their needs, he said.

Over the years, the couple enjoyed vacationing in Vermont, and traveled to Canada, Japan, Europe, and India. They enjoyed hosting others including foster children and, at one time, a Vietnamese refugee family.

Surviving are four sisters-in-law, Vivian Hodges of New Brighton, MN; Mary Hodges of Wapello, IA; Carol Bagger Skinner, of Ithaca, NY, and Barbara Bagger Rhyne of Portland, OR, as well as nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

A funeral service is scheduled for Sunday, August 25 at 4:00 pm at Christ Lutheran Church,1245 Hamilton St., Allentown, PA, 18102. Burial will be in Butler, PA at the convenience of the family. Arrangements are being handled by the Trexler Funeral Home in Allentown, and the Thompson-Miller Funeral Home in Butler, PA. Memorial gifts may be sent in care of the Bagger Library Endowment Fund at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119, or contact Kathie Afflerbach, Director of Donor Services, 215-248-6324.

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