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Bill Kersting hooked fish, reeled in friends and family

July 27, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about William J. "Bill" Kersting Jr., who died July 17 at the age of 81. His obituary was published in the July 18 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Convinced that he never would be able to support a family as a watchmaker or running a jewelry store in New Jersey, a young Bill Kersting turned his attention to engineering.

But even while he was working for 27 years as a senior engineer at Mack Trucks, Bill's heart was in the ministry, and he made every effort possible to pursue his faith-driven goals.

"Even early on, Bill wanted to be in the ministry," said his wife, Lea.

Bill and Lea met at a friend's Christmas party in 1951 and were married a year later. Bill began his engineering career with Mack in New Jersey, but shortly after signing on, the plant in Hagerstown opened.

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The Kersting family, which then included Eileen, 5, and Eric, 2, moved to Washington County and set up housekeeping in a cozy two-story home in Chewsville.

The move was difficult for Lea since both of her parents and Bill's parents still were living in New Jersey when they headed south. Lea, raised Presbyterian. and Bill, a Catholic, chose St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Smithsburg as their new home church.

Bill made his living at Mack as he had planned, but he never stopped studying and preparing himself for the ministry. To that end, he participated in a program developed to nurture people who wanted to explore the Episcopalian priesthood.

"It was also a way to try to keep three small Episcopal churches going," Lea said.

For about 10 years, Bill served as a vicar at one of those churches - St. Anne's. Unpaid for those duties, Bill continued to work at Mack.

More recently, he was an assistant priest at St. Mark's Episcopal Church near Boonsboro.

"I had no idea he did all that studying and was working full time, too," said daughter Eileen Almind, who now lives in Effort, Pa., with her husband, Dan, and son, Brett, 12.

Although Eileen and her family took up residence away from Hagerstown, the families enjoyed getting together when they could. And that included young Brett.

"I enjoyed having them around," Brett said, noting that he and his grandfather got along well.

Eileen recalled that many weekends when she was growing up, she and her father would go fly fishing together.

"We'd talk some. ... He'd explain the different kinds of fish and whether to use dry or wet flies to catch them," Eileen said.

The only time there was any friction between the two was when Eileen would prefer to run around trying to catch insects and her father would fuss at her for making too much noise.

"I'd turn over a rock and he would tell me to be quiet - the fish could feel the vibrations," Eileen said.

Describing his father as "outdoorsy," Eric recalled fishing along the Potomac River with his father.

"He bought me my first fishing pole at the Joe The Motorist's Friend store in the Long Meadow Shopping Center," Eric said.

When he was 8 or 9, Eric caught an 18-inch bass.

"He was as excited as I was, ... maybe more," Eric said.

When Eileen and her mother were going through some of Bill's things, they found many books on fishing and some of the feathers and things he used to make his own flies.

The joys in Bill's life were many and varied. Family, children, his faith, well-kept vegetable and flower gardens, and a love of history all held a special place for him.

"Bill had geraniums that he grafted from plants his father had," Lea said. Eric is working to maintain the gardens now that his father has died.

Lea's favorite picture of Bill is the one where he is dressed in his fishing regalia on a trip to a trout-rearing pond with some of his friends in the early 1980s. The smile on his face communicates unabashed delight.

There are other moments, such as when Bill baptized each of his three grandchildren - Brett Almind, and Sarah and Thomas Kersting. Those events are captured on film and the smile of delight on Bill's face is evident there, too.

At the end, Bill was unable to speak, though he sometimes could manage a yes or no answer to a question, Eileen said.

"But when the Rev. Anne Weatherholt (rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church) came to see dad, he would pray with her," she said.

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