Remembering Rev. George Frederick Hartz

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Rev. George Frederick Hartz
December 31, 1927 – December 25, 2023

“Our life lives on in endless song above earth’s lamentations.  We hear the sweet but far off hymn that hails a new creation.” How Can I Keep From Singing?

Rev. George Hartz died on Christmas Day 2023, just after singing Christmas carols and wooing two hospice nurses.  Adventure seeker, prankster, and ladies’ man, he told his last inappropriate joke on December 23, 2023, which cannot be printed here.

The story of Rev. George Hartz, pastor, progressive, funny, stubborn, creative, and extroverted, begins on New Year’s Eve 1927 in Mace, Indiana.  Born to Rev. George Edward Hartz and Julia Estelle Nichols Hartz, he allowed his parents a 1927 tax deduction.  He was a preacher’s kid and the fourth born of eight children.  His childhood consisted of moving from parsonage to parsonage and, at age 14, attempting to get crushed by a freight train called the Twentieth Century Limited.  He walked away from that near-death experience but the bike, borrowed from his brother, Glen, landed in the coal car in pieces.

After graduating from Rolling Prairie, Indiana, high school, George enlisted in the Air Force a mere three days before being drafted. He served two years in the Korean War stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska.

George had many “girlfriends.”  On August 19, 1951, he married his main squeeze, Mary Charlotte Barber Hartz, in LaPorte, Indiana.  She put up with him for almost 70 years. The couple moved to South Dakota, where George pursued a degree in Theology from Yankton College while serving churches in Winfred, South Dakota, and Brentford, South Dakota.  They moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where George graduated with a degree in Divinity.  Thereafter serving United Church of Christ churches in Morris, Minnesota, Byron, Illinois, Rockford, Illinois and Roscoe, Illinois.  He was a campus minister at the University of Minnesota Morris and chair of American Field Service.

In Byron, Illinois, George led the congregation through a tumultuous building project culminating in a beautiful, contemporarily designed church building.  In Roscoe Illinois he performed 3500 weddings in a 10-year time period.

George was not known for his love of children.  However, Mary persuaded him to father three challenging but successful offspring. He thusly has fifteen grandchildren whom he entertained with his banjo and influenced with his bad jokes.

George loved anything that included a ball. Basketball, football, soccer, rugby, wrestling, boxing and baseball.  Anything except golf, that is.  He had a TV in every room so he wouldn’t miss a minute of the game.

Upon retirement the Hartz’s spent summers at their cabin on Eagle Lake and winters traveling in their RV from Mexico to Alaska.  George had an adventurous spirit.  He persuaded Mary to descend the Grand Canyon on a mule and get high in a hot air balloon.  He couldn’t, however, convince her to jump out of airplane at the age of sixty, so he did that solo.  His nieces and nephews called him Uncle Fritz.  They remember him motoring an old fishing boat, full-speed, in tight circles, with six life-jacketless children shrieking with joy while their mothers were screaming in terror on the shoreline.

George and Mary moved to Pleasant Hill, Tennessee to a retirement community with progressive, like-minded people. He was a champion of social causes including civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights.  He founded and chaired Action of Christians Against Torture which he served until his dying day.  One of his regrets was not seeing Hilary Clinton elected President.

He had a life-long love affair with shrimp, banjos, artificial flowers, off-color jokes, the color red and anything heart shaped.  He liked to swim and drive at high speeds.  Every home he owned was decorated in a red heart theme including little sticky hearts on the wine glasses, heart shaped stepping-stones to the lake and ceramic hearts cut into the shower tiles.

He was not sure if he was going to Heaven or Hell, however, waiting for him in the Afterlife are his beloved wife Mary, his siblings LaVern, Glen, Hermia and Ruth, too many nieces and nephews and his sweet infant granddaughter, Abigail. Still walking the planet and carrying on his legacy are his daughter Maryjane Westra, son John Hartz (Karen), and daughter, Martha Hartz.  Grandchildren, Evan Westra, Jacob Margason, Kristina Westra Allen (John), Glen Westra (Hannah), Michael Freise, Luke Westra, Vanessa Westra, Mary Westra, Robert Hartz, Tanya (Jacob) Sallinger and Joshua (Jenna) Colvin.   Fifteen great grandchildren and one-and-a-half great-great grandchildren.

A service of remembrance was be held at Eagle Lake Lutheran Church in Battle Lake, Minnesota on Sunday, January 7.

Memorials may be given to Pleasant Hill Historical Society of the Cumberlands, PO Box 264, Pleasant Hill, TN 38578 or a United Church of Christ congregation.