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Thelma Barthel is committed to her faith and the parish

by Nancy Hamlett

They call her “Father Thelma.” And even Father John Corona of St. Gall Catholic Church agrees that she probably knows as much about what is happening in the parish as he does.

Thelma Barthel is an extraordinary woman. Quiet and unassuming, with a ready laugh and a compassionate heart, she is always able, willing and ready to take the extra step to help others.

Hardly a day goes by that Barthel isn’t at St. Gall, either delivering altar flowers that were grown in her garden and painstakingly arranged, or taking communion to the homebound.

Yet Thelma doesn’t see anything unusual about what she does. She is devoted, not only to her church, but to her friends as well. And that’s why she is The Record-Courier’s Unsung Hero for the month of November.

“I don’t understand all the fuss,” said Barthel. “This makes me happy, helping people. It doesn’t make me special.”

Father John disagrees. “Thelma is the perfect person to write about as an unsung hero. I’ve known Thelma since 1977 and she is not the type of person who looks for accolades. She is a wonderful lady who is very committed to her faith and her parish. She has generosity.”

n Many hats. Barthel wears many hats at St. Gall’s church. As a minister of the Eucharist she is able to serve communion as well as giving the scripture and communion service if Father John is absent. She helps with the annual rummage sale. She also runs the religious artifacts store, opening the doors after every Mass and keeping it stocked. She’s even willing to open the store after hours when someone needs a rosary or Bible.

“I iron the altar linens, too,” said Barthel after she finally warmed up to the idea of being an unsung hero. “If something needs to be done, I do it. It’s that simple.”

According to Gail Makley, a close friend for more than 10 years, Barthel’s commitment to people goes beyond service to the church.

“Thelma is good hearted,” said Makley. “If she sees that someone is upset she will take the time to talk to them and make them feel better. Wholesome and good. That’s what Thelma is all about.”

“Before services Thelma will be in the greeting area with a smile for everyone and a kind word,” said Father John. “She always comes in with a smile, and the whole room lights up. No one is a stranger when Thelma is around.”

Barthel does agree that she devotes a lot of time to her church. But that doesn’t stop her from finding other activities to occupy her time.

Her backyard is a huge garden, although she said that she has cut back over the years. Some of her favorite flowers are chrysanthemums, tulips and carnations, “because they work so well in arrangements.”

While living in California, Barthel took classes in flower arranging. According to Makley, Barthel uses her talents to help her friends.

“When my son got married she arranged all of the flowers, and of course wouldn’t take any money for it,” said Makley. “She’ll do anything she can for anyone.”

n Long-time resident. Barthel has lived in the Carson Valley for 32 years, although she first attended Mass at St. Gall in 1957 while she was still living in Bishop, Calif.

“When I moved here there were only 107 families with the church,” said Barthel. “Now there are over 800. Of course Father needs help. And I love helping out.”

Barthel lives in the Ranchos with one of her granddaughters and a small kitten. The kitten tangled with a piece of string and Barthel laughed.

“That little one keeps me on my toes. I love the energy.”

n Energy, energy, energy. Barthel’s energy defies her age. She will be 77 years old this month.

“Energy creates energy,” said Barthel. “It drives me crazy when people just sit around.”

“Thelma is hardly ever at home,” said Makley. “If someone is sick or ill, Thelma will visit with them. If there’s a need, she fills it. She is youthful and active and she doesn’t accept help from others. She is too busy mowing her own lawn, or farming her garden.”

Barthel’s two daughters live in California, as do most of her five grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

“I don’t have a lot of relatives nearby,” said Thelma. “But I have a lot of friends.”

Barthel’s husband died several years ago after a long illness.

“The church is my life now,” said Barthel. “I don’t want to get married again. Who’d want me at my age?”

Barthel explained that helping at the church doesn’t seem like an unusual thing to do, or a sacrifice.

“When you get involved with the church you like that a little bit better than anything else you could be doing. I’ve always done it. It makes me happy.”

According to Father John, “St Gall hit the jackpot with Thelma.” But then he was quick to add, “Thelma is not only a parishioner, she is a dear and trusted friend.”

He then read a saying by S. Bergsma that he said reminded him of Barthel.

“Train your heart to smile and your soul to sing and your life will be filled with joy.” Father John paused. “And that sums up Thelma.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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