WILBERT - The tucked-away village of Wilbert drew a large crowd Monday morning, as people from far and wide came to say goodbye to Marv Erdman.
Erdman, a teacher, principal, coach, director and friend, died Wednesday following a battle with cancer. He was 76.
Erdman taught and was principal at St. Paul's Lutheran School in Wilbert until it closed in 2000. He also taught music appreciation and religion classes at St. James Lutheran School and Martin Luther High School in Northrop. Erdman was also well-known for his love of music, directing church and community choirs and playing piano and organ.
But what really makes Erdman a memorable icon for Martin County wass love for life and his enthusiasm for every project he tackled.
"He was one of the most amazing men," said Marge Thiesse, director of development at Martin Luther High School. "He had the strongest face; it preceded him wherever he went and it guided everything he did. He never said one bad thing about anyone. He was the most humble and most enthusiastic man. He devoted his life to his Lord, his family and to Christian education ... He had this booming voice. He could sing, and all the kids loved him. Everyone wanted Mr. Erdman for a religion teacher because, 'He makes it fun.'"
Rick Thiesse, a former Wilbert citizen and former student of Erdman, agrees.
"I don't think anybody realizes how many lives he touched," he said. "You could talk to 800 different people about him, and you'd get 800 different stories. That whole area of Wilbert is basically Erdman land. You have three main places in Wilbert: the church, the school and Mr. Erdman's house, and they're all lined up next to each other ... I can remember that all of us couldn't wait until we could have our kids taught by him. He loved life, God, his family and his community. He taught us about religion and he also taught us about life. He was a wonderful influence in my life of how to handle yourself. He was like my second dad because we spent so much time with him."
Along with the Wilbert ballfield filled with parked cars, a choir of voices could be heard coming from the St. Paul's Lutheran School building during the visitation for Erdman on Monday morning.
"He loved his music and choir," said Glen Miller, a longtime neighbor and family friend of the Erdman family. "Marv could take someone who didn't know how to sing and make them sing. He was the same as a coach. Wilbert was a small school, so we played a lot bigger teams, but we'd manage to win. He could make kids that weren't athletes into athletes, and he made us into men. He taught us how to play clean, and not dirty; he taught sportsmanship. But he was a disciplinarian. I remember I was one of the better athletes and he had no problem taking me out of a game and putting me on the bench and losing the game if he knew he was teaching me a lesson."
Erdman's death has brought people whose lives he touched back to Wilbert from around the country. One is Bill Krueger, who was a teacher at St. Paul's Lutheran School in Truman from 1970-1985. He came from Illinois to attend the service.
"Everything he did, he did with enthusiasm," Kruger said. "I'd just started teaching, and I had no clue what it was like to teach. He constantly gave me encouragement, support and suggestions. His enthusiasm rubbed off on me, whether it was golfing, choir or working with him, his enthusiasm was present."
"People stood in line for over two hours yesterday for the visitation; they were lined up around the corner," Marge Thiesse said. "People came from all over the country. He made such a difference; you can see it on the tributes left on the St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Wilbert Facebook page, and on his Caring Bridge page."
"It's amazing, all the other schools and churches had a great respect for him," Miller said. "I remember we moved to Wilbert in 1971, and we were Catholic. But Marv welcomed us with open arms. When we were looking at parochial schools, Marv said, 'You don't need to do that. You can come here.' And it was never a problem. He and his family were like a second family for us."
"I went to school from first through eighth grades under Mr. Erdman in the 1970s and '80s," Rick Thiesse said. "There are really no words that can describe. If you needed something done, you asked him. He was always teaching; he loved teaching and he loved kids. I'm a coach now, and I find I use a lot of the things that he taught me.
"When I'd come back to visit after being away, and I'd go to church services, he was always one of the first people to come up and shake your hand and greet you, ask how you're doing. He always made it a point to shake your hand and ask how you were ... The lives he touched, the children he helped lead, the large family he helped build, the church and school he kept open for years. You say Wilbert, and his name is the first that comes up. He is Wilbert."
"If only we could all follow his example, this world would be a much better place," Marge Thiesse said.