Gerd Steckel died on the night of January 2, 2022, at his residence in Moscow, Idaho in the presence of his beloved wife, Lisa Steckel. Gerd was born on September 17, 1944, in Braunsberg, East Prussia to Bruno and Olga Steckel. He spent his youth in Halver, Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, after his family fled to West Germany due to the Second World War. Gerd said that his mother carried him when he was a few months old, walking and hopping on trains with his sick aunt (typhoid fever) his one-and-a-half year-old sister, and two in-laws who were also sick (they died en route) 100 miles into West Germany.
As a young man, Gerd did a three-year apprenticeship and obtained degrees at the Paul Flesh company in accounting and business. Surprisingly, he thought at that time that he would become a businessman, a shock to anyone who knows and loves him, as he was truly a scholar of literature and history. He served in the navy in Germany before attending Hessenkollegg and obtaining his abitur as an adult.
During these years, Gerd became very involved in the social political world. He even ran for public office. Thank goodness he wasn’t elected! Gerd was immersed in the sixties’ political upheaval in Germany and the United States. In his public and personal life, he strove for socio-economic equality and for the sharing of responsibility with our neighbors, taking care of each other as we do ourselves, and our own.
After completing his examinations for teaching grammar school, Gerd taught in Germany between 1971 and 1980. It was during this period that he began coming to the United States in the summers to be a camp counsellor at Camp Hillcroft in upstate New York. Coincidentally with Lisa’s birthplace of Billings, MT, the nearest town to the camp is called Billings, NY. Gerd loved these experiences for many reasons, most importantly, the chance to mentor the youths in his care.
Gerd traveled to Germany in the summers during this time. Gerd’s family there was always looking forward to spending time together and truly enjoyed traveling and discovering destinations in Germany with him. His three great nieces often traveled a long way, as they got older, to be able to spend time with him. He was the funniest great uncle in the world. The passionate discussions with Gerd about politics, literature, philosophy, music, and the 60s that extended into the wee hours greatly enriched all of their lives and had an enormous impact on who they are today.
As his oldest niece put it, here it would be her summer vacation, and his. The first thing Gerd did upon arriving in Germany was go to a bookstore where he purchased Schiller, Kafke, Lessing, etc., for her to read. He would assign a section and tell her that they would meet to discuss the reading material in a couple of weeks with questions that he had prepared. She was 13. You can bet that she prepared for these sessions.
In the early 1980s, Gerd was granted a teaching assistant position in the German department in The College of Liberal Arts at The University of Minnesota. He moved to Minneapolis and studied 18th and 19th century Romanticism. He admired his mentors and some authors (Schilling, Lessing, Kafke, to name a few) and spent many years thinking of himself as a writer. In truth, the writing wasn’t his acumen; teaching was, just as it had been when he conversed with children at the summer camps and grilled his oldest great niece.
Gerd had an excellent mind. He was a writer but was never satisfied with what he wrote. It could always be better, whether in writing or in spoken language. As he came to understand his gifts, the teaching flourished. He loved to research, and to converse. Immigration policy and contemporary social and literary issues gained most of his attention in his later academic years. He presented at conferences and developed coursework with these topics front and center, collaborating with professors across disciplines to prepare university students for competition with students from all over the United States. He and his colleagues from Minnesota, Idaho, Germany, and around the globe greatly valued each other’s friendship, thinking, and camaraderie.
For years, Gerd has received cards and messages from students who have told him that he was the most significant professor in their lives, often from students who were merely fulfilling random credits while obtaining a degree from the science department or something other. He provoked their ability to think, to look at their viewpoints, and then again, from different perspectives in ways that came to be life-changing for them.
It was at the University of Minnesota where Gerd and Lisa met. They played soccer together with other foreign exchange doctoral students which meant the expectation for quality of play was excessively high. Lisa liked to run and kick balls and was a token female on the team, but that is where it began. The team was called Gesundheit. It was fun, and extremely serious, as real fun often is.
Gerd was an avid lover of music. Some of his favorites were Beethoven’s Violin Concerto played by Itzhak Perlman, The Wall by Pink Floyd, and Pie Jesu sung by a boy soprano. Gerd sang as a boy.
We cannot fully enjoy the life of Gerd without mentioning his dry and keen sense of humor. Those of us who looked at him long enough to understand and to let his antics delight us are in a special group. We got to be Gerd’s friends. He was uniquely sweet and funny, and fondly adored by those with whom he convened.
Gerd was a person of constancy, gentleness of nature and a seeming inability to find the bad in others, instead always seeing the good glimmering within, especially as he got older. He loved Don Rickles and loved to watch soccer whenever he could. He loved all soccer, but Frankfurt was his team. He felt terribly bad for Brazil when they were beaten by Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup by a score of 7-1, because he had such respect for the Brazilian soccer league. He then watched the replay of the game about 100 times over the next months, grinning sheepishly whenever he was caught.
Gerd is survived by his wife Lisa Steckel, his sister Heide-Marie Gauchel, his niece Diane and her husband Eckhard Strehmel, and his three great nieces Nora Sophia, Ann-Catherina, and Inga Carolin (Strehmel). He was laid to rest in a ceremony at 1:00 P.M. on Friday, January 7, 2022, at Moscow Cemetery.
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