Memories from a Man at Montereau

No Comments | October 28, 2022

Natalie Schubert is a Fellow of the Alcuin Institute for Catholic Culture and participated in the 2022 Catholic Imagination Fellowship.

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Natalie Schubert is a Fellow of the Alcuin Institute for Catholic Culture and participated in the 2022 Catholic Imagination Fellowship.

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As I walk down the hallway of Montereau Retirement Center in Tulsa, some of the doors are left open, warmly welcoming guests and neighbors alike to pop in for a visit. One of these open doors, with a framed certificate and patriotic decorations on the shelf next to it, leads to Nick Kerpon’s apartment. Nick Kerpon, a resident at Montereau since 2016, is known for his wit and good outlook on life. “You go to  have fun, no matter where you are and what situation you’re in, you want to have fun,” he believes.

At the end of his interview with me, Nick sums up his life by saying, “There’s a lot of priests that have affected me.” From all the detailed stories of each and every priest he shared with me, the grace and gift of great priests is truly prevalent.

Nick, born in 1936, was raised in Des Moines, Iowa. His family attended St. Joseph Catholic Church, which was directly across the street from the house he grew up in. He sang in the choir and was an alter server. Nick remembers serving at the Sorrowful Mother Novena prayer services every Friday led by Fr. (later Msgr.) Maurice Aspinwall. “People from all over Des Moines—[our parish] was way out on the east side…—but they’d come on the street cars, which came right to the corner. There  [were services at] 3:00, 6:00, and 7:30 ,” in the evening. “Serving those was like a three-ring circus because… at certain times in the Novena, we had to turn different lights on,” he says, fanning out his hands to show me how the sanctuary looked lit up.

After attending Catholic schools second grade through high school, Nick went to Loras College—a private, then all-male, Catholic university in Dubuque, Iowa. Here he met  the future Fr. Robert Grallap. They quickly became best friends and later shared an apartment off-campus together. Nick says, “I never had a brother, I had one sister, but Fr. Bob was my brother.” Their friendship lasted a lifetime, visiting each other, and always making time to play at least one round of golf together, even after Nick moved out of state due to  his career with the Ford Motor Credit company.

After graduating from Loras College, Nick also served six months active duty at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in the Iowa National Guard. Then,  he spent five and half months in reserve, specifically in the military police company division.

“January 1st of ’73, I died and came to heaven: I moved to Tulsa,” Nick jokes about relocating to be a branch manager for Ford Motor Credit. This  was also the same year that the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma  was created out of the combined Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Nick and his wife, Katy, raised their five children and lived in the same house in the Quail Creek neighborhood for 30 years together. Nick lived there another 13 years after Katy passed away in 2003. They attended the Church of the Resurrection and were very involved in an adult small faith group, striving to teach their children the Faith both  by word and example. “You do the best you can,” he advises, “and show them the way.” Nancy Moore, the public relations coordinator at Montereau and a friend of Nick’s, says “[he] has set such an example in [his] family… an exemplary example.” Nick also served as a lector and Eucharistic minister regularly for decades. He especially loved bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the hospitalized and homebound.

For many years at Montereau, Nick continued to be a Eucharistic Minister at Mass in the chapel every day. “All around the edges of the chapel are [people] using wheelchairs or [walkers], I have even had hospital beds,” he describes. “I just loved to be there for them,” give them Communion, and “call their name  if I could, like ‘Lynn, this is the Body of Christ.’ I loved to do it that way and our priests here do that too.” Using a walker himself now, Nick is not able to serve in that manner anymore, but l ectors every Sunday and schedules the other lectors and Eucharistic ministers, along with helping Fr. Gerald Coleman, who is the current resident Catholic chaplain at Montereau, with any administration arrangements required. There are also four retired priests living at Montereau: Fr. Marty Morgan, Fr. Charles Swett, Fr. Rolland Follman, and Fr. William Hamill. “That’s most important to me in my time of life right now,” Nick says. “We have a priest here someway, somewhere that can say Mass and minister the Sacraments and take care of us and take care of everybody.”

He has been friends with Fr. Hamill for many years, first meeting him when he was assigned to be an associate pastor at the Church of the Resurrection in 1972. Fr. Hamill baptized all of Nick and Katy’s children and celebrated the Masses for most of their weddings. Fr. Hamill also determinately attended Nick’s granddaughter’s Confirmation last year. In March, for his fiftieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, Nick helped arrange for Fr. Hamill to say Mass in Montereau’s chapel for the first time in many years due to his health conditions.

Nick was also an active volunteer at Saint Francis Hospital, especially after his retirement from Ford Motor Credit in 1999.   Both Katy and his second wife, Charlotte, worked as nurses in the hospital. He cheered up patients, guests, doctors, and nurses with  his humor and wit while delivering mail throughout the building. “I used to call myself the pink lady in the mail room,” he jokes. “We didn’t quite wear pink, but  it’s close.” He was also a volunteer coordinator for the hospital’s annual Kids are Special Day for many years.

The certificate framed outside his door is the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award which was given to him  by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program for over 4,000 hours of volunteering at Saint Francis along with other organizations including the Church of the Resurrection, the German-American Society, and the Veterans Committee at Montereau. On staying active in your Faith and community after retirement, Ms. Moore suggests to “do what you love…That’s what [Nick] does… he has a heart where he could just volunteer everywhere, but  he really focusses on doing the stuff he loves. And he is so good at it.”

Nick remembers Fr. Jim Caldwell’s ordination to the priesthood on July 26, 2003 as the most significant Diocesan  event he has attended. As a seminarian, Fr. Caldwell completed his pastoral year at the Church of the Resurrection. “I’ll never forget, when he came off that alter at the end, he was dancing all the way down the aisle he was so happy… that he’s a priest. He’s a priest!” Nick cheers. Then,  Nick grows solemn as he continues his story, later that day, “this one lady came over and said, ‘did you hear?’” Charlotte’s her first husband, Bill Zimmerman, had died while driving the day before and Charlotte broke her neck in the resulting crash. Nick also had unfortunate news: Katy was extremely close to death. Nick visited Charlotte on the sixth floor of the hospital and Charlotte’s grown children—who Nick started calling his “four bonus kids” after marrying Charlotte—visited Katy on the second floor because the two women were friends from working at the hospital and attending Resurrection together. Nick even held the prayer book for Fr. Michael Knipe to read from at Bill’s funeral. “I’ll never forget that. And I told the kids that night that I know where we’re going to be, where our grave’s going to be. And it’s about 20 feet from the Zimmerman grave,” Nick predicted rightly. Katy passed away ten days after Bill.

Nick met many wonderful priests serving as chaplains at Saint Francis Hospital while he was volunteering there, including Fr. John Choorackunnel. Fr. John co-celebrated the Masses for Katy’s funeral with Fr. Knipe  in 2003, Nick and Charlotte’s wedding in 2004, and Charlotte’s funeral in 2016.

In 2012, Charlotte was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given six months to live. She lived four and half years. The effects of chemo and radiation was one scare after another for them both. “The stress level nailed me to the Cross,” Nick remembers.

Charlotte’s last six months were at Montereau. “Charlotte put me here, she did,” Nick believes. “Everything [in our apartment] is just like it was when we moved in here. If I change anything, there will be a lightning bolt come down and get me,” he adds laughing. One of the only changes to the apartment is the crucifix that was on Charlotte’s casket during her funeral now hangs on the living room wall. This was a gift from another priest: Fr. James McGlinchey, who was the chaplain at Montereau when Nick and Charlotte first moved there. Fr. McGlinchey stayed beside them in Charlotte’s final months and was the other celebrant at her funeral Mass.

“Ever since I lost Charlotte, … every morning… before I leave here, I look at [her] picture and say, ‘honey, get me through today,’… and I say a little prayer. And she does, I guarantee.”

Nick has certainly not slowed down since moving into Montereau with either his Faith life, volunteering, or sociability. “There’s nothing like it. Most retirement communities… are run by big corporations. Not here. This is put together by the Warrens  [who also created Saint Francis Hospital] and it’s stayed independent and non-profit… But here, and especially for a Catholic, my gosh, you got Mass every day, right here.”

He focuses on and finds joy in the little things each and every day, remembering all the people and priests God has put in his life with gratitude.

Natalie Schubert is a Fellow of the Alcuin Institute for Catholic Culture and participated in the 2022 Catholic Imagination Fellowship.

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