Palm Lutheran Church 11 West Cherry Street Palmyra, PA 17078
The Rev. Gerhard G. Dietrich & Mrs. Marie O. Dietrich
In 1 John 4.19, we learn that "We love because He first loved us." The Dietrichs understood this and lived their lives with hearts filled with God's love. They welcomed all who crossed their path with compassion, enthusiasm, and honor. It's not just what you do, but the way you do something that makes such a positive difference in the world.
Gerhard and Marie met at Wagner College in 1939. They shared common interests in world events, the value of education and the arts, and a deep love of family. They discovered that they both had a profound faith and believed in defining and improving life through education and a deeper understanding of God's promise to us. They saw faith as a gift, one they would nurture, and believed it would help them in their life together and lead them in service to others.
Gerhard and Marie came from hard-working immigrant families. Marie was born on January 14, 1921. Her family came from Scandinavia and her parents settled in Brooklyn NY, where Marie, an only child, was raised. Gerhard was born on August 5, 1917. His parents came from Germany and settled in Camden, NJ. His father was a German Lutheran pastor. Raised in a German speaking family with eight children, his family had a long tradition, spanning generations, of Lutheran ministers.
After he graduated from Wagner in 1940, Gerhard attended the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). Marie, graduating with honors in 1942, went on to pursue a Masters in History at Columbia University. In 1943, Gerhard was ordained by the Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania at Muhlenberg College and accepted a call to pastor a German-speaking congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Steelton.
The couple married at Trinity Lutheran Church on February 13, 1944, where Gerhard gave sermons in German, and began an English service to reach the next generation. He also served the pastoral needs of POWs in New Cumberland, Fort Indiantown Gap and Carlisle from 1945 to 1947. Marie tutored American soldiers at the New Cumberland Army Depot and briefly taught at Enhaut High School.
Pastor Dietrich and his family moved to West Germany in 1949 when he was commissioned by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to serve as an Emigration Consultant during the massive resettlement of post-WWII refugees. In 1952, he was promoted to Social Service Director and was chairman of the Council of Foreign Voluntary Agencies in Germany, an organization of 27 agencies. Marie taught kindergarten and nursery school in the American military community while Gerhard traveled a war-torn Germany to bring relief to the lives of thousands of displaced persons (DPs). Sometimes Marie accompanied Gerhard when he visited refugees bringing clothing and soap, guidance and God's love, and Hershey Bars! The Dietrichs personally sponsored the emigration of several families, and while living in Germany they housed several DPs until they were able to get back on their feet.
In 1955, Pastor Dietrich was awarded the Johann Hinrich Wichern Medal by the State German Lutheran Church for humanitarian service for the resettlement of over 10,000 East German refugees. The Bishops of the Lutheran Churches of Estonia and Latvia also presented him with gifts of recognition for his work in their countries, and he was awarded the German Service Cross Order of Merit from the German Consulate in NYC.
Returning to America in October 1955, Pastor Dietrich accepted a call to Palm Lutheran Church that began in February of 1956 and would last for 28 years until his retirement. During that time he continued to serve on the National Committee for Lutheran World Service in Europe from 1954 - 1960. He was the official German interpreter for the LWF at its 1957 assembly in Minneapolis, MN.
Among his many accomplishments at Palm, Pastor Dietrich led Palm through a major building project resulting in a new sanctuary and church school (1967). Under his leadership, Palm sponsored the resettlement of one Cambodian and four Vietnamese families (1975). He was a member of the Board of Christian Education (Central Pennsylvania Synod, LCA); Board of Social Ministries, LCA; Board of Directors at Spang Crest Lutheran Home; and active in the Palmyra Area Council of Churches.
A community leader, Pastor Dietrich accommodated Scouting at Palm, aided in obtaining release time from school for religious education, spearheaded a drive for victims of Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and began a forum for older citizens that became known as the Palmyra Area Senior Citizens Group. From 1978 - 1980, he was a founding vice-president and board member during the establishment of the Palmyra Interfaith Manor, a low income residential space. In 1984, the Palmyra Jaycees awarded Pastor Dietrich with the Distinguished Service Award for his outstanding service to his community.
After retirement in June of 1984, Pastor Dietrich served as interim pastor at Shell's Evangelical Church, Hill Lutheran Church, and Zion Lutheran Church. As "visitation pastor" he visited hospitals and nursing homes for members of the churches he served.
Marie Dietrich taught for the Derry Township School District from 1963 until she retired in 1995 at the age of 74. Guided by her Christian values and faith, she was known to be a compassionate and conscientious colleague who was dedicated to her first grade students and skilled in her ability to teach them how to read. In 1995, Marie received the "Class Act Teacher Award" from WHTM 27. She taught confirmation and Sunday School classes at Palm. As the first woman elected to the Palmyra Area School Board, she served two terms (1975-1983) and provided leadership in reviewing curriculum development. She was also a Republican committeewoman.
Gerhard and Marie traveled extensively. Gerhard's expertise and knowledge of Martin Luther enabled them to create tours tracing the history of Martin Luther. Traveling together, and sometimes as tour hosts, they enjoyed learning about other cultures and meeting people all over the world.
Upon Gerhard's death on July 7, 1993, Marie established "The Reverend Gerhard Gotthelf Dietrich and Mrs. Marie O. Dietrich Student Aid Fund" at LTSP to help seminarians with their financial challenges as they prepare to serve the Lord. Marie passed away on June, 6, 2012. In her own Will, Marie left a final gift to Palm Lutheran to establish this lecture series.
Marie and Gerhard raised seven children. They believed in attending church faithfully and supporting their church family. They touched thousands of lives in a positive, caring, Christian manner, and through this lecture series aspired to continue to serve the Lord and their fellow man today and in the years to come.