The Braille book program operated through Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Freistatt has been undergoing a major transition in recent weeks. The program's founder and guiding light, Hal Schimke, died on July 24, necessitating new leaders to rise from the ranks.
Wayne Fritz and Karen Schmedeke have been elected to serve as the leaders of the project, which involves nearly three dozen volunteers who gather on Tuesdays to make Braille books of the Bible.
Schmedeke has become the direct link with the program's headquarters, the Lutheran Braille Workers Inc., based in Yucaipa, Calif.
"Karen's very good at it," Fritz said. "She has more knowledge of the integral works. I do the physical part. We complement each other."
Orders for how many volumes to make and where to ship them come from the main office. Fritz said the head office orders 320 books a month, more than the local crew can make, but the volunteers carry on until the order is filled.
Around 30 workers gather for the morning shift on Tuesdays in the lower level of Trinity Lutheran School in Freistatt. The morning group can run two presses, placing paper into the metal molds to punch the readable holes, making the impressions, then collating and binding the pages. Around 10 to 12 gather for the afternoon shift and work around one press.
The Freistatt group mainly makes copies of "The Gospel According to Matthew," "The Book of Exodus" and a pronunciation guide to Biblical names. They have templates to make Braille copies in English, Spanish and Indonesian. Similar work stations in other parts of the country make other volumes.
Part of the success of the program has been how close the volunteers have become as a group. Schimke nurtured the camaraderie in the group, contributing to many having participated for years. Of the 10 working on a recent Tuesday afternoon, three had been with the program since it started in 1997. Fritz has participated since 2003.
"There's always something going on," Fritz said. "You can hear the group chatting while they put the books together. I harass them, and they give it right back. That's what makes it fun."
Fritz and Schmedeke are presently working to bring Jean Spree, Schimke's daughter, into a leadership role with the group. Spree said she would like to help continue the work her father started.
For Fritz, the willingness to participate is the biggest gift. With a steady group of volunteers, Fritz said he is confident the program will continue well with its new leadership.
For more information about the Braille book program, call Kay Johnson at 235-5152.