Tending the Gardens of Home – One couple’s small-town story

This article was posted on: December 12, 2019

Our home is where our story begins and our hometown is like the garden that surrounds it, the added expanse where our lives bloom and where we explore and tend. Hatley, Wis., is David Narloch’s hometown. When he and his wife Bernadine (who was from neighboring Elderon) were married, they put down roots in Hatley and continue to call it home.

Bernadine and David attend St. Florian Parish in Hatley. The parish was David’s childhood home, as he received baptism, first Communion and confirmation there. Growing up, Bernadine attended St. Ladislaus in Bevent, but when she married David, St. Florian became her parish home. Both recall having attended Saturday morning catechism classes and two-week summer sessions of catechism as children, since they both attended public schools—Elderon Elementary and Wittenberg High School.

Each grew up on a dairy farm. Chores were a part of life. Bernadine recalls helping clean the chicken coop and gathering eggs as well as harvesting beans and pickles to sell and earn money for school clothes. Hard work was learned by seeing their parents’ efforts and sacrifices.

After attending the prom together as seniors, Bernadine and David dated for seven years until they married in 1964. Having both grown up in rural farming communities, the couple felt most comfortable with small-town living. Bernadine and David both started their careers in the Wausau, but after finding an easy 20-minute commute home to Hatley, they had the hometown feel they sought for beginning life together.

Bernadine worked at Marathon Electric for 46 years in various roles. Choosing not to continue farming, even though he had been very involved with FFA and 4H during his schooling, David went to work at a trucking company doing office work and worked his way up to management. Thirty-four years later, when the trucking company went out of business, David followed his interest in financial investing. He received certification and licensing and began his second career as an investment adviser at a local bank in Birnamwood. “Nineteen years later, I continue to pursue this investment career even though I am well past normal retirement age,” says David.

The Narloch’s motto is: “When you see something that needs to be done, do it!”

The couple share in a common hobby of gardening. While David continues to work, Bernadine has taken advantage of her spare time in retirement. She has gotten involved with her local senior center and is in charge of opening and closing the facilities. Having always taken an active role in the parish, Bernadine became even more involved in 2006 after she retired from Marathon Electric. She was president and vice president of the St. Florian Rosary Society and is chief volunteer for the parish’s cleaning group. She is part of the homebound ministry team, maintains the votive and sanctuary candles and is the office helper, alongside the parish secretary, doing bulletin announcements and newsletter mailings. Bernadine co-chairs the annual vacation Bible school and is a sixth-grade catechist for religious education.

Bernadine especially enjoys working with the youth. St. Florian’s has implemented the Life Teen EDGE program into its middle school religious education program, which is designed for more active participation and discussion between students and the teacher. Bernadine likes implementing the program and shares: “I enjoy … watching them grow and mature and being a part of instilling the religious part of living into their daily lives.” She has a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, St. Anthony and St. Jude. Staying close to them helps her see all of her daily petitions that are continually getting answered.

David has been an integral part of the St. Florian community as well. He has been very active on the parish council and finance committee and has chaired the parish picnic event for more than 30 years. David and Bernadine started the annual parish golf outing that they named “Holy Strokes.” David served on the past two church renovation committees in 1985 and 2009. He was a part of the 1985 renovation fundraising committee to build a new entranceway and elevator for the parish. And for the 2009 renovation, he worked closely with Pastor Father Jerzy Rebacz in the coordination of new lighting, repainting and redecorating of the entire interior of the church, as well as cleaning and restoration of the original statues. Improvements continue, as this year the parish completed a large renovation of their kitchen and dining room.

The Narlochs’ motto is: “When you see something that needs to be done, do it!” Their parish involvement is part and parcel of living in a small town and helping the hometown garden to bear its best fruits. When the couple moved to Hatley in the 1960s, it had a population of under 200, with a small grocery store, post office and a public and Catholic school. They have gotten to know most of its residents in the past 50 years and have really become a part of the living community. David got involved in village government and has served as Hatley’s village president since 1997. Today, the population is more than 600 and the community is now a bedroom community of Wausau, with young families seeking rural community living. This dynamic makes St. Florian Parish unique.

“In many churches, you find the majority of people attending church services to be the ‘silver hair’ population,” Bernadine explains. “This is not the situation at St. Florian. We have a nice age mixture of people attending Masses each weekend. Many Sundays, Father Greg [Bohren] has to compete with noisy babies and young children. He thrives on this and says this is a good thing and not a bad thing, as we will have future parish members growing to replace the seniors as they take their trip to heaven.”

During their 55 years at St. Florian Parish, the Narlochs have worked with many pastors, each with a different style and personality, but all sharing “a common goal of preaching the Gospel and bringing the members closer to God.” As many churches have seen membership and attendance decline, Bernadine and David are proud that St. Florain has seen its membership remain constant, with the number of young families growing.

The unique dynamic of small-town life seems to make this possible, as the Narlochs explain, “Being a small community, the village views our businesses, residents, school and church as part of a community family. All the identities share a goal of respect for what each of the identities contribute to making the village what it is.”

So, as the Narlochs continue to plant and tend their personal gardens at home, their volunteerism and generous giving of their time tends the parish of St. Florian and their hometown of Hatley. Their efforts bear beautiful fruits, enjoyed by the whole of their small community.

Story and photography by Amy Eichsteadt
Published December 2019

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