Bio: Sturtz, Rick - Hero to Milwaukee Family (Oct 2011)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Sturtz, Remmel, Nakashima

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 10/12/2011

Neillsville Man is Now a Hero to Milwaukee Family (2011)

Neillsville Man is Now a Hero to Milwaukee Family

Rick Sturtz, seen here doing some woodworking, is a hero to the Remmel family of Milwaukee. Sturtz built a casket for Rimmel’s infant son. Not willing to accept payment for his work, he insisted the Remmels simply make a donation to the Christine Center in Willard. Contributed photo

By Tony Opelt

Rick Sturtz, a known woodworker in Neillsville, is perhaps not the most well-known man in Wisconsin, but to one family, he is a hero.

Lincoln Ray Remmel was born at Froedtert Hospital July 8, 2009. He died in his mother’s arms 83 minutes later. The Remmel family, devout Roman Catholics, prayed for a miracle, begged and pleaded for one. They new for months their time with Lincoln, if he lived at all, would be brief. Lincoln’s mother, Sara-Rae, carried hope with her in the same way she carried Lincoln in her womb, and that hope sustained her.

Lincoln was placed in Sara-Rae’s arms with her husband Josh beside her. A priest was present, dressed in a yellow surgical gown, to baptize Lincoln as doctors closed the mother’s C-section.

Dozens of family and friends attended Lincoln’s birth, and the minutes of his life were filled with celebration. A crumb of birthday cake was placed on Lincoln’s lips. Music, kisses, meeting his 13-month old brother, George, meeting both sets of grandparents, along with uncles, aunts and cousins, his mother made absolutely sure that Lincoln knew only love, kindness and joy before he would know heaven.

It was after Lincoln’s death that Rick Sturtz came into the picture; he was the one who built Lincoln’s casket.

Much of the child’s casket is made of walnut. In fact, from a tree that grew on the front lawn of the home where Sturtz’s father-in-law lived for more than 60 years. George Nakashima, one of Sturtz’s mentors and founder of the American craft movement, believed planks of wood expressed the soul of the trees from which they were harvested. In a letter to the Remmels, Sturtz explained that Nakashima worked primarily with walnut.

“Every walnut tree has, at its center, a hollow vein that Nakashima referred to as the pitch center, a physical manifestation of that tree’s soul,” he wrote. “You may note that the soul of one of the walnut boards is revealed upon the interior of the box I have created for you.”

Sturtz wanted the Remmels to understand the significance of all the materials he used to build the casket. The box’s cherry top was a memento to a woman gave him in 1997, Sturtz wrote. It has once belonged to the woman’s father. The Birdseye maple in the bottom of the box came from a tree cut in the 1800s and retrieved in the 1990s from the bottom of Lake Superior within sight of the Apostle Islands. The planks were cut and dried by Sturtz himself.

“So, there are many meanderings in this little box and also many reminders that every object is part of the circle we call life,” Sturtz shared.

Sturtz had never met the Remmels. He is the brother of a woman who works part-time as a receptionist at Becker Ritter Funeral home, and this woman, Sturtz’s sister, would be the one to recommend Sturtz to the Remmel family, who had to make plans for Lincoln’s birth and his funeral all at the same time.

Sturtz in an unbelievable act of kindness, did not charge the family for the casket. He instead asked they consider making a donation to the Christine Center, a Catholic retreat in Willard.

“There are many ways in which one is compensated for his work,” Sturtz wrote in his letter to the Remmels. ”You have given me my most lucrative commission yet, and I thank you for the privilege and honor it has been.”

In Josh’s response to Sturtz’s letter, he is nearly ecstatic, calling the gift “a most humbling and gracious offering that initially rendered us trembling with tears in our eyes.”

In the same letter, Josh tells Sturtz this gift helped calm his and Sara-Rae’s anger toward God and steadied their faith in his goodness.

“We unequivocally believe Providence’s hand lovingly entrusted your sapient hands as instruments of God’s peace and mercy.”

Josh’s letter is dated Jan. 22, 2010, but it remained undelivered until that May for a very specific reason. Later that January day after the letter had been written, the Remmels discovered that they were again pregnant. The letter was kept until news and results of an ultrasound indicated their baby, whom they would name Paxton Abraham, who would later be born Sept. 11, 2010, was perfectly healthy.

Sturtz is truly a hero to the family, who in an odd turn of events, had Lincoln cremated, but kept the casket as a memento. They now have a “shrine” of sorts in their house dedicated to their second son, with the casket forming a centerpiece.




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