LA CROSSE, Wis. — Lorraine Ganey pulls up a chair in the dining room of her State Street home. Across the table, the Rev. Duane Baardseth lays out a single communion wafer on a silver dollar-sized tray and sets out a thimble of wine.
The table is set for two: coffee cups and saucers, a plate of chocolate chip cookies. A coffee maker burbles in the kitchen. This is no regular church service.
"Let's do the communion service, Lorraine," Baardseth says. "And then we'll have coffee."
Later they hold hands and recite the Lord's Prayer before Baardseth gives her communion. Then it's Ganey's turn.
Though macular degeneration has claimed much of her sight, the 97-year-old can still make it to the kitchen to fetch the pastor coffee.
Baardseth reminds her that he'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination over the weekend.
"Fifty years — isn't that wonderful," Ganey says. "And you're still kicking."
Though he retired a dozen years ago — after several decades at La Crescent's Prince of Peace — Pastor B, as he's commonly known, has not stopped kicking, the LaCrosse Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/119im5n).
As visitation pastor for English Lutheran Church, Baardseth makes house calls — usually about three a day — for sick and elderly parishioners who can't make it to church.
His office is his red GMC Sierra pickup.
"We have 170 members over 70 years of age," said Pastor Mark Solyst. "They are the best cared-for people in the church because of his devotion."
People like Grace Hanson, a member of the church since 1946 who now lives at Eagle Crest, an assisted-living facility in Onalaska, where Baardseth brings communion and companionship.
"He's just a good friend," Hanson said. "He's touched our lives."
Baardseth doesn't just visit shut-ins.
"We're fine, but he comes for coffee and doughnuts," said parishioner Lou Wuensch. "Every now and then he'll just say I'm free, so we can get together for coffee."
Baardseth carries the same black communion kit he received on his ordination in 1963.
The latch is broken, the corners frayed, and a couple of the communion cups had to be replaced after it slipped off the roof of his car as he drove across the Interstate 90 bridge in the early 1970s. (Another motorist retrieved it from the middle of the highway and returned it to him several days later.)
Prayers come from his red Book of Occasional Services, even though the church has since adopted a new version.
"I used the green one for a little while, but I had to go back to my red one," Baardseth said. "This ain't right. It's the language people like Lorraine grew up with."
Baardseth, 77, celebrated his golden anniversary in the ministry Sunday at Hardie's Creek Lutheran Church, where he was ordained.
It was the same church he attended growing up on a 25-cow dairy farm in rural Galesville — a farm he still owns and cultivates.
Unlike his two siblings, Baardseth didn't attend a church college. He went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied agricultural science and was on track for a high-paying career in the food industry when he decided in his junior year to go into the ministry.
"I just took the other route," he said. "My family was always religious. I decided that's what I should really be doing."
Though it meant spending a full seven years in school, Baardseth said his background served him well, especially in the tiny farm community of Kerkhoven, Minn., where he began his ministry.
Then 13, Solyst was a member of Baardseth's first communion class at Kerkhoven Lutheran.
He remembers how Pastor B stood out from other ministers, who were generally viewed as being part of the educated class.
"He literally got on their tractors and plowed and cultivated for them," Solyst said. "He broke down that distance. All those farmers, when he said something in the pulpit, they listened. He was one of them."
When he needed money for the church, Baardseth said, he'd go meet a farmer on his combine and ask him for a donation. Likewise, when a farmer was down, Baardseth would organize a work party.
"You've got to be willing to be a servant, that's the basic premise of my ministry," Baardseth said. "If you reach out to people in the community, people respond."
Though Baardseth stayed in Kerkhoven through Solyst's high school years, they went their separate ways in 1969 — Baardseth to La Crescent and Solyst off to study math and physics before a series of false starts led him to choose a career in the ministry.
Thirty years later, Solyst was in the southern Minnesota community of St. Peter when he got a chance to come to English Lutheran and called up his old minister for advice.
When Baardseth retired in 2001, Solyst offered him a part-time position.
Meanwhile, the bishop was looking for ministers to teach at a Lutheran seminary in Ethiopia. Baardseth didn't think he could manage that, but he did volunteer to serve — for free — as a fill-in.
For three months, he was back in the pulpit while Solyst was in Africa. He's since done five more interim ministries.
Baardseth still agrees to do Sunday services or the occasional funeral.
"We pay him for 15 hours a week and he works 30," Solyst said. "The answer is always yes."
Though he shows no sign of slowing, Baardseth doesn't know how much longer he will remain active. It depends on the health of his wife of 56 years, Grace, who suffers from a nerve condition that prevents her from speaking and whose support Baardseth credits for his long career.
"I came late for supper," he said. "I was out in the middle of the night."
Wherever he's served, Baardseth has been known for his fundamental approach, said Bishop Jim Arends, who followed Baardseth at Prince of Peace. "His center was, you preach the Gospel every Sunday and you care for your people," he said. "He knows how to be with people."
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the LaCrosse Tribune