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A Harmonious Birthday Celebration

Baum, Leonide, "A Harmonious Birthday Celebration." Mitteilungsblatt, November 2009, 3-4.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
The honoree conversing with the bishop.
Inside the festive hall. Left: Mrs. Olga Kelm with the Honoree Dr. h.c. Edwin Kelm; right: Bishop of the State Church, Gottfried July and spouse.
V. Slripnik, on behalf of the mayor of Bad Burnas, confers the Order of the Black Sea Cossacks.

Dr. h.c. Edwin Kelm’s 80th: It was a moving and happy day, this 80th anniversary of the birth of Edwin Kelm, the national chair of the Bessarabiendeutsche Verein, a day he celebrated with friends and companions from his life.

Möglingen, August 8, 2009. It was a sunny and warm day. The invited guests were looking forward to the celebration with the guest of honor. In front of the house that Edwin Kelm built when he was still a young construction entrepreneur, a trombone choir was waiting to perform for the birthday celebration.

The State church’s bishop, Gottfried July, and his wife – she was born in Bessarabia – congratulated Edwin Kelm in the plaza in view of his life achievements. Prelate Rolf Schäffbuch and his wife joined the many guests. After the trombone choir number, their young director, J. Wagner, expressed words of appreciation, and Mr. Schaaf, president of the CVJM [unexplained organization – Tr.] also added words of congratulation. With a greatly shaky voice, Edwin Kelm thanked everyone. His memories of 1946, which had brought an invitation from the CVJM to a horse stable Möglingen, his home, were still vivid for him after sixty-three years. In his poverty, he had been accepted into a circle of young Christians.

The great throng of guests answered the invitation to enter the great hall to partake of some champagne. Valerie Skripnik had brought along a very large gift of a bottle of Crimean champagne.

181 guests located their name cards on rows of festive tables. Olga, the honoree’s wife, had of course asked in her own loving way that the decorations carry a Bessarabian theme of blue and yellow. A modest menu card carrying the birthday celebration menu, with a large blue “80” on a yellow background, helped the friends of Bessarabia to get into the geographical feeling.

The birthday celebration was opened with a religious service. Prelate Schäffbuch delivered the sermon.  A hymn sung in multiple voices expressed the day’s emotion: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.”

Prelate Schäffbuch wove the Biblical text into the life of the honoree. “Edwin Kelm, you have experienced many disappointments with people … but God has reserved the right to let his face shine upon us. And that you have experienced as well. From bitter poverty you managed to live your life.

Dear Mrs. Kelm, via numerous assistance projects you and you husband have left behind something of the glory of God. It is this glory of God that tells us that we are in good hands.”

Following the hymn “I have passed through the world,” the state church organization bishop, Gottfried July said, “We have come with joy, as connected friends … Those memorable phases of life – indeed difficult experiences, and good experiences.  Memories and key events are the fragments of an 80th birthday. Begun yet again under God’s Word ... God’s faithfulness is, as it were, the continuing thread within us. God eternally makes only complete things.

You, our honoree, came to Möglingen as a refugee, but that inner Christian thread brought you together with people. God has placed his blessing son the mosaic stones of your life.”

Ingo Rüdiger Isert, national chair of the Bessarabian German Association, also chimed in with words of congratulation:

“Dear Edwin, dear Olga,” (he said after sketching the milestones in the honoree’s life, “I met Edwin Kelm in 1982 when he was elected national chair of the Landsmannschaft.. It really took only a few months before the finances of the Landsmannschaft were once again in order and signatures were in place for the purchase of the piece of land on which this building now stands. The slumber of the Landsmannschaft and the Heimathaus was over. Debts were eliminated within three years, and then a festive hall and an elevator were also constructed.”

I. R. Isert continued to describe the beginnings of the Bessarabia tours and how our countrymen “ate up any and all photo series,” how these travels really took off following perestroika and glasnost.  He spoke about the old structures and other traces of ancestry in Bessarabia. “we are proud to number this Edwin as one of our own, and we thank you, dear Edwin, that you devoted twenty-two years to the chairmanship of the Landsmannschaft.” It was no mere sentence to just toss out on an 80rth birthday. Even outsiders would agree. To demonstrate this, I point to a session of  he Stettin Deaconate, during which things were not all festive, but difficult and serious. Topics were discussed, and then words were spoken about the ‘legendary Dr. Kelm.’ There are men with marked self-confidence, an iron will and an extraordinary way of asserting themselves, that is, men with some rough edges, too. Much remained unsaid. Well, of that perhaps on the occasion of the 90th birthday.

The birthday celebration continued as further words of congratulation were spoken between dinner courses. Lady Pastor Frey of Möglingen commented, “You have given great effort, with that immense strength of yours, and you have provided strength to that which is the task of a church community.”  -- Günter Vossler, Director of the Alexander-Foundation, told of his first meeting with Edwin Kelm: “Willingly and knowingly I  went into this adventure. Most convincing were Mr. Kelm himself and his way of talking. Edwin Kelm, a man with some rough spots, but once a decision was made, he stood by his decision. He fought for the concept of community homes of care, and what we decided on had to become reality. I cannot even begin to recount all that you have done for the foundation.”

Homeland Poetess Gertrud Knopp-Rüb put her congratulatory words in the form of a poem, in which she reminded people of this ”lifetime, which is more than its past, and no one can say what the future might add to it.”  

The words of Valerie Skripnik ended up as an emotional highlight of the congratulatory speeches. It was not his perfect German grammar that moved hearts, but his words, spoken directly from the heart.

“God sent you to me. Everything I have learned I got from Mr., Kelm. Let’s take 1995, during the construction of the church. I looked at Mr. Kelm – oh, an old man, I was thinking -- but today, with his eighty years, he is still very young. During fourteen years Mr. Kelm may have brought seven large buildings to reality. One large construction every two years. By way of allegory, Mr. Kelm is a locomotive, a very good locomotive. He is the one pulling the train.” Proudly, and to great applause, Valerie adds,  “I am a Bessarabian.” Then he added, “I know of no place in Ukraine where people are not proud of Mr. Kelm.” On behalf of the mayor of Bad Burnas, he then conferred the Order of the Black Sea Cossacks on Kelm, to honor all his humanitarian achievements.

The ensuing embrace was as warm as when a father embraces a grateful who is showing his utmost respect.

Many other congratulatory speeches were given, none recorded.

The achievements of the honoree on behalf of the Landsmannschaft are quite evident. As Prof. Ziebart writes the man Edwin Kelm who, having completed his life’s responsibilities, can look back with satisfaction on a full life. He is a man whose name will enter the annals of Bessarabian German history and who will forever be closely associated with it.”

After the noon recess, the celebrating honoree showed a series of his slides of his moving life. Memories were exchanged over coffee and kuchen

At the end everyone joined in song, and totally naturally, neighbors joined hands. Floating around the room was gratitude for the feast honoring an eighty-year-old --  indeed a harmonious feast. – Thank you, Dr. h.c. Edwin Kelm! Thank you, Olga Kelm!  

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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