Richmond family designs, constructs, donates memorial altar

Categories: Around the Diocese

Bishop Kettler will bless altar built by father in memory of his late daughter

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

On March 7, 2014, Allen and Doris Schaefer did something no parents should ever have to do. They said goodbye to their daughter, Rhonda Grotkin, who lost her battle with brain cancer at age 52.


Rhonda Grotkin

On June 28, Bishop Donald Kettler will travel to the Schaefers’ home parish of SS. Peter and Paul in Richmond, where he will bless a brand new altar that Allen
built in Rhonda’s memory at the 10:30 a.m. Mass.

“Rhonda was a really giving person,” Doris said. “Church was very important to her. She was always doing things for other people.”

At the wake, Doris recalls Rhonda’s friends telling stories of her generous spirit. Once, Rhonda had gone to the local Target store and bought all the socks it had to give to the poor.


In his workshop in Richmond, Allen Schaefer talks about how to make a cross with the correct dimensions. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

When Rhonda passed away, her husband, Jack, found an old life insurance policy that Doris and Allen had purchased when Rhonda was born. They were still listed as the beneficiaries.

“When Jack found it, he told us that he thought Rhonda would have liked to see the funds used somewhere in Richmond, like the Catholic school or church,” Allen explained.

The interior of the church had recently undergone some renovations to return it to its original architectural style. Since Allen had more than 30 years of woodworking experience as the owner of Schaefer Cabinets in Richmond, he came up with an idea to build an altar for the church to match the renovations and original design.

He approached Benedictine Father Edward Vebelun, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul, who suggested Allen pose the idea to the parish.

“An altar is sacred for any community,” Father Vebelun said. “It is important that everyone be a part of the decision.”

After Mass one day, Allen explained his idea for the new altar that would honor his daughter’s memory. “Most thought it sounded good, but there were a few who weren’t sure.”

Afterward, he met with those who had some reservations. The response he received was warm, he said. “They wanted to see the current altar go to a good place. They told me that they had never lost a child so they gave us their blessing.”

The current altar, constructed by SS. Peter and Paul parishioners Wally Zumwalde, Mel Gertken and Sheldon Lang, will be moved to Cathedral High School in St. Cloud where it will be used for weekly student Masses.


The finished altar he created, ready to be moved to SS. Peter and Paul Church. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

Amid the smell of sawdust, Allen went to work on the new construction, consulting the parishioners at each stage of its progress about details like size, shape, where the candles would be placed and finally, about the color.

“The hardest part was the finish,” Allen explained. “It took a few attempts to find just the right color.”

The first coat was too dark. So he consulted his son, Clayt, who now owns and operates the family’s business in Richmond. He suggested using a lighter finish to pull out some of the darker stain. Clayt then applied about five more coats and added a special glaze.

Made from sturdy oak, the striking dark structure has become a labor of love for the family. Allen constructed a freestanding, matching cross that can be stored in the opening underneath the altar, or at appropriate times, on top of the altar. He routed the edges of the cross, which Doris painstakingly painted in a delicate gold trim.

“This whole thing is a family project,” Allen said. “The results are remarkable.”

It was definitely a learning process, Allen said. One of the things they learned is that an altar can’t be used for Mass before it has been blessed. So on Saturday, June 27, immediately after the evening Mass, crews will carefully remove the current altar and bring in the new one to be blessed the next morning by Bishop Kettler.

For the Schaefers and their parish community, it will be a beautiful reminder of their daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend for years to come.

“I know that she would be happy with it,” Doris said, and Allen echoed, “That’s what counts.”

In conjunction with the prayers of dedication and the anointing of the new altar at the Mass, the parish will celebrate the feast of SS. Peter and Paul by blessing the holy water, the cross, the rear doors and the stained glass window. A light reception will follow in the parish center.