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Family plans big celebration for 70th wedding anniversary

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Like many families, Lawrence and Mildred Lechtenberg of Sacred Heart Parish in Boyd County will pause this Thanksgiving season to give thanks for all their blessings.

But this year is a little special for the farm couple near Butte: They will gather with approximately 300 family and friends - including community members and parishioners from churches in all three towns that make up the parish - to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

First there will be a family Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 29 at the Butte Community Hall with their seven children, 31 grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren, Mildred said. The next day will include the family's second annual 3K Turkey Trot fun run.

And then the big celebration begins with a 5:30 p.m. Mass Nov. 30 at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Butte, with members of Sacred Heart parish who attend Assumption Virgin Mary Church in Lynch and St. Mary Church in Spencer expected to join the Lechtenbergs. It will be followed by a catered dinner and dance at the town hall.

Faith is at the core of how they live, so it is important that faith-filled people enjoy their celebration with them, said Mildred, 92.

"We have been so blessed," she said.

And they have given back.

After converting to Catholicism in 1943, Mildred taught parish religious education classes and became a member of the Altar Society and Catholic Daughters. Lawrence, 96, was involved in the parish's first pastoral council, is a member of the Knights of Columbus and was instrumental in building the new Ss. Peter and Paul Church and convent in the early 1970s.

Over the years, they learned about their faith in part through travel to nearby shrines, such as the House of Mary Shrine in Yankton, S.D., and a memorable trip to Medjugorje in 1988. They participated in Marriage Encounter retreats and Bible study groups to grow closer to God and each other.

Now they get to celebrate, and the preparations have been extensive.

More than 20 centerpieces will grace tables at the town hall, handcrafted by family members using candlesticks and glass platters and filled with cupcakes for dessert.

A brief program will include introduction of family members by the decade they joined the Lechtenberg clan and a video tribute to the couple.

A musician will perform during dinner and a disc jockey will take over for the dance.

Father Doug Scheinost, pastor of Sacred Heart, said he and the couple's nephew, Father Richard Reiser, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Omaha, will concelebrate the Mass.

And Father Scheinost said he expects the church to be packed. Although he has been pastor only about five months, he has seen the couple's commitment to each other and their faith, Father Scheinost said.

"They have a genuine, deep love for the Lord, for each other and for their family," he said.

It is a commitment seen by the entire community, said Sacred Heart parishioner Jan Hostert of Butte, who with her husband, Paul, is a lifelong friend. The Lechtenbergs are quiet leaders who are involved in the church and encourage others, she said.

"I've always admired them," she said. "They are good people who set an example by the way they live."

The upcoming celebration took a bit of planning, family members said.

Talks started about a year ago, and work began in earnest six months ago, said Russ and Susan Lechtenberg, who attend Ss. Peter and Paul in Butte.

Every sibling and spouse helped: Larry and Nona Lechtenberg and Kelly and Marcie Lechtenberg, who live in Oakland and are members of St. Joseph Parish in Lyons; Roger and Rhonda Lechtenberg, members of St. Pius X Parish in Ainsworth; Vic and Grayce Lechtenberg of Indiana; Judy and Jerry Cullen of Kansas; and Deb and Dan Hughes of Minnesota.

"Everyone just pitched in," said Nona Lechtenberg. "We all had different ideas and just ran with them, keeping everyone in the loop with phone calls and emails."

All the work is more than worth the effort, given the faith and love his parents have shared with their family and community, Russ Lechtenberg said.

"I think their faith in God and commitment to religion makes us all realize that we always have God and Jesus Christ on our side even when things go bad," he said.

Prayer sustains the family, Russ Lechtenberg said.

Growing up, they prayed morning, noon and night, as well as before and after meals, he said. A rosary before bed was part of the nightly ritual during Lent, he said.

As for Lawrence, he sums up his 70 years of marriage, family and life on the farm as blessed success. That has been true even in hard times, such as one dry growing season when revenue from selling eggs and chickens was the family's primary income, he said.

Faith in God, each other and their community got them through that and other difficult situations, he said.

The couple jokes that over the last 70 years they have forgotten all the lessons they learned about love, marriage and family. But they and their family know God is at the center of each experience.

"We are thrilled to share this night with our family and friends," Mildred said of the upcoming celebration.

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