Parish enjoys five generations of a joy-filled family

“Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved,” wrote Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel” (no. 6). That kind of joy and love is exemplified by the Rudloff family, longtime members of St. Bernard Parish in Omaha.
Howard Rudloff, who continues to call each of the now-56 members of the extended Rudloff family to sing happy birthday on their special day, is the patriarch of this happy, faith-filled, athletic family that has graced the halls of St. Bernard School since the early 1900s, when Howard’s mother, Clarice Howard Rudloff, attended the school.
“What I notice about the Rudloff family, from Howard, the patriarch, to all of the extended family, is that St. Bernard’s is an extension of their family,” said their pastor of five years, Father Walter Nolte, now pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Fremont.
“Just as they take care of the needs of their own family, through their time, talent and treasure, they take care of the needs of St. Bernard’s without hesitation. And it is all due to Howard’s great role modeling,” Father Nolte said.
Howard’s mother, Clarice, graduated from St. Bernard School, but Howard and his six siblings attended Holy Name Parish, while Howard’s future wife, Bette, and her eight siblings were students at then-Immaculate Conception School, both in Omaha. Howard and Bette married on Dec. 26, 1953, and raised eight children, Cindy, Lindy, Kim, Jim, Geri, Sherri, Kari and Matt.
After time away from Omaha, the Rudloffs first settled into south Omaha, but moved back into St. Bernard Parish in 1959. Together, Howard and Bette were faithful members of the parish for 48 years, until her death in 2007. Howard remains a member, along with his daughters Cindy, Kim, Geri, Sherri and Kari and their families and three great-grandchildren, who make up the fifth generation of Rudloffs at St. Bernard Parish and the fourth generation at the school.
While Howard and his family speak of the important role St. Bernard has played in their family’s life, it is clear the Rudloffs have played an equally important role in the parish and school community.
A cumulative list of their activities includes participating on the school painting crew and in the parish calendar club, men’s club and dinner club.
They have been referees, room mothers, coaches for volleyball, baseball and basketball teams, members of the athletic club and participants in golf and dodgeball tournaments, pancake breakfasts, fundraisers and the greeting of new parishioners.
They have served as altar boys and girls, in the parish’s carnivals, dinners and auctions, development committees and capital campaigns. They have cleaned the church, organized athletic tournaments and helped at health fairs.
“Howard is very much in tune with St. Bernard’s,” said Rose Flores, business manager for the parish and school. “He is aware of what is needed and does not hesitate to serve the need.”
And he has passed it on to his family, Flores said.
“There was a family with a kindergartner who immediately volunteered in various areas, including the dinner auction,” Flores said. “I was surprised by how quickly this couple became active, but sure enough, it was one of Howard’s granddaughters and her husband. I should have known, it’s in the blood.”
Athletics were a constant in Howard and Bette’s life together. While Bette handled things on the home front, Howard coached the St. Bernard Catholic Youth Organization’s basketball team for 26 seasons. As a former college player, Howard was quite a gift to a grade school basketball program. But he did more, by infusing life principles into sports, reminding players that school and family come first and hard work pays off not just on the court, but in the classroom and the world.
Howard credits their children’s strong faith and relationships in part to his and Bette’s commitment to the faith and the fact his late wife stayed home to raise the children.
“We believed in the Catholic faith and wanted to raise our children in it. It was important to us,” Howard said.
Keeping the family close also was important, Howard said, and family members said the same.
“I watched my mom and her siblings,” said Erin McGrath, a granddaughter with two children in St. Bernard School. “I saw how faithful they were and what good friends they were. When I was growing up I would see my aunts and uncles volunteering together at the fish fry or other activities. St. Bernard’s was an extension of home during my childhood. I want to raise my children in that environment.”
For 35 years, the Rudloff family made up a full softball team within the Omaha Softball Association league. Howard provided Rudloff family softball shirts for the team and was their pitcher until he turned 77.
“I’m going to be buried in my softball shirt,” Howard quipped, “and the family will wear the family softball shirts at my funeral services.”
But it’s no joke, said several of his children. The softball shirt requirements are included in Howard’s will.
Another athletic tradition: the Bette J. Rudloff Invitational Golf Tournament, now in its 38th year. Initially named the Howard Rudloff Memorial Tournament, a grandson suggested after Bette’s death that it be named after his grandmother. Howard was thrilled with the suggestion and made it happen.
“I have a great family,” Howard said. “I am very lucky. I only wish Bette could still be here to see it.”
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