Prayers after the Cleveland tragedy

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Editor’s note: In December, 1969, Clare Pogreba, Ray Martin, Jerry Kanzler, Jim Anderson and Mark Levitan, all Montana men in their late teens and early 20s, died in an avalanche on Mount Cleveland in Glacier National Park. It was the worst tragedy in Glacier Park history. Their bodies were recovered the following summer in June. This story by Larry Stem in the Daily Inter Lake July 5, 1974, was submitted by G. George Ostrom instead of his column this week. It lends further insight into the tragedy.

A mother had final words for her son Friday night.

Descending sun glistened the green earth and the quiet words of Mrs. Jean Kanzler came clearly to more than 30 friends who had gathered quickly for a graveside rite at Glacier Memorial Gardens.

Young Jerry Kanzler, dead at 18, was brought off Mount Cleveland in Glacier National Park at 3 p.m. Friday. Waiting friends tenderly cared for his remains placing Jerry in a simple pine casket crafted by Leo Renfrow, an old friend in Columbia Falls in they days when the Hal Kanzler family lived there.

Renfrow created the casket at the request of Mrs. Kanzler last Monday. When Jerry’s body was placed in the casket a peace cross was placed on his neck. Rev. Tom Best and George Ostrom, long time family friends, conveyed the casket in its final journey from near Chief Mountain over Logan Pass and to Glacier Memorial Gardens just north of Kalispell. Again long time family friends were of service.

Word went ahead to Kalispell and friends quickly gathered at Christ Church (Episcopal) to go to the cemetery and hear the simple service and the words of Jerry’s mother. As the casket was born to its final resting place, the hands of Jean were on that casket. And it was her voice beside the grave which read from the 13th chapter of Corinthians, the soliloquy of love.

And it was Jean’s voice saying, “I commit my son back to the ground, dust to dust with a sure and certain hope of resurrection until eternal life.”

And it was Jean’s continuing the simple service quoting from a poem over the pine casket draped with a single spray, a creation of carnations worked into the symbol of a peace cross. There were remarks and prayers from Rev. Best and the clear soprano voice of Marilyn Korn lifted across the greensward with “Climb Every Mountain.”

And the final voice was Jean’s as she turned to the gathered friends and said, “Please leave here in Christian Joy. Jerry would have wanted us to be happy.” There were tears in the eyes of others, but not Jean Kanzler.

From her there was a flow of love, of dedication, of memory, of the joy of her motherhood, of the pride of her son’s life and the dedication of his memory to his beloved mountains. This was apparent to all who were there when the sun went down Friday July 3 over the simple grave of Jerry Kanzler.

Friday, Jan. 9 Jean Kanzler was waiting at Bozeman for some word, some hope of her son and four other boys missing on Mount Cleveland. She described her feelings in that day of the unknown, “There are regrets, deep ones, but I couldn’t live Jerry’s life. This was a spark he caught from his father, Hal, in their climb to the rim of the world on the Mission Mountains. Call it an eagle’s look. Jerry caught the flame. It absorbed him. How could I deny him something he had to do? You don’t say no to that. You guide and you hope he has found his way.”

Friday, July 3, Jean Kanzler recalled those thoughts of nearly six months ago and faced a final moment with quiet serenity in her face. And she spoke in a low husky-timbered voice with tones of love and simplicity.

Jean Kanzler said, “I thank my God that he allowed me to bear this child into this world. I thank my God for his 18 wonderful, living years. It was a joy to be Jer’s mother, to watch him develop and mature, to live each moment with an intensity especially his. Well to I remember the days after Hal’s death when Jer and Jim and I talked about the future, about how we would do things and what we would find from life. I watched Jer catch another kind of spark after his father’s death and watched the way he savored each moment of his life. Today I can say I am so very proud to be his mother and to wish him God bless on his final journey to the high horizon he loved so well. This was his life, his love, therefore it is my life of my love.”

Jean Kanzler said it with love, with understanding, with memory of a life lived intently and fully even though brief.

And at that simple graveside ceremony one friend said afterwards, “Never have I seen or heard anything more beautiful.”

Jean Kanzler alone had the sole right to wish her son Godspeed. After the blackness of 188 days the farewell was haloed with acceptance, with understanding, with love. She said it Jan. 9, “There are regrets, deep ones, but no real ones. The regrets span what might have yet been for Jer.”

She showed it July 3 with hope, with quiet joy for a future, with the love her son would have wanted.

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