Life Story / Obituary
Ralph (Arno) von Walthausen
April 30, 1922 -- April 7, 2018
Just shy of his 96th birthday, at 3:30 am Saturday April 7th, Arno took his first steps on a new journey into Great Mystery.
A man of strong conscience who “walked the talk” no matter the consequence, Arno consistently aligned actions with his beliefs. A conscientious objector (CO) during World War II, he spent the war years in work camps doing public service projects organized by the three historic peace churches: Quaker, Mennonite and Brethren. His abiding belief was that war was wrong, and violence only created more violence. Arno’s actions found their voice in later years in the speeches of MLK and others. Into his 90’s, Arno joined in marches along Front Street in Traverse City as part of Veterans for Peace, bearing witness; was on the forefront of efforts to build a new homeless shelter; and was an ardent supporter of protecting land and reducing unnecessary impacts to the environment.
Always forward thinking and visionary, Arno challenged everyone he came in contact with to think differently. You could bet that conversations quickly turned to issues of social justice, equality and supporting people in their struggle to live freely by their own consciences. Arno lived by the saying “the world just needs a gentle nudge in the right direction.” Gentle of heart, yet uncompromising in belief, he was passionately purposeful in making this world a better place. Arno believed in being the change. There were no ‘strangers’ in Arno’s world, everyone was part of his “human community.”
Arno’s love of theater was a quiet passion. He enjoyed participating in community theater back in Dearborn as well as church Madrigals at First Presbyterian Church. Arno had an amazing memory for countless Shakespeare quotes. No matter the circumstances, there was the perfect quote to share rolling right off his tongue!
He was also frequently heard quoting theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, pastor of the church in which he grew up in Detroit. In response to the vexing questions of the day, Arno returned again and again to Niebuhr’s serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Grateful for the smallest kindnesses, he always returned the same. Even people who only knew Arno for a few months, or even a day, described him as “such a kind man”. Arno believed that we needed to live in harmony with nature and, to the extent possible each other. He never took things personally, or let the sun go down on his anger.
He loved being outside, working with his hands, feeding the birds, vegetable gardening, and creating rich soil - he LOVED his compost pile! This is the work that made him most happy.
A feeling expressed by Thoreau was one he leaned into especially during in his later years and quoted in his final days: “I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”
Those still here to celebrate his life are Arno’s wife of 69 years Peg, sons George (Nancy), Rolf (Mari), sister Marie Louise, brother-in-law Jim Jensen, special niece Emilie (Jim VanBochove), several nephews and numerous relatives in the Bufe and Haas Families including many friends and neighbors who he considered part of the family. He was preceded in death by a brother Rudy and sister-in-law Geordie.
In lieu of flowers please direct memorial gifts to “Wills and Memorials”, c/o Central United Methodist Church, 222 Cass Street, Traverse City Michigan 49684.
A memorial service in celebration of Arno and a life-well-lived will be held Friday, April 13th @ 11 am at Central United Methodist Church. Family will greet guests beginning at 10 am with a reception to follow. Please visit www.lifestorytc.com to sign the guestbook and share your thoughts with the family.