Letter to the Editor


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To the editor:

I learned to know Delbert when we were freshmen in college. At that time, he lived with his parents in their farm home near the campus. We were second cousins. Perhaps because I had not known him when we were kids, I could not imagine him young. Serious, dedicated. But as happy as the rest of us.

Delbert spoke Swiss-German with his parents, as had my father. That was the language he had learned first and which he used most, but the family had a Sunday German, a church language, and a public-school English, every whit as good as mine. The topic is much argued, and some, e.g. Albert Schweitzer, claim that one cannot know two languages equally well but will always be partial to one above the other.

I studied German and Swiss, but I had no illusions. It was not my mother tongue. After finishing college, Delbert went to several Swiss cities where he was in universities and earned a Ph.D. He learned French and Italian as well and taught library courses in his alma mater.

Delbert loved anything which touched the past with the kind of adoration one might have for a beautiful child. He treasured manuscripts and collected letters which immigrants, including some of my relatives, had written before coming to the New World and later. For years he conducted tours into the Alps and was a master skier. He showed his students where their grandparents had lived in the Old World and perhaps led them up the Matterhorn to look out over the vineyards of Italy.

In my own study of family names, I sometimes asked for Delbert's help. Some of the Swiss names of his community had arrived in Southeast Missouri, names such as Niswonger and Gratz and Bucher and Wedel and Suter and Limbaugh.

When Delbert died last week, he left for me a personal void and, for a wide group of folks interested in the stories of our past, a chasm which is not easily filled.


Cape Girardeau