Happiness Results from Making the Most of One’s Talents
The life story of ANTON KOERBER as told by his friends
IT WAS late in the summer of 1967 and the occasion was a convention of Jehovah’s witnesses. The location was the Laurel, Maryland, racetrack. High up in the stands, from where one could view the program, sat a white-haired elderly gentleman in a wheelchair, surrounded by a handful of friends. Though it turned out that he did not have much longer to live—he died within four months—his mind was alert and his spirit happy and enthusiastic as he shared upbuilding thoughts and items of interest with his friends.
Seeing him there surrounded by his friends, we called to mind the words of the psalmist: “Those who are planted in the house of Jehovah, in the courtyards of our God, they will blossom forth. They will still keep on thriving during grayheadedness, fat and fresh they will continue to be to tell that Jehovah is upright. He is my Rock, in whom there is no unrighteousness.”—Ps. 92:13-15.
The semi-invalid was Anton Koerber, seventy-five years old, a happy and zealous servant of Jehovah God for more than fifty years. During this time he enjoyed a great variety of opportunities of serving his God Jehovah and his fellowmen, Christians and non-Christians. At the same time he was blessed with no mean share of this world’s goods, of which he made generous use.
Anton was born on June 13, 1892, of Lutheran parents in modest circumstances, his father being a hotel chef in Baltimore, Maryland. Home was small but clean, and thrift was practiced, and so was discipline. Circumstances allowed little time for sports, and beginning with the age of twelve he spent school vacations working, first at a grocery store and then at a newspaper office. Modest family circumstances dictated getting a job as soon as eight grades of grammar school were completed. While thus working Anton attended night school and took correspondence courses in engineering to gain the equivalent of a high school education.
Particularly since the age of fourteen was he a faithful reader of the Bible. By the age of seventeen he quit his Lutheran church, disillusioned. But he had not lost faith in God, in God’s Word, nor in the rightness of Bible principles. For about four years he attended various church services and even interested himself in a fraternal order, searching for God if he might find Him. (Acts 17:27) Then one day he came in touch with a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known. Here he found a man that was able to answer satisfactorily all his questions and who invited him to one of their meetings. This was it. Here at last was the kind of teaching for which he had been looking and the kind of people for whom he had been searching ever since he had begun reading the Bible. Before many months passed he dedicated himself to God to do his will and was baptized at Fairmont, West Virginia, in July 1913.
Anton realized that his calling was a heavenly one, with the hope that, if found faithful, he would share in the heavenly resurrection and be with his Lord and Master for all eternity, even as promised at Revelation 20:4-6, a hope he kept ever bright and always was happy to talk about to others. He tried to share his newly found truths with his friends and relatives, but as he himself put it, “I soon found that I was misunderstood no matter how hard I tried to explain and was unwanted if I continued to preach.” But that did not discourage Anton, for had not Jesus forewarned that that was what his followers could expect?—Matt. 10:34-36.
Three years later he married and moved to Washington, D.C., where a son and daughter were born to him. During World War I he was arrested and tried because of his conscientious objection to war, but the case was held in abeyance and dropped when the war was over. He now saw his way clear to enter the full-time preaching work. This he did with William N. Hall, a retired army brigadier general, whose privilege it had been to accompany Pastor Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, on one of his world tours. Anton found Hall a helpful companion and a fine soldier of Jesus Christ. They traveled far and wide in Maryland, Virginia and other Eastern states, leaving much literature in the homes of the people and setting up Bible study groups. They would later return to strengthen them in the faith and train them in the Christian ministry. Eventually a number of these groups became established congregations. So in these respects they were serving much as did the apostle Paul and his companions. (Acts 15:35, 36) In addition thereto, he was very active in weekend speaking tours, being a very able public speaker. All of this brought him much happiness.
For years Anton had been in the insurance business. While such issues as buying war bonds caused strained relations with his business associates, it was the slogan “Millions Now Living Will Never Die,” which the Bible Students were then preaching, that caused him to sever his connections with the insurance business and enter the real estate field. There his natural abilities enabled him to become highly successful, buying, selling, building, financing and managing houses, hotels, apartment and office buildings.
BOUGHT OUT THE OPPORTUNE TIME
Anton had a most positive personality (as is apparent from his business successes), which he used to good advantage to witness to God’s name and kingdom. From the start he never missed an opportunity to use his business connections to that end. He witnessed to all, rich and poor, high and low. They accorded him respect and some even acknowledged that what he told them was the truth and said that they wished that they could have the faith he had. He told them that they could if they would only believe the Bible!
To take a taxicab with him was an experience. He would begin talking about world conditions and the hope of God’s kingdom. Then he would bring the driver into the conversation, and ever so often he succeeded in having the driver subscribe for the Watchtower magazine. Anton would then turn the name and address over to the nearest congregation so that the “seed” could be watered. (1 Cor. 3:6) When he took overnight trains, which his privileges of service often required him to do, he made it a point to preach to the sleeping-car porters, at times studying the Bible with them until the wee hours of the morning. Almost invariably he succeeded in getting these also to subscribe for the Watchtower magazine. No wonder that in 1955, a typical year, he obtained 532 subscriptions!
Even when not well he was alert to give a witness about God’s kingdom. Thus while attending a convention in Rome, he found it necessary to leave the auditorium for some fresh air and rest. Just then a government auto drove up and the driver, a soldier in uniform, assisted a distinguished-looking gentleman and lady out of the car. Anton at once approached them and asked if he could be of any assistance. It turned out that the gentleman was a senator, a member of the Italian parliament, and that he had voted in favor of Jehovah’s witnesses’ being permitted to use these convention grounds, for there had been some opposition. Now he had come to see if everything was all right. Anton made good use of the opportunity to preach to the pair, with the result that the Senator ordered his soldier driver to go into the auditorium and get a copy of every kind of literature on display so that he and his wife might read it for themselves.
Anton Koerber also had much happiness in serving the cause of God’s kingdom by making successful business contacts, serving as a liaison officer as it were. He worked out contracts with radio stations and radio networks for broadcasting the Kingdom good news. He also proved of assistance in acquiring property in Brooklyn, New York, in South Lansing, New York, for the Kingdom Farm and Gilead School there, and in Toronto, Canada, for the Bethel home and factory there. While his business experience and contacts were of great help in these matters, he stated that he always put his trust in Jehovah to bring matters to a successful conclusion.
Even greater were his privileges in connection with representing God’s cause to the government officials located in Washington, D.C. He had a share, back in 1925, in fighting for licenses for radio stations owned by the Watch Tower Society. For some twenty-five years and more he appeared before presidents, cabinet members and members of Congress to serve them with the many resolutions adopted by Jehovah’s witnesses at their various assemblies, always keeping in mind the fact that he was Jehovah’s representative on behalf of his brothers. He was heard saying that he never went before these men without first praying to Jehovah for direction and strength to do and to say what was pleasing to Him.
When one was accompanying him on his missions it was a pleasure to see the way he was greeted by many persons in the corridors on the way to a particular office; it was evident that he was widely known and respected as a representative of Jehovah’s witnesses. The officials themselves were generally kind and cooperative as he sought assistance for those witnesses of Jehovah preaching God’s kingdom in the face of strong opposition.
In 1933, while his wife and two children were at the Brooklyn headquarters, Anton was sent out as a Regional Servant in the eastern part of the United States. He helped to organize the congregations into special service groups. These groups were then used to concentrate on a particular city where the Witnesses had been arrested and otherwise harassed for preaching the good news about God’s kingdom. Upward of a hundred Witnesses in twenty or more autos would meet at a predetermined contact point outside the city and then all descend upon the city for house-to-house preaching. At the same time Anton called on the city officials and the police to enlighten them as to the Constitutional rights of the Witnesses to engage in this work.
In 1935, he was sent to Germany to try to get the printing presses at the Watch Tower Society’s Magdeburg branch, which had been seized by Hitler, transferred to Russia, with the hope of opening a branch in Russia. This was a most trying mission for him, as he was being watched constantly by the agents of both Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, neither of which had any affection for Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. While his mission did not meet with success, he was able to contact some of the Witnesses in Russia and, of course, many in Germany whom he was able to encourage.
HAD RIGHT VIEW OF SECULAR ACTIVITY
Shortly thereafter Anton returned to his real estate activity, after which he again became active as a full-time pioneer minister. Then in 1952 he was able to arrange his affairs so as to be able to travel as a circuit minister for the Watch Tower Society. In this capacity he served for seven years; this was a work that brought him much joy. He was able to revisit many of the groups that he, with Brother Hall, had originally organized many years before. He also enjoyed many privileges through the years serving at various assemblies, circuit, district, national and international. His remarks were always very upbuilding and encouraging. It was apparent to all that he was very happy using his talents in serving Jehovah.
That Anton had the right view of secular work was apparent in a number of ways. One of these was the generosity he showed toward those who had served God’s kingdom full time over many years at such places as the Brooklyn Bethel. Also indicative of his having the right perspective was the position he took in an incident that took place only a few years ago. He was approached by some of his old business associates, who were well acquainted with his business acumen, with what they thought was a tantalizing business offer, a proposition in which he could clear a million dollars for himself. But to realize this he would have to devote all his time for about a year to extensive business matters. He thought the matter over carefully, for one can do a lot of good with a million dollars. But after praying over the matter and asking for guidance and direction and the spirit of a sound mind, he came to the conclusion: “It is not possible for me to give up my wonderful privileges of serving Jehovah here for even just one year, no, not for all the money in the world. Serving my brothers here in Washington is more precious to me, and here I know I have Jehovah’s blessing. I no doubt would make a million dollars, but at the end of the year of that kind of life, what would I be like spiritually, or even physically?” And so he turned down the offer.
THROUGH MUCH TRIBULATION
Anton’s life was not one without obstacles or problems. No Christian can enter the Kingdom without his share of tribulation. (Acts 14:22) His very positive personality at times caused misunderstandings with his brothers, resulting in his being on the sidelines, as it were, for a time. During this time, in 1938, his wife was smitten with paralysis and for fourteen years she was a bedridden invalid, lovingly cared for by her husband and her daughter until her death in 1952. Shortly before she died Anton himself had to undergo surgery for cancer, and, though he suffered much, he never complained. He had one operation after another, from which the doctors as well as his close friends did not expect him to recover.
At the hospital he told the doctors and the staff that his life was in the hand of his God Jehovah. When he first went to a hospital he made clear where he stood in the matter of blood. One of the nurses, hearing what he said to the surgeon, flippantly remarked, “Well, maybe we’ll give you blood anyhow!” To which Anton replied: “If you do you’ll have the biggest lawsuit on your hands that you ever had!” Needless to say, they did not attempt to give him blood. On one occasion his surgeon and old friend Dr. Goldstein said to him: “Anton, your God Jehovah is very kind to you. I know of no other reason why you are alive today after all that you have gone through.” Many times it was only by Jehovah’s spirit and undeserved kindness and sheer determination that Anton was able to serve at conventions, minister to individual congregations as well as in the house-to-house ministry and in conducting Bible studies in the homes of the people.
After his friend Dr. Goldstein died he had to find other surgeons and go to other hospitals. But gradually his condition got so bad that surgery could no longer promise to be of any help. At the last hospital to which he was taken the doctors were unknown to him and wanted to give him a blood transfusion the very first thing. Upon his refusal they countered, “Well, if you will not take blood, why did you come here?” Anton replied: “To give you fellows a witness about Jehovah God, his laws and his kingdom.” His positive manner elicited their respect, and they listened to what he had to tell them, after which they sent him back home.
In a remarkable way he was able to attend the annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, held in Pittsburgh, October 1, 1967. It was to be his last meeting with his brothers at an assembly. The Civic Arena had been hired for the occasion, as the meeting was being held on Sunday. Anton looked forward to this meeting and made every effort to be there. Christian brothers kindly helped him onto the plane and traveled with him. Though he suffered much pain, he was uncomplaining and only anxious to get there to be with his brothers.
At the annual meeting he had a bad spell shortly after the proxy forms were handed in, and had to be helped out for a while, but he came back and stayed until just before the meeting ended. He was concerned about taking in the whole program so as to be able to give a good report to those of his congregation who had not been able to attend. He was assisted to his room and shortly after went to the Society’s headquarters in Pittsburgh to visit with some friends who were most happy to see him. He was not able to stay long, however, and upon his return to his hotel room he suffered a bad hemorrhage. This was his condition when he arrived back home in Washington the next day. Nothing further could be done for him by the doctors, and he gradually weakened until his death on November 19, 1967.
His life had indeed been a full and happy one. He had served as a congregation publisher, pioneer minister, as traveling representative for the Watch Tower Society, at Brooklyn Bethel and in dealings with governmental agencies and business organizations. He traveled far and wide for the Society, both at home and abroad, represented his brothers in court cases and was extremely generous in a material way as well. He certainly had Jehovah’s blessing, as was evident, on the one hand, by his zeal, love for Jehovah and his joy, and, on the other hand, by the fruitfulness of his labors.
He had the blessing of ‘casting his bread upon the waters and seeing it return to him after many days’ in the form of the love of the brothers whom he had assisted to come to a knowledge of the truth and in other ways. (Eccl. 11:1, 2) Like the apostle Paul, he could point to fellow Christians as his letters of recommendation. And though he is missed by his faithful associates, they rejoice to know that to him also the inspired words recorded by the apostle John apply: “Happy are the dead who die in union with the Lord from this time onward. Yes, says the spirit, let them rest from their labors, for the things they did go right with them.”—Rev. 14:13; 2 Cor. 3:1-3.