Earlier this year, we lost one of our original Bread For All volunteers, Rudy Weigelt. He and his wife Fay were members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church on East Oltorf in southeast Austin, BFA Food Pantry’s first home. At food distributions on Monday evenings, Rudy called out the numbers assigned to neighbors waiting to receive food. Upon hearing their assigned number, neighbors came up to the registration table to have their names entered into BFA’s computer system. Typically seated in a chair next to the computer registration table, Rudy accomplished his task with gusto in the noisy environment. His booming voice cut through the commotion and careened to the back wall of the church’s Fellowship Hall where Fay and other volunteers readied bags of food for neighbors.
As a pastor in the ACL network of congregations, I had the privilege of serving alongside Rudy and others at the food pantry for a number of years. After my appointment in 2018 as Director of Community Development for ACL, I served alongside Rudy at BFA on a weekly basis.
I loved Rudy’s stock greeting – “How you doin’, pastor?” – offered with firm handshake, a gleam in his eyes and one side of his mouth turned upward in a gentle grin.
Charles “Rudy” Weigelt was born in Giddings, Texas in 1938. He worked for Calcasieu Lumber Company for thirty-seven years and served his country as a US Army reservist. He and Fay were blessed with two children and a grandchild; they had eclipsed fifty-six years of marriage at the time of Rudy’s passing in March 2020.
Though his commanding voice echoed off the walls during food pantry distributions, Rudy also practiced the gift of humble hospitability with that same voice at Bread For All. Welcoming others was second nature for Rudy. In one-on-one encounters with neighbors at his perch near the registration table, his voice communicated equality, acceptance, and compassion. These qualities – squarely based upon Rudy’s faith in God as creator of us all – were in mature bloom in the last decade of his life.
At BFA, Rudy practiced what I call “egalitarianism” – the idea that all of us are equals and that no one, whether by birth or assumed status, is more or less deserving than the next person. When BFA was still at Prince of Peace, there came one rare Monday when Rudy was not present. A repeat neighbor that evening exhibited some defensiveness and mistrust as he interacted with others. I thought that I could disarm him a bit with some charm and humor. It completely backfired – my attempts at congeniality actually made things worse for this neighbor. He eventually went on his way with his groceries.
The next month, this same neighbor returned. I had my eye on him as he came in the door and went into the waiting area to look for a seat. Instead of going to an empty seat in the common area, he pulled up a chair right next to Rudy. The two of them spoke together as if they were old friends. Rudy had developed a sense of trust with this neighbor and there was an understanding of shared humanity between the two. I saw them smile and laugh as they visited. I was deeply impressed with Rudy’s ability to interact with this man, who was somehow stricken with difficulty, to create a sense of calm.
Rudy had these kind of conversations with dozens of BFA neighbors.
Branch Neutzler, Rudy’s brother-in-law, also joined in a conversation with Rudy about BFA. From Rudy’s invitation, Branch and his wife Delores decided to volunteer at Bread For All. In turn, Branch and Delores invited their grandson Garrett to volunteer. Sadly, Branch, a member of St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran, one of our ACL-network congregations, passed away two months before Rudy did.
For some five years, Rudy volunteered at BFA as head number caller. In the BFA file box, where distribution documents and records are kept, I named the file used for tracking numbers – pictured – “Rudy’s Number List.” To this day, we’ll have neighbors show up who share remembrances and good stories about Rudy. His legacy at BFA remains.
Thanks be to God for Rudy Weigelt, a BFA original.