news   |   student life

Hearing home

Freshman Elizabeth Ketzner connects with her grandpa through file in IU Archives



DSC_5015

Freshman Elizabeth Ketzner and her father, Brian Ketzner, laugh while listening to a recording of Elizabeth's grandfather in Wells Library on Oct. 3. Because her grandfather died when Elizabeth was a baby, she had no memory of what he sounded like. Lydia Gerike Buy Photos

Freshman Elizabeth Ketzner and her father, Brian Ketzner, leaned over her Hewlett-Packard laptop on Oct. 3 at small table on the second floor of Wells Library's east tower.

With the help of a 1998 interview from the IU Archives, Elizabeth was about to hear the voice of her grandfather for the first time in almost 18 years. 

The file didn’t play when she first clicked on it. 

Elizabeth was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to hear it. Or that her dad had driven to campus for nothing. Or that it wouldn’t be what she imagined.

“Maybe it takes a while,” she said.

Joe Ketzner died just seven months after Elizabeth was born, so even though he had held her and talked with her as a baby, she didn’t remember what he sounded like. She imagined a deep voice, fit for the patriarch her family had always described, but she couldn’t be sure.

Even in death, he is celebrated by the Ketzner family.

They go to mass for him every year on his birthday and threw a big party when he would have turned 100 this past spring, but Elizabeth felt she was missing a connection with her grandpa that brought the rest of the family together. 

“He’s always been an idea,” she said. 

*** 

IU President Michael McRobbie recognized the importance of University collections in his State of the University address Tuesday, Oct. 10. He said he wanted to expand the preservation efforts to protect the importance of their materials. 

As much as they protect academia and history, these collections also help people like Elizabeth make personal connections to their school. 

Elizabeth said having the interview reminded her of the University’s new slogan: “IU is home.”

“I literally founda part of my home, and it’s crazy,” she said.

A cousin learned about the interview a few days earlier when looking into family history, Elizabeth said. Because the cousin goes to Purdue, she couldn’t access the file because it was in the IU Archives, so she asked Elizabeth to do it instead. 

That night, Elizabeth called her dad and told him the news. Later, in a series of texts with her family, he decided he’d come up to be with he when she listened to it so that he could hear his father again.

Elizabeth went to the Archives on the fourth floor of Wells to ask about the file the next day, she said. A few hours and emails later, she had the files in her online Box account under a project called “Dubois County: A Home for God’s People.”

She set a plan for Brian to drive to IU and be there after her Spanish class let out at 7:40 p.m.

Although she didn’t quite know what to expect, she knew there was one characteristic of his voice that she wouldn’t hear: the letter W.

Joe Ketzner was born in 1917 in Ferdinand, Indiana, and up until the middle of the 20th century, German culture was central to the lives of many Ferdinand families.

Joe said “vash line” instead of wash line, and no one could ever tell if he was talking about the Vaal or Wahl family — both pronounced with an “all” sound — in town, Elizabeth said.

Brian said that when his father was born, most families in the community only spoke German at home, and the Ketzners were no exception.

Most people Joe’s age didn’t learn English until they went to school. Although he could speak English fluently, his accent meant he always kept a small part of his heritage with him.

Later, German was forbidden in the classroom because of anti-German sentiments, but children would still sneak around the schoolyard and speak it where they thought they couldn’t be heard.

For the Keztner family, the tradition of speaking German around the house stopped after Joe’s generation. Elizabeth’s grandma, Theresa, was from Kentucky and didn’t speak German, so Joe just didn’t teach the language to any of their seven children. 

The practice of speaking German everywhere in Ferdinand began to die out in the 1950s in the community.

Some of them, like Brian, learned German in high school, but the formal language didn’t quite translate to the more casual dialect spoken by their father. 

Brian said his father was never aggressive with him or his siblings, but his parental dominance still scared them a bit when they were little. 

Although by the time Brian, the fifth of the seven, grew up, he thought his father may have grown kinder. 

Joe primarily worked on the family farm, which has now been in operation for 153 years. The chickens and cattle weren’t bringing in enough money, so he took a second job as a nightwatchman to support his kids and all their activities.

“I don’t know if he changed, or maybe we did,” Brian said.

***

Elizabeth stood outside the Jordan Parking Garage after class.

She was excited to see her dad and bounded from Sycamore Hall to be at the garage when he got to campus.

As she waited for her father to arrive, she remembered another one of her favorite stories about her grandparents. She wasn’t sure on the details and stumbled over her words in an attempt to make sure they were the right ones.

Then her luck hit. Her father turned the corner on the lower flight of stairs leading him to the ground level of the Jordan Parking Garage. It was a little after 7:45 p.m., the time he wanted to be there, but he felt like he had been stopped at every red light on the hour-and-fifteen-minute journey to Bloomington from Jasper, Indiana.

Elizabeth’s grin grew wider, but there was no time for hellos just yet. First, she needed the facts.

“Tell the story of how Grandma and Grandpa met,” Elizabeth said.

***

Joe and Theresa Ketzner were married in 1953, when he was 36 and she was 19.

Joe noticed his bride-to-be while bartending a wedding for Theresa’s brother and knew then he wanted to date her.

They lived 100 miles apart, she in Henryville and he in Ferdinand, but he told her he would come see her sometime.

Theresa didn’t believe him, but Joe meant it.

He made the 100-mile journey, which took about an hour and 45 minutes at the time, every Sunday for 14 months and only missed two visits.

Once, 18 inches of snow blocked the route to Henryville, forcing him to stay in Ferdinand. Another time, a blown tire kept him away from his date.


For Elizabeth, these were important details. Her grandfather had never canceled just because he didn’t want to make the trip.

“She used to tell him to find a girl closer to home, but he wouldn’t,” Elizabeth said.

***

Elizabeth and Brian waited at their small table in Wells for 16 seconds after Elizabeth pressed play.

It felt longer.

Then an interviewer asked for the Ketzner family’s background, and a baritone voice with a soft, breathy German accent replied.

“Vell I don’t know vhy they ended up here,” Joe Ketzner began.

Elizabeth gasped and raised her hand to mouth. Tears welled up in her eyes.

The words were muffled through her fingers as she leaned back in her seat, but her amazement could still be heard.

“Oh, it’s him,” she said.

Next to her, Brian spoke softly.

“That’s him,” he said.

The audio was quiet, and the two leaned in close to listen to all 31 minutes and 48 seconds of tape one, side one. Elizabeth would sometimes ask a question or Brian would add to a story, but they tried their best to catch every word. When it was over, they decided to hold the two other clips for a later listen with their family.

Elizabeth said she was amazed that the tape had been in the Archives for so long. 

“It’s been here all this time,” Elizabeth said. 

Brian had heard about it at one point, but it had just been forgotten over the years, he said. Between work and taking care of his three children, he let it sit forgotten in the Archives until his niece discovered it. 

Even with the initial fear of driving over an hour to find out the tape didn’t work, the trip to finally hear it was worth it, Brian said.

“I’d’ve driven farther to hear his laugh again one more time,” he said.

That laugh, and the voice that went with it, wasn’t as deep as Elizabeth had imagined it, she told her father. She was also surprised about how accurate her grandma's impressions of him are.

But in the end, the meaning mattered more than the sound itself.

“It’s good to finally have something to place with the face,” Elizabeth said.

Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.

More in News



Comments powered by Disqus