Sunday, January 8, 2012


Today the Box and I drove to Robesonia, a small town in Berks County, for a memorial service for a friend, Lester P. Breininger, Jr., who died December 3. Lester was an expert in Pennsylvania German culture, antiques, arts, and language. We knew him mainly as a famous potter, who produced Pennsylvania German-style redware pottery for most of his years, occasionally producing pieces outside that genre.

There was no funeral because, always the teacher, Lester wanted his body to be donated to a medical school where students could learn from it, and perhaps especially about Alzheimer's, the disease that ultimately led to his death.

The memorial service was organized by people from Lester's community at Robesonia. Upon arrival, I received a printed program, then signed the guest book. In the hallway of the immaculately maintained Conrad Weiser Middle School, there were two display cases, both filled with publications, photos, redware, and all sorts of memorabilia.

I was thrilled to see as one of the first items on display (first if you, like me, would start looking in the upper left hand corner of the display) a copy of Pennsylvania Heritage® magazine, open to the interview of Lester I had written. Lester was very pleased with it and loved having his picture on the cover. You can see one of Lester's iconic straw hats on the left.

Lester is shown tending his sheep on this plate from his pottery.

Lester was a devoted member of the Patriotic Order Sons of America. His fellow members turned out in numbers to honor him.

Here is material pertaining to the Order, including two very large pieces of Breininger redware.

In a few minutes, the auditorium was filled, and the program began.

The first speaker was a woman who served as transcriptionist for Lester's publications. During her talk, the cover of Pennsylvania Heritage® was projected on the screen. Lester loved that photo!

Lester, like me, was a graduate of Kutztown State College (now University) and taught biology at Conrad Weiser High School. A recurrent theme from speakers was that Lester did not teach only his subject, but that he taught life and how to live it, full and enriching. Their anecdotes were laced with humor and tales about fun things Lester had led them into. He founded a week-long environmental class for the school, and it is still going today, many years after he retired.

The POSoA conducted a brief ceremony during the program. Many of the speakers were students of Lester when he taught biology at Conrad Weiser School.

A young neighbor whom Lester had befriended spoke, as did Curt, one of the potters who worked for Lester for quite a few years. Under Lester's direction, Curt and his brother made many of the pieces in our personal collection.

Mike, a close friend of Lester, who considered Lester his antique collecting mentor, told lots of stories about Lester on the hunt for antiques he just had to have. One of Lester's paintings, on the screen,  was sold recently at auction for a record-breaking price for the artist.

At the end of the program, Mrs. Breininger spoke briefly and then was greeted by many in attendance. As the crowd departed, some fiddle music that Lester loved was played. Here is a tiny excerpt.

This folk art eagle was carved and presented to Lester by someone in the POSoA. It was placed by the podium. One thing I clearly remember about Lester was the time, when I was press secretary for the Historical and Museum Commission, I was charged with finding Pennsylvania artists and craftspersons who would create ornaments for the White House Christmas tree. I asked Lester to make a piece of pottery. He hesitated at first because he did not like or approve of the then-president. He finally relented and made a beautiful little yellow finch to hang on the tree. Lester and Barbara, like the other artists and their spouses, were invited to Washington to see the tree in the White House (I was not, darn it!), but I do not believe he accepted that invitation. Lester had principles.

Here are some additional items from the displays that will interest Lesterfans®. This one is from Lester and Barbara's wedding day, and a younger Lester appears behind, holding examples of his pottery.

There was a picture of Lester (on the left) during his teaching days -- no beard!

These sashes were worn by the POSoA members during the program.

The program lasted from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., and as I drove home through Berks and Lebanon counties, I enjoyed the end of the day through the trees ahead and behind me a huge full moon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome here.