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An Author Remembers

Before Dick Cown passed away in February 2015, he shared with us how he researched and wrote “Papa Raker’s Dream,” a history of Good Shepherd’s first 80 years that was published in 1988. We thought many of you would enjoy knowing more in Dick’s own words.

I came with some personal assets: My dad was a Lutheran preacher and a 1928 Muhlenberg grad. I became a member of the Muhlenberg Class of 1953. I started at The Call (newspaper) in 1954 in an era when Lutheran groups were merging with other Lutherans, and the Evangelical and Reformed was merging with the Congregational Christians. Both the Lutherans and the E&R had large populations in The Call’s area. Knowing I was a preacher’s kid, my bosses sent me to cover their conventions. That led to other stories on churches.

I did a Remembering column on Connie Raker and that led Good Shepherd people to think of me to write a book on Good Shepherd’s history. Lona Farr, then development director at Good Shepherd, approached me. They wanted a book covering Good Shepherd’s first 80 years (1908-88) and they wanted Connie Raker to be very much a part of the story. They reasoned (correctly) that Connie wouldn’t live to Good Shepherd’s 100th anniversary.*

Regarding the research, first, I read Sweet Charity (magazine) going back to its start in 1908 and took notes. Many copies came from Good Shepherd itself, some from the Lutheran Seminary in  Philadelphia, some from people who grew up in Good Shepherd. If I lacked an issue, Connie Raker had all the copies in bound volumes in his office. They did not go out of the office, but I could come in and read them and take notes.

There were also some far-from-complete Good Shepherd board minutes. I interviewed some local people who grew up in Good Shepherd, a woman who volunteered there every week for years, Connie Raker at length, Dale Sandstrom who was Connie’s successor, Carl Odhner and several others in key spots.

I remember Randy Kulp, the guy who came in for months to The Call library to read microfilm of both The Call and the Chronicle & News and take handwritten notes of stories he felt important. Randy grew up across the street from Good Shepherd. Good Shepherd kids were his playmates. Randy made a note of every Good Shepherd story — going back to Papa and Mama Raker’s wedding and their years at the Lutheran Home at Topton before they came to Allentown. I took Randy’s notes and lifted every Raker/Good Shepherd story from the microfilm, giving me the local press coverage of Good Shepherd across its 80 years and even some years earlier. What a miracle it was that Randy did this, starting long before I was asked to write the book.

Most of the time, I wrote early in  the morning, about 300 words, before breakfast and my shift at The Call. Papa Raker made a lot of it easy because he was a great story-teller of Good Shepherd lore on the pages of Sweet Charity. When the book was published, Connie Raker’s wife Grace phoned saying she had stayed up much the night to read it. “You’re a hero, do you know it?” she said.

Connie Raker said he didn’t believe that someone who wasn’t a part of the place could capture the spirit of Good Shepherd. “I’ll always be indebted to you,” Connie said. And he sent me a letter saying, “Not many have the joy of knowing what they have done will live after them”

Twenty-five years later, the book is still being freshly praised.

• Editor’s Note: Connie Raker passed away in 2002.