Fontanelle pastor honored for 70th ordination anniversary

Bob Kocher discusses missionary work, faith journey


Friends, family and Salem Lutheran Church-goers celebrated a milestone Sunday morning.

Pastor Bob Kocher was recognized for his 70th ordination anniversary at his long-time congregation in Fontanelle.

Former ELCA Nebraska Synod Bishop David deFreese preached during the 9:30 a.m. worship, and Salem Pastor Allison Siburg officiated the service, which also featured a slideshow detailing Kocher’s faith journey.

The 97-year old pastor was also able to celebrate this achievement on his birthday.

Kocher, a military veteran, said he knew he had two possible jobs once he left the service.

My uncle ran a grocery store and he offered me that job,” Kocher said. “I was working at a flower shop… and the owner offered me a job when I got out of the military. But as I was in the military, I decided, no, I’ll go into the parish, so I made that choice.”

Prior to joining the Salem Lutheran congregation, Kocher and his wife, Shirley, were missionaries in Malaysia for four years.

Shirley’s sister and her husband were already over (in Malaysia), and they kept bragging and saying the missionaries that were there were retiring,” Bob said. “Our doctor said, ‘If you stay here, you’ll be a big fish in a little pool, but if you go overseas, you’ll be a little fish in a big pool.’ So, I talked with several people from the national church and decided, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’”

A former classmate and roommate of Bob’s, Alex Walker, was pastor of Salem Lutheran, which led him to the congregation.

We were very close friends, so we decided to try Fontanelle,” he said.

They offered to find a place for us to live that year if we were interested in doing that,” Shirley added. So, he found a farm house and they did a lot of work to get it fixed up. When Bob retired, he wanted 6 acres of land, and we bought 6 acres about a mile from Winslow.”

Bob said he didn’t necessarily think the recognition was needed for his 70-year anniversary.

You’ve just been in the parish that long, and it’s just part of you,” he said. “I’ve had my struggles, but I’ve had a lot of very close relationships with people in the parish. I’ve done a lot of work with counseling on couples wanting to get married, a lot of work with funerals — which are never really comfortable.”

At the anniversary ceremony, Bob thanked his family and friends for celebrating with him.

I believe all of the congregations are communities,” he said. “The church building is filled, and follow them with great stories and a lot of services — it’s remarkable."