“I’ve been writing since I was a little kid,” says Viola Kuecker, a retired RN and Laclede Groves’ author in residence. “I started off signing autograph books. We’d pass them around and write in each other’s books. It was fun.” But, one thing led to another, and Viola wound up spending the next 60 years with a pen in her hand.
Over the years, Viola has always used her gift out of a deep desire to share her faith with the world around her. In fact, some of her first major writing gigs were for Lutheran Tract Ministry, where she wrote short inspirational works for use in mission work. “When I was 13, I said I was going to be a missionary in Africa,” she recalls. “That never materialized, but after I wrote these tracts, I got a letter from a man in Africa asking if we could send him some more ‘Good News’. So in a way, I did go to Africa after all!”
Over the years, Viola wrote for various group presentations, a children’s magazine, and the “Dial My Story” feature on St. Louis radio station KFUO. In later years, Viola found herself wanting to tell her and her husband Raymond’s life stories to give their families a small slice of living history. The result? She wound up writing a pair of books. The first, “Wings for Freedom,” recounts Raymond’s experiences during World War II. “He was the pilot of a B-24, and he had some harrowing experiences,” Viola says. “He flew over 30 combat missions over Germany.”
She tells the story of one mission that almost ended in tragedy for his unit. In midflight, the team ended up jettisoning everything in the plane that wasn’t bolted down to keep the plane light enough to finish its return flight over the North Sea. “They made it to the airport, but just barely,” she says. “They were always flying damaged, but he always managed to keep the plane up.”
Writing Raymond’s story gave Viola a better understanding of her husband. “I always knew he was a brave guy,” she says with a smile, “but after he told me his story, I was even more proud of him.” So, when Viola set out to write her own story in a book titled ”Train Up a Child,” she hoped that her children might similarly come to understand her better, as well.
The title of Viola’s autobiography is an old expression she picked up during her childhood growing up in the largely German communities around Frohna, Missouri. “The old German Lutherans had a certain way you had to be,” she explains, “and they always quoted Biblical verses about training a child correctly.” The book tells the story of her family during the 1920s and 1930s, focusing especially on “growing up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, both at home and at school,” and it provides a revealing first-hand account of a fascinating period in local history.
Viola admits that she hasn’t spent as much time writing since moving to Laclede Groves. “I’ve got half a children’s book in my computer, but my activities have changed since I’ve been here, so I haven’t sat down to finish it.” Life at Laclede Groves tends to keep you busy, she says. “There’s always something to do on campus. Even though I’m a writer, I don’t like to just sit in my apartment and do nothing all day. I love being out with people, and there’s plenty of people here. I love it here.”