By Karen Mahoney
Special to your Catholic Herald
MILWAUKEE – Anthony “Tony” Molter can teach others about adversity, commitment, tenacity, faith and ultimately, personal integrity.
To those who worship at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, the 78-year-old is committed to making it the best parish it can be. To the members of the Elks Club, Molter enjoyed his years as president of the organization. To the thousands of Boy Scouts that made their way through St. Margaret Mary Troop 260, he was a dedicated leader who demonstrated heart.
While Molter doesn’t dwell on the condition, it’s hard to escape reality: he is a paraplegic. The disability, however, is a spark in his personality. Adversity has blessed him with the same intangible leadership and durability that earned him respect during his 26 years as senior chief torpedo man in the US Naval Reserves, and in the more than 20 years he served as construction inspector for the City of Milwaukee Bureau of Engineers. From 1982 to 1997, he served as president of the American Federation of Municipal State and County Employees District Council 48.
During the last seven years in that role, he fulfilled his duties by driving all over Milwaukee in a custom designed van with lift and hand controls.
“I negotiated everything from my wheelchair,” he said. “I didn’t allow myself to have a lot of limitations.”
Always high energy and involved in his community, Molter recalled scaling ladders, installing lights, hanging banners and trimming Christmas trees while on the decorating committee at his former parish, St. Margaret Mary.
“I think I have always had a habit of being involved somewhere. My wife Charlotte says that I can’t say no,” Molter said with a laugh.
Molter’s ladder climbing days ended the morning of June 26, 1990 when he suffered a lateral stroke to the spinal column. The realization that he would never walk again was a blow and required readjusting his lifestyle, but, according to Charlotte, he refused to allow his limitations to get him down mentally or physically.
“He just said, ‘Well, I have two options. I can sit in a chair and mope or sit in the chair and do what the chair allows me to do,'” she explained.
Despite his physical limitations, Molter continued with Troop 260, running food drives, Camporees, and serving as the advancement chairperson, who “is the guy who prods the kids to get their merit badges and move on to Eagle Scout,” he explained.
“At the same time I was the commissioner of the Boy Scouts Iron Horse District in the council level,” he said. “I worked at that for many years and then was asked to be district commissioner, which gave me 66 units in our area that I was responsible for.”
After his stroke, the couple moved to a wheelchair accessible home in Greendale and became involved at Our Lady of Lourdes. According to Joe Kallenberger, Our Lady of Lourdes administrative director, Molter has served as raffle chairman and the volunteer coordinator of the annual parish festival, and on a wealth of other committees.
“He’s been active in the building committee and community life commission, which is an oversight group and entails visioning of community events,” said Kallenberger. “Tony is a very energetic person in terms of his dedication to the community. He wants to see things happen and go well. He’s very conscientious and makes sure that things are done right; he’s very thorough.”
Although the group reaches out to members of other parishes, Kallenberger said that Molter’s involvement as vice president of the Our Lady of Lourdes-based Over 50 group is another activity that keeps him active.
“He has such courage – nothing gets him down or has ever gotten in his way, and it is apparent the way he lives his life,” Kallenberger said. “He has done numerous things, and is more involved than most. For most people, if they are involved in one committee, it is a big thing, but he has a passion about being here.”
As president of the Over 50 group, long time friend Ray Reiman considers Molter an exemplary example of faith and courage.
“He is the best vice president I’ve ever had in any organization,” Reiman said, adding, “Both he and Charlotte always are doing whatever it is that needs to be done and never boast of what they are doing. They are never in the limelight.”
Since December, the couple’s involvement in activities has come to a halt as Molter fights a serious skin infection. Hospitalized, he faces surgery to repair the infected area. While frustrated and often angry at his situation, glimmers of his strength shine through the pain.
“I am a lifelong Catholic raised in the Baltimore Catechism,” he said. “There are many days I get ticked off and times when I think ‘Well, the heck with it all.’ Then again, you start thinking positive, that the moping won’t help you. I pray at night when I turn the TV off and spend time with God until I drift off. I especially ask God what he has in store for me next. Then I think of the (reflection) where there are two footsteps in the sand and then only one. I think about that quite often.”
While the Molters admit that their faith has been stretched lately, they continue draw on the faith that they know, and they draw on strength from their five children. Married 53 years, they are the parents of Renelle Staus, Judith Mattice, Brenda Appel, Nancy Zirbes and Keith Molter. The couple has 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“The kids have been wonderful,” Molter said. “We have the best kids in the world. If they can’t make it here, I get a call. They do whatever they can.”
Traveling back and forth to the hospital each day is wearing on Charlotte, but she relies on her parish friends and her faith in God to give her strength.
“I pray a lot and pray for the wisdom to make the right decisions for him and for me,” she said. “When I go to church something always happens to boost me up and I realize I am not alone. There is so much sadness and heartache, but the people are warm and comforting … so much so, that it often sends me to tears.”