Christian 07

Walter Eugene Ziegenhals

December 30, 1928 ~ June 20, 2022 (age 93)


Rev. Dr. Walter Eugene Ziegenhals was born on December 30, 1928, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to German immigrant parents Walter and Hilde Ziegenhals.  He grew up in Cincinnati, where he had a paper route, enjoyed the company of his sister Mary, and attended Walnut Hills High School. He received a B.A.  from Williams College in 1951 and a B.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1954, where he met the love of his life, Harriet Louise Ilse (1925-2016). He served as a navy chaplain on two tours, between which he married Harriet and began their 61-year life together.

Walter was an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.  In a life of devotion to the church in urban settings as well as to the poor and unhoused, Walter was a member of the Inner-City Protestant Church in Cleveland, Ohio; pastor of St. Paul’s Community Church in Cleveland; and minister of Metropolitan Mission (UCC) of Cleveland.  

After moving to Chicago, Walter founded and directed the Churches-in-Transition Project in cooperation with the Community Renewal Society in Chicago, Illinois.  He received a D. Min. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1977, and authored the book Urban Churches in Transition (Pilgrim Press, 1978), publication of which was made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.  He also served as the Director of Development for the Community Renewal Society. 

After his retirement in 1990, Walter was involved in creating and sustaining Interfaith House, a respite center in Chicago for ill and injured unhoused men and women. 

During his years in Chicago, Walter was a member of First United Church of Oak Park, where he participated in a peaceful protest against the Iraqi War every Friday evening. Walter stood on the corner with others from the church in a peace vigil that took place winter and summer, rain or shine.  Each week, for years, Walter wrote a reflection on peace that he read aloud to the group gathered at the vigil.  He continued to write and send these reflections to the group after he moved to Kentucky and then North Carolina.  

While in Chicago, Walter was a part of the broader family of the Community Renewal Chorus, a group that Harriet founded and directed.  Harriet said she married Walter because he could sing both tenor and bass!  This choir and its global travel tours were an important part of Walter’s years in Chicago.  

Over a period of 60 years, Walter loved spending summer months in the mountains of New Hampshire, where he and Harriet built a summer house, enjoyed a community of friends, and hiked, swam, and taught their six grandchildren to love the White Mountains.  One of Walter’s legacies is the rock walls he spent hours building on the property. 

In 2007, Walter and his wife Harriet moved to Kentucky to be with Gretchen and her family, where they enjoyed Faith Baptist Church and Sunday School, the local gym, book groups and their grandchildren’s band concerts and cross country meets. They moved to North Carolina in 2009, where they settled into Twin Lakes Community in Burlington.

At TLC, Walter was active in the Twin Lakes choir, a local peace group, the community garden, and he delivered (once again) the newspaper to residents on his circle. He loved swimming in the pool, working out at the gym, taking walks around the lake, and saying hello and joking with staff and residents.

Walter is celebrated by many friends and family including his son Timothy and his daughter Gretchen; his grandchildren Emily, Thais, Anna, Iela, Benjamin, and Luke; his daughter-in-law Rama; his son-in-law Norman; his three grandson-in-laws; and his many nieces and nephews.   

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