BRUNSWICK — Rev. Kenneth Wentzel, 88, died unexpectedly on Feb. 21.
A huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut, Benny Goodman, donkeys, Portland Sea Dogs Baseball and chocolate chip cookies, Wentzel resided in Topsham with his wife of 35 years, Ruth, and their two corgis.
The eldest of three children, he was born in Dayton, Ohio, on Oct. 17, 1923, to Clarence and Julia Wentzel.
After graduating from Elmhurst College in Illinois in 1946 he entered Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis with the goal of completing the three-year Master of Divinity program. In the middle of his studies he was asked by Church World Service to travel to postwar Germany, where he was responsible for coordinating distribution of humanitarian aid in Wiesbaden. During his yearlong stay in Germany he married Constance White.
Wentzel returned to the United States in 1949 and was ordained at St. John’s Evangelical & Reformed Church in Dayton, Ohio. In his 40 years of ministry he presided over four different parishes in Mishawaka, Ind., Rockville, Md., Kingston, R.I., and Arlington, Mass. Wentzel was actively involved in a number of civic and religious organizations committed to ecumenism and human rights and was a passionate advocate for racial equality, participating in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963.
He was also instrumental in starting two hospice organizations in New England after a sabbatical leave as visiting chaplain at St. Christopher’s Hospice in London, a pioneering center in the hospice movement. He later helped to found Hospice Care of Rhode Island in 1979 and Hospice Care Inc. of Arlington, Mass. In 1980, he authored “To Those Who Need it Most, Hospice Means Hope.”
In 1989 he retired as pastor emeritus of Pleasant Street Congregational Church in Arlington, Mass., and moved with Ruth to her home state of Maine where he indulged in his favorite past times of gardening, listening to jazz, reading and reveling in every possible sporting event with family and close friends.
While he continued his pastoral activities on an occasional basis as a guest minister at local churches, his primary focus later in life was volunteerism. He was a regular helper at local area soup kitchens and at the Tedford Homeless Shelter in Brunswick. Up until his death, he was active with Literacy Volunteers of America.
Wentzel was tireless in his public support for peace, tolerance and justice. Among his many awards, his most treasured was The Reinhold Niebuhr Servanthood Award “to honor his outstanding service to humanity,” which he received from Eden Seminary in 1990.
In addition to his wife, Ruth, he is survived by his children, Andrew Wentzel and his wife, Karen Nickell, of Knoxville, Tenn., Stanley Wentzel and his wife, Martha Rothe, of Seattle, Maragaret Wentzel and her husband, Todd Black, of Seattle, Jennifer Doherty and her husband, Dan, of Brunswick and Eliza Nelson and her husband, Alex, of Portland, Ore.; sister Frances Headings of Ft. Wayne, Ind.; brother Paul Wentzel of Cincinnati; and eight grandchildren, Julia, Noah, Forrest, Sophia, Henry, Calvin, Abe and Emil.
A service in celebration of his life will be held at a later date.