Unselfish hearts

Temple couple spreads love through volunteering

While some people decorate their homes with the latest trends, Larry and Beverly Luedke adorn their home with art, sculpture, tapestry, rugs and artifacts that have a special meaning for them. Much of their collection is from their worldwide journeys volunteering with Rotary and Altrusa International and each item has its own story.

Beverly calls the sitting room off the kitchen area in their home that overlooks Belton Lake the international room. Memorabilia from their many trips are displayed in individual vignettes, some domestic, others international, in compartmented shelves of the built-in entertainment wall unit.

The Luedkes global volunteer opportunities have taken them to places most people just read about, or see on TV. With Rotary International they traveled to Cancun, Mexico, in 2009 and Lima, Peru, in 2012, where they helped to distribute more than 800 wheelchairs, collectively, to disabled children and adults. When they traveled New Delhi and Ghazihabad, India, in 2011, Beverly said they were “part of a 10-day trip for National Immunization Day, in which 1.5 million doses of oral polio vaccine was given to citizens living in the slums and city dump.”

 Traveling with Altrusa International, they visited Toledo, Spain, “to investigate a possible project to improve the lives of young adults with Down’s Syndrome.” In 2014-15, Beverly led an Altrusan project locally to raise funds to provide solar powered lighting in Restoration Gateway orphanage library and huts in Uganda.

But of all the journeys they’ve taken, the two that impacted the Luedkes the most were their trips to New Delhi and Lima.

“I never saw poverty like we saw in India,” said Beverly Luedke, 2016-17 president of Rotary Temple-South. “It stuck in my heart. It made me want to do more service. Until you see it, you can’t understand it.”

Beverly said serving internationally, especially the India experience “makes you appreciate the country you live in. It’s not just about you — it’s about others.”

When the couple traveled to Peru the following year to help distribute wheelchairs to disabled adults and children, Beverly said she was deeply affected by the people and culture of Peru. She brought home a bigger-than-life portrait of a Peruvian man wearing a traditional hat and robe that hangs on the wall at the top of the stairs in their two-story home. She said it spoke to her when she viewed it, as it tells the story of the man’s life, readable in the lines on his face.

A life of service

Volunteering has been a life-long commitment for the Luedkes, who have been married for 39 years and raised two children: the late Matt, and daughter, Lauren, a speech pathologist who lives and works in Pflugerville.

When they are not globetrotting to help others, they are at home in Temple where they donate their time to numerous organizations including Helping Hands of Belton, the Un-Included Club, Feed My Sheep, the United Way, Altrusa and Rotary.

“Beverly and Larry are two of the most giving people I know,” said Mary Beth Kauk, director of marketing and volunteerism for the United Way of Central Texas. “Any time someone has a need, they are one of the first ones to step up in the community to help. They are a very inspiring couple and they set the bar high for volunteerism.”

“People want to serve,” Beverly said. “They just don’t know how to do it.”

Beverly said sometimes she does have to nudge Larry out of his comfort zone to help out.

“It doesn’t take much,” he said. “My comfort zone is sitting on the back porch, reading. When she says, ‘We are going to do something,’ I say, ‘OK, let’s go.’”

“He doesn’t fuss,” Beverly said, smiling. “If he fusses, I don’t listen.”

“Sometimes I go kicking and screaming,” Larry responded, grinning.

Larry is a retired pharmacist who now owns a pharmaceutical benefits managing company, and Beverly is a retired physical therapist. They began volunteering during the early years of their marriage in Rosebud, Texas, where they donated time at their children’s school, coaching sports teams, and contributing to community needs.

Larry served as a Rosebud city councilman and worked for the Rosebud Hospital until he opened the Rosebud Pharmacy in 1988. He also served as a volunteer firefighter for more than 20 years, including assistant fire chief for four years.

Beverly served as a volunteer emergency care attendant for the city of Rosebud, riding in the back of the ambulance stabilizing patients. “I did everything but start an IV,” she said.

She often found herself working the same collision scenes with her husband.

Beginning a life together

Sometimes people seem to be born to meet and be together forever. Their upbringing, values, interests and academic studies are similar, but sometimes different. Yet, somehow they blend into one and complement each other.

The Luedkes grew up in the same part of Central Texas: Beverly is from Rosebud and Larry is from Marlin. They were teenagers when they met at church where each of them was playing on a youth group volleyball team from their respective towns. They took an immediate liking to each other.

“I was attracted to his intellect and athleticism,” Beverly said, smiling.

“I knew I wanted to have a life mate from the time I was 15,” Larry said. “I wanted a life partner who was Christian Lutheran and who shared the same values.”

Because Larry was too young to drive, on their first date his parents drove the duo to Concordia College in Austin to see “The Sound of Music” on stage. That first date was followed by many typical teenage dating rituals: going to a movie, hanging out with friends, playing “putt putt,” or grabbing a taco at their local fast-food restaurant.

During their college years, the couple faced a long-distance relationship. While Beverly attended Baylor University, the University of Texas Austin and UT Health Science Center in Dallas, graduating with a certificate in physical therapy, Larry attended the University of Texas, graduating with honors from the UT School of Pharmacy.

But the distance that separated them didn’t affect their ties to one another. In an era of no computers, emails, Skype or cellphones, they kept in touch by writing letters to each other every day. “We still have most of them,” Larry said.

Community service came natural for this service-oriented duo. Once the children started to arrive Beverly switched gears and became active with her children’s school activities. When the children left the nest, Beverly refocused her energy on her Physical Therapy career and practiced for 23 years at the Rosebud Physical Therapy clinic. In total, she worked as a PT for 35 years until retirement four years ago.

No empty nest syndrome

Matt Luedke was a 1999 graduate of Rosebud-Lott High School, and a junior at the University of Texas majoring in economics when he died in a tragic accident along with two friends in 2001.

“After Matt died, we searched for a year. When a life is cut short …,” she said, her eyes glistening with tears of remembrance for her son, her voice trailing. “God chose us to be a light for someone else, a light for whomever.”

To fulfill that legacy, they decided to give to others in memory of their son. “That year we named a scholarship in his honor at Rosebud-Lott High School,” Beverly said. “We also wanted to do something at UT and we were asked to name the (Iron) Spike of the Year in Matt’s honor.”

The Luedkes established the Matthew Luedke Citizenship Award, a $500 scholarship awarded each fall/spring semester to a deserving Spike.

The Iron Spikes is an all-men service organization at UT. Founded in 1994, its “core values focus on community service and promoting spirit for The University of Texas’ baseball team.” (ironspikes.org).

“The Spikes do a fundraiser for Special Olympics and volunteer in the community. Matt would call Bingo at a local retirement home. Matt was an old man in a young body,” Beverly said, tears forming in her eyes as she spoke of her son.

The Luedke’s didn’t have an empty nest for long. In 2002, the year after Matt’s death, the Spikes began visiting the Luedkes at their home in Rosebud.

“The UT Kids would come to our house and camp out, hang out, spend the night, sleep outside,” she said. Fifteen years after their first visit, the UT kids still come out to their home in Temple every semester for Sunday lunch, to hang out, swim and for those who can, play the grand piano in her living room.

“They love to see photos of Matt,” she said. “We lost Matt, and gained 100 Iron Spikes. Kids who didn’t even know Matt come out and make a night of it. Matt was the glue.”

The Iron Spikes aren’t the only group that frequents the Luedke home. Four years ago when ASTRA, (Ability Service Training Responsibility Achievement), a branch of Altrusa and a co-ed service organization at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor was established, they were invited to come to the Luedke home.

“ASTRA kids have been coming here for their entire existence,” said Beverly, District Nine Leadership Committee 2015-17, Chair Altrusa International of Temple, Inc.

“Kids will always be invited. It makes me happy to have the house full of kids. This is their home away from home.”

Catherine Hosman is editor of Tex Appeal Magazine. Contact her at editor@texappealmag.com or 254-501-7511.