Val Frey had a wonderful way of reaching our children
It’s a memory I know I will never forget, even though the conversation took place five years ago and lasted just a few minutes.
Considering the fact that it’s not even 9:30 a.m. as I write this, and I have no clue what I had for breakfast or even if I did have breakfast this morning, that’s saying something.
But Val Frey made that kind of impression on me that Wednesday evening at Trinity Lutheran Church.
“Mr. Fenske, we need to talk,” she said as I walked into the church to pick up the boys from confirmation class.
Uh-oh, I thought, it’s never a good sign when the word “mister” is the first one in a greeting — at least when my boys are involved.
And when Val wanted to go into a separate room, my suspicions were confirmed.
“I take it this isn’t about me keeping Kevin late the other night because we were trying to fix the Vikings,” I said, knowing that she had called the Trinity Lutheran Church office a couple of times during my meeting with her husband, the longtime pastor at the New Hampton church.
“Oh, if it was about that, I’d thank you,” she said with a laugh.
It turned out that Noah, then a spunky not-so-little seventh-grader had been running around the church before confirmation classes that night, and Val thought maybe a friendly reminder that it kind of was a distraction for choir members to see a seventh-grader lumbering around the church while they were practicing.
“And one more thing,” Val said, “Noah’s a little social isn’t he?”
That, to this day, remains an understatement.
“I love that about him, but every now and then, he needs a reminder that other people get to talk, too,” Val said, “but I don’t want you to be too hard on him. He’s a great kid who just needs to be pointed in the right direction every now and then. That personality, though, that’s going to take him far in life so be gentle.”
Fast forward to last fall.
Noah, Josh and I had attended a service at Trinity, and as we left the sanctuary, “PK” and I got into a deep discussion about the Vikings, imagine that. The boys “went on ahead” without me, and a few minutes later, I caught up with Josh but Noah was nowhere to be found.
“You go that way and I’ll go this way,” I said to Josh, and the search began.
I finally spied him in a room, and when I walked through the door, there was Noah and Val Frey deep in discussion. I wheeled around and walked away, hoping to God that my next conversation with Val wouldn’t begin with a “Mr. Fenske.”
It didn’t. As they walked out of the room, she smiled, knowing I was worried what was coming next.
“You did well with that not-so-little guy,” she said. “He’s going to go places.”
It turned out that Val had heard through the grapevine that Noah was seriously considering a career in teaching, and on that Sunday morning, she made her pitch. Be an elementary teacher, she said, because you have a gift.
“She gave me a little grief about that running-around-the-church thing,” Noah said as we walked home, “but it was really cool to hear a teacher say this is the way I should go. It just meant a lot to me.”
As most of you know, Val Frey passed away on Friday. She was 57, which is way too young to lose someone like this.
I won’t pretend that I knew Val as well as I know Kevin, and I should probably know Kevin better (our church attendance is sporadic and even that might be overdoing it), but I know this: Val made a huge difference in hundreds — probably thousands — of kids’ lives.
I saw that firsthand on social media on Friday night and Saturday, and I’m sure I’ll see that tonight [Tuesday] at her visitation and tomorrow at her funeral.
She could hand out grief with the best of them, but she had a knack for reaching all kinds of kids. My friends who taught at Denver Elementary School have told me over the years that there were very few teachers like Val, that she was one of the best of the best, and my friends at Trinity will say the same thing.
Almost four years ago, my family went through the worst days of our lives after our step-daughter and step-sister died. I won’t lie, I don’t have very many “good” memories from those days, but our pastor, “PK,” and his wife comforted us like few could have.
I wish I could do the same thing for Kevin, Josh, Andrew and Emma Frey — not to mention the folks in Denver and at Trinity — today and tomorrow and the days that will follow.
I’m not sure I can.
What I do know is Val Frey made a difference in so many people’s lives, especially kids. And today and tomorrow and the days that will follow, that is what I will remember. And I hope you do, too.