Charles Allen Fitzgerald was born in Franklin, PA on a cold and exceptionally snowy Sunday morning, November 19, 1950. He was born to Emagene (Mertz) and Howard Fitzgerald and he was their firstborn.
Franklin was a perfect first home for all involved. Just up the road, in Stoneboro and Sandy Lake, were the most important people in the new family's life. Grandma and Grandpa Mertz were in Stoneboro and Uncle Carson and Aunt Barbara were in Sandy Lake. Aunt Marjorie Mertz, a really fancy and lively blond with the latest model finned car, was always around, too. For years, the Great Stoneboro Fair framed a happy family reunion that included nights of bingo, small talk on the huge front porch of Grandma's house and the noise of engines switching cars on the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks nearby at the Stoneboro Station. Howard worked in Franklin as a design engineer at the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company. Their first home was a small rental near the courthouse in Franklin with the Methodist Church in the backyard. Charles was baptized there at Easter in 1951. The Fitzgerald part of the family was not far away either. The Rev. Howard Fitzgerald and family were still serving churches in central Pennsylvania and that kept those good people close, as well.
In time, the Fitzgeralds moved to State College where Howard began working for the Ordinance Research Lab and Jean held jobs at Penn State.
Charles had 3 brothers, William, Richard and Mike and his sister Ann. William was stillborn in 1962 and Mike and Ann would die of juvenile diabetes at 51 and 35 respectively. Richard (Carol) survives and lives in the family home.
On June 25, 1972 in Rockdale, Maryland (during Hurricane Agnes, of course) Charles and Jill Lynn Grahl were united in marriage at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. They had formed a deep friendship at the Silver Bay Association on Lake George in New York while working for the national YMCA.
As Jill finished her degree in secondary art education at the University of Maryland, Charles began his degree work for a Master of Divinity at the Wesley Theological Seminary of the United Methodist Church in Washington DC. Charles had served his first church, at Fairbrook near State College, when he was 20 years old and a senior at Penn State. He had graduated from State High in 1968.
After graduation from their respective schools, their first home and parish was in Dudley, Pennsylvania. From that home, they served the Hopewell and Dudley United Methodist Churches from 1974-1977.
Other Pennsylvania churches along the journey included: The Fairbrook-Spruce Creek UMC, The Williamsburg-Cove Forge UMC, The United Methodist Church of St. Thomas near Chambersburg, Zion UMC in York, the Wesley UMC in Tyrone and, finally, after a change in denominational assignment, St. Peter's United Church of Christ in State College for 12 years.
In all these congregations, rookie mistakes were made and hard lessons learned. Folks, in general, were generous and kind with the new minister and lasting friendships were formed. There were weddings and baptisms and funerals. There were wonderful children and families. There were older adults full of history, commitment and grace without which any of the churches could not have survived. Rural Pennsylvania church people are, by and large, wonderful and caring people. Being pastor to such folks is always a challenge and sometimes, despite the best intentions, things can get interesting between pastor and people and feelings are hurt. Charles learned quickly what the author of the hymn Amazing Grace knew: I am a great sinner but Christ is a great Savior.
Through it all, we were a family. Daughters Kristen (Bill) and Emily (Andrew) were constant sources of joy when the day was done. Jill was art teacher, nursery attendant, librarian, assistant pastor, Vacation Bible School organizer, gardener, bulletin folder, visitor to church members and so, so much more. Many church people loved Jill as much if not more than they loved the pastor. Pastor and Jill were co-pastors in every sense of the word and memories of our times together in churches are worth more than gold.
Sadly and unexpectedly, lung cancer brought a swift and surprising end to it all beginning in January of 2017. A lifelong fitness walker (34 years of walking 3-5 miles most days) and a person very aware of what a healthy life should look like (because he learned so much from visiting in hospitals), the final illness was a cruel surprise with no clear cause at all. It just happened. As so many people know, it becomes a disease that robs people of hopes and dreams.
The life of a pastor is an especially interesting and precious one. A sacred life. An inner life. A gift. A blessing. Remembered now are all those little heads held for baptism and how, over the years, those children would come forward to say: "You baptized me." Remembered now are all those weddings where I was just feet away from people giving their lives to each other…nervous, perfumed, handsome people taking every word seriously. Remembered now are beautiful Easter mornings and spectacular Christmas Eve services. Remembered now are people, rich and poor, plain and complex, lovable and grumpy who made up the fabric of the church in all its splendor and dust. Christ opened so many doors to places I never dreamed I would see.
On one beautiful Christmas Eve well remembered, all the people had left the huge sanctuary of the Wesley Church. In the darkness of the sanctuary, it was noticed that no one had extinguished the Christ Candle at the front of the church (we had shared in a baptism and the candle was at the font). In the darkness of the huge sanctuary, that one flame lit the whole church. As Pastor blew the candle out, the smell of the smoke mingled with the smells of the people just there (their fragrances, their clothes, their Christmas dinners, their hairspray) and the distinct smell of cup and bread from communion. There, in the church, a light shining in the dark just as a star lit up a sad and lost world when God came to Earth. There is nothing like a quiet church sanctuary on Christmas Eve. It is to behold the holiness of God.
Pastor Fitzgerald served the church in many ways. He was a longtime member of United Methodist Communications and often photographed and printed in a home darkroom all the photographs used in local denominational publications. He was an officer in many ministeriums. He served on local Boards of Ministry. He was a Lay Speaker teacher for years. He was an umpire for many softball leagues. He was proudly the tennis coach for the ladies tennis team at Tyrone Area High School for 10 years. Tennis often teaches the best lesson of all: When scoring in tennis, LOVE means nothing. In life, love means everything.
Visitation will be from 6 until 8 p.m., on Thursday, August 3, 2017 at Koch Funeral Home, 2401 S. Atherton Street, State College.
Memorial service will be at 11 a.m., on Friday, August 4, 2017 at the Trinity United Church of Christ, 1001 Church Street, Saxton, with the Reverend Jill Clawson officiating.
Burial will be in Franklinville Cemetery, Huntingdon County.
The family wishes that memorial gifts be shared with the CHIP Program, c/o Saxton Borough 707 9th Street, Saxton, PA 16678. These gifts honor Alan Smith, Mayor of Saxton, and lifelong friend of Pastor and they remember the people of the Broadtop, our first real church community to which we owe so much. Gifts to any of the churches listed above would also be most appropriate and welcome.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome.com.