Retired minister reflects on Lent, ALS (w/video)
Jennifer Lee Preyss
March 5, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated March 4, 2014 at 9:05 p.m.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
It's a phrase the Rev. Bill Hassel has heard many times, preaching behind Lutheran church lecterns during Lent.
But it's something he considers more broadly these days, especially on Ash Wednesday, when he reflects on the death of Jesus - and his own.
Hassel is retired from preaching. He stepped down seven years ago when he was diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
He wasn't supposed to live seven years past his diagnosis.
Two years ago, he said, he was supposed to be dust.
"The experts are puzzled, too," he wrote during an interview on Facebook. The ALS has stolen his ability to speak, and much of Hassel's communication is done through digital means. "Twenty percent do make it past five years and only 10 percent make it past 10 years ... the doctor says my attitude is what's helping me."
Hassel was in high spirits Wednesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, where he gathered with the congregation at noon to receive ashes and observe the beginning of Lent.
His friend and longtime Lutheran pastor The Rev. Barney Matocha, spent time with Hassel after the services, reminiscing about old times in the ministry before Hassel's diagnosis.
"He said he kept dropping things, and (he made a joke that) he was getting clumsier every day," Matocha said. "We had no idea" that he had ALS.
When Hassel realized he couldn't stop the progression of the illness, he took on the role of raising money for research for a cure.
On Sunday, Hassel's fifth annual ALS Stroll Roll "n" Run will once again raise money to accomplish such a task.
Last year, the event raised more than $30,000 for ALS TDI, the nation's leading nonprofit for biotechnology research for a cure for ALS.
"Well, I didn't have a goal when this started five years ago. I wasn't supposed to live long, and we just wanted to do something," he wrote. "And look at all the people from everywhere who pitched in to help. Now, it's been five years ... and we have a goal of doing it again and again until we quit."
Hassel said he wants to at least match the $30,000 goal from last year Sunday.
Seven Crossroads residents are fighting ALS, and about 35,000 more around the globe.
There is no cure for ALS, and some Crossroads residents in recent years have lost their fight to the illness.
"I have wondered, 'Why me?' and then, 'Why not me?' I wouldn't want any, even my worst enemy, to have it. And I have to believe, or have come to believe, that God is not done with me yet," he said.
Hassel invites the community to participate in the 5K race Sunday - either walking, running or rolling in a wheelchair - or standing on the sidelines and cheering for the racers.
In addition to the race, there is a silent auction, $5 lunches and a drawing for prizes.
It's a great way to spend the first Sunday of Lent, he said.
"I love life. I love people. However, I'm not afraid of death either. So, while I'm here, I'll make the best of it," he said. "I have to do my best, give it my all and help others when, where and however I can."