Amid cancer, longtime supporter of Camanche parish leaned on faith

At his home in Camanche, Tim Sachsenmaier holds a photo of himself and three other men looking over land for Church of the Visitation in Camanche in the 1960s. (Photo by Celine Klosterman)

By Celine Klosterman

CAMANCHE — Tim Sachsenmaier dedicated decades of service to the Catholic Church. In the past few years, he and his wife Bev believe, he found his gifts repaid.

The 77-year-old member of Church of the Visitation credits God’s blessing for beating cancer twice since 2007. He had 28 cancerous polyps taken out of his colon in December of that year and later had two feet of colon removed, but needed no chemotherapy. And earlier this month, he learned he’s free of cancer that was discovered on his leg this summer.

Tim said his faith and parish helped him through the trials, after the carpenter and laborer helped the parish for years.

His efforts began in 1963 when, after Mass one Sunday at St. Mary Church in Clinton, a parishioner named Earl Beulow approached him. “He said, ‘I want you to be on the committee to build a new church in Camanche,’” Tim recalled. Slightly incredulous, Tim declined. But Earl persisted — and after he asked again the following Sunday, Tim accepted.


He joined four other men who oversaw the building of Church of the Visitation in the late 1960s. Despite fearing public speaking, he also served as the parish’s first lector. And after no one volunteered to bus students to Clinton for catechism classes before Church of the Visitation lined up its own teachers, Tim stepped up. The job meant months of driving weekly to Clinton to get an athletic bus from St. Mary High School, then driving 15 minutes back to Camanche to pick up students to take to Clinton, then returning the students to Camanche, then returning the bus to Clinton.  But the job needed to be done, he said simply.

In later years, he worked among those who volunteered to build the parish’s rectory, garage and a new wing and classrooms.  He still has a penciled-in journal detailing each of the 1,800 hours he put into the church’s remodeling project beginning in 2004.

Among his most visible contributions, though, are wooden Stations of the Cross lining a driveway around Church of the Visitation. Created in 2001, each sits atop a pole and bears an image of Jesus, a cross and description of the station.

“I just like to do that kind of stuff,” said the retired carman and welder for Chicago & North Western Railroad. “If I see something that needs to be done at the church, I do it.” Other parishioners do the same, Tim said.

But health scares over the past two-and-a-half years sometimes left his future as a volunteer in question. Two years after his colon polyps were removed, Tim was showering when he felt a lump by his right knee. A surgeon removed the growth, which turned out to be an aggressive, quick-moving cancer. Tim then underwent 28 sessions of radiation treatment that left the back of his leg covered in painful blisters.

Throughout the ordeals, he tried to keep a cool head.  But Bev was stressed by worries of what she’d do if left alone. And Tim wondered:  if he didn’t beat cancer, what would he see “on the other side”?

Prayer helped the couple cope. The two often said the rosary with EWTN in the morning, and watched Mass on the Catholic cable TV network when not attending weekday Mass at Church of the Visitation.

“If I miss Mass because I’m sick, my whole week feels mixed up,” Tim said.

Parishioners’ calls, cards and visits boosted the spouses’ spirits, too. “It helped a lot to know that my parish was behind me,” Tim said.

Among those behind him was longtime friend Dick Sartwell, who worked with Tim on Church of the Visitation’s remodeling and hall addition and on other church projects.  Tim’s presence, he said, helped make such work feel “not like a job.”

“He’s got a very strong commitment” to Catholicism, Dick said. “… He’s a pretty darn good support in the parish.”

Perhaps because of Tim’s faith, Dick said, Tim never complained much during his health scares.

Tim said he considers suffering something to “offer up.” If God’s will means pain — or leaving this earth — so be it.  “If my time comes, I’ll take it,” he said. “You’re not the only pebble on the beach.”

He does advise regular checkups, though, and has begun getting yearly CAT scans to help detect problems. But the Sachsenmaiers know the importance of maintaining spiritual health, too.

“Prayer does a lot,” Bev said. “If you have God, you’ve got it all.”

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