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Couple reflects on decades of ministry, community service

'I have lived a very blessed life'

Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 17, 2013 12:31 p.m. CDT
(Anne Hermes/Special to SVM)
Doretta Lathrop (seated) and her husband, Bob, ordained elders at Community of Christ in Sterling, were celebrated for their years of service at their superannuation service and potluck May 26 at the church. With them are granddaughter Ashley Lathrop (left) and daughters Machele Gage and Debra Lathrop. The Lathrops are not retiring from the church, they simply no longer will be on call 24-7.

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Bob R. Lathrop of Rock Falls trails off with a playful smirk, recalling his engagement to Doretta. She gasps – pretending to be offended.

The jokester stole her heart 58 years ago; and they have shared many laughs and memories throughout decades of marriage and ministry.

They are both ordained elders at Community of Christ in Sterling. Doretta, 74, has supported every community service project imaginable.

Members of their small congregation and community showed appreciation at the Lathrops’ superannuation service and potluck May 26 at the church in Sterling.

Bob, a farm boy, met his bride-to-be in 1955 at church.

“She was a talented and caring person,” the 78-year-old said.

His good looks, deep voice, and strong values won over Doretta, and they married in 1956.

Combined, the Lathrops have served 74 years in their denomination, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Both felt called to ministry.

Bob was ordained a priest in 1966. Doretta, a former church secretary, joined him in 1984 after women were allowed in the priesthood. Priests counsel others and “evoke the ministering of angels,” Doretta said.

“The priests can – down to essentials – marry, bury and baptize, and not necessarily in that order.”

Bob was ordained an elder in 1968 and Doretta in 2004. Elders bless babies, confirm believers after baptism, and lay hands on people.

The Lathrops were on call 24 hours a day to pray with people and visit the sick, and they never made a dime. The church is all-volunteer.

“We have to die to cash in on the retirement plan,” Bob joked.

Bob worked at Northwestern Steel & Wire 42 years to support his wife and four children. They are Debra Lathrop of Sterling, Machele Gage of Bend, Ore.; Michael Lathrop of Idaho; and Paul Lathrop of Oregon, Ill.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Doretta said. “He would come home after working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., lay down for 2 hours, get up, and go to church.”

Doretta worked hard, too, volunteering in the community.

She served with Girl Scouts for 25 years and helped with Boy Scouts. She also was a board member for Churches United and later president; and a board member for Church Women United.

Churches United helped support a school breakfast program, the FISH food pantry, and other food relief efforts. They were greatly needed after the mill closed, Doretta said. She was the head of fundraising and public relations.

Doretta also dressed up as Raggedy Ann on several occasions, spreading cheer to children at the hospital and local schools. Some sent her thank-you letters.

“One of them said I really like your sinning,” she recalled with a smile. “I think that must be singing. … I still have those letters ... I have never had the heart to throw those away.”

Doretta and Bob also hosted many international students through the State Department and the University of Chicago’s Thanksgiving Homestay Program.

One year, two small girls comically wrestled a 36-pound turkey into the oven while another student said, “That’s the biggest chicken I have ever seen.’

“It was hilarious,” Doretta said. “I’m not kidding you, I laughed until I thought I was gonna cry.”

Doretta has received awards for her service including the Certificate of Valiant Woman from Church Women United and a YWCA Women of Achievement award. She and Bob also received certificates of appreciation from their church when they superannuated.

Norman W. Shotwell, 40, of Sterling, attends the church and feels adopted by the Lathrops, he said.

“They’re wonderful people, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Doretta has helped me through many struggles in my life in the year and a half that I’ve known her. She’s always got a prayer to say for me when I ask.”

The Lathrops never will retire from the priesthood, and they will continue to serve; however, they no longer are on call day and night.

Diabetes and neuropathy keep Doretta from the on-the-go lifestyle she once enjoyed, but she stays positive.

“I have lived a very blessed life,” she said, “starting with my husband and my children.”

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