Introduction: written by Amos Thiel
The news of Brother Peter and Sister Celia Thiel’s death has come as a shock of sadness to all of us who knew and loved them. Peter and Celia joined the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement in 1978, and their presence and contributions have been a blessing within the church since that time. They had recently spent happy times in Western Australia with their children, Joanna and Benjamin and their families. They had been to see the wildflowers, and had had great bonding time with the children and grandchildren. Before heading back home to Macclesfield, South Australia while on the last leg of the journey, travelling between Kimba, and Iron Knob on the Eyre Highway, they were involved in a fatal head-on crash. We may never know all the details of that fateful day, but it appears that their vehicle veered to the wrong side of the road, just before a rise, and on the other side of that rise was a Ute and heavily loaded trailer. The man in the other vehicle survived with major burns and injuries, and was rescued from the fiery vehicle by his children who had been travelling in two other vehicles in convoy. Despite valiant efforts and burns, those attending were not able to remove Peter and Celia from their vehicle before the fire from the trailer and ute spread to their car. All accounts testify that they did not suffer and may indeed have already passed away – something that gives us much comfort in this trying time.
The funeral was held on 19th September at Morphett Vale Seventh Day Adventist Church, in South Australia, and was attended by approximately 250 people. Though a terribly sad time, it was a beautiful tribute to two beautiful lives. For those who were not able to attend the full service, slide-shows and memories can be viewed at www.thiel.id.au. A private graveside service was held the following Sunday in Macclesfield, where they now rest till the resurrection morning.
There are many things that can be learned from the lives of two souls who believed in the truth. The following paragraphs are an account of their lives, written by Peter and Celia’s siblings and children. Let us look back to the happy times, the memories, and the privilege of knowing them and being blessed by their lives. Let us also take comfort that, although this may appear to be a senseless tragedy, this comforting truth remains: “God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him.” Desire of Ages, pp. 224-225.
As you read the story of their lives, I hope you are blessed, inspired and touched, even though they are no longer with us. We’ll start with the story of Celia’s life followed by the story of Peter’s life.
The Life of Celia Mary Thiel
Early Years – Written by Roger Hanckel – Celia’s youngest brother:
Celia Mary Thiel, nee Hanckel, was born on the 3rd of December 1939 at Henty, near Wagga Wagga in NSW. She was the fifth of nine children born to Erhard Christoph Benjamin and Elfrieda Gertrude Hanckel (nee Koch).
Celia’s early childhood was spent at Waldeck, a 1,000 acre property, selected by her grandfather in 1884. She was a golden girl, with fine flaxen curly hair, hazel eyes (later) and fair skin. She was usually happy, smiling and laughing.
When Celia was 6, their ex-Army truck was packed with a piano, a dining table, seven children and other possessions. Waldeck had been put onto the market so the family could move to South Australia, to better attend to the children’s educational needs. Celia, with her four older siblings rode on the back of the truck and could talk to her parents through a hatch in the cabin roof. It was an arduous journey, but exciting, too. There were a few nights of roadside camping on rugs under the stars.
They settled on “Akoonah”, a 100 acre farm at Verdun. Predominantly a dairy farm, it was also a pear orchard and had large areas of untouched stringybark bush. With numerous ferny gullies, shady springs and creeks, it was a wonderful place for adventurous children.
During her school years, Celia was sometimes called “Cherub”…due to her goodness and sunny disposition. Beneath her angelic demeanour, there was great strength of character and a steely determination to stick to whatever was right, fair and, above all, honest.
At Mount Barker High School, Celia was dux of all her first year classes and house captain. She also excelled in athletics, winning the Senior Cup – which sat proudly on her desk for many years.
After leaving school, Celia gained a position at Harris Scarfe’s and then was asked to become secretary in the “Lutheran Hour” Office, where she worked for eight years. Her work included management of a Correspondence Sunday School for children in remote areas. Here, Celia met her lifelong friend, Erika.
Erika has been kind enough to share some memories and special insights from those youthful years in Celia’s life. So, in her words:
“To me, at the age of 14, Celia was a first encounter as a workmate, the senior girl in the office, who was kind and sensitive in her mentoring, but firm as well, and always with that quick smile, a slight turn of her head, and a giggle, too.
Celia lived in a rambling home, always full of a great variety of children and interesting young adults, a strong and stable household, not perfect, but vigorous and warm, held together by faithful parents whose lives had not been easy.
Celia was a searcher and she was a thinker. Her cultural interests were broad – she loved music and singing, she listened to and understood classical music, and her family was blessed with capable and gifted people.” We thank you, Erika, for sharing these special memories with us.
In about 1964, Celia went to New Guinea for two and a half years, as secretary for several American missionaries amongst the Enga people at Wabag in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. She attended a three-month Enga language school, and in Pidgin English she taught six young New Guinean men typing and other office skills.
Married Life: written by Peter and Celia’s children:
Celia and Peter met in a car park. None of us are quite sure on the finer detail of this, but I can remember mum saying, “He was sitting in his car, looking at me with his ducky beak eyes”. We never really understood exactly what that meant, but we do know it was a precursor to a life-long partnership with Peter.
The wedding took place on 21st June, 1969, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Adelaide, with the reception in North Adelaide. A year-long honeymoon travelling around Australia in a Morris 1100 followed. During our childhoods, we had slide nights of these times mum and dad spent together. Mum loved the Australian countryside, and seeing them enjoying this and each other’s company up on a screen in a darkened lounge room is a special childhood memory.
Over the next three and a half years Joanna, Rebecca and Benjamin joined them. Amos came along four years later. Mum’s intense desire to raise us in a pure, pollution-free environment led us to move to Yandi, near Mt Compass, SA in 1980. This run-down old property, complete with outside bucket toilet, had its challenges, but I think mum took great pleasure in watching us grow fitter and stronger, roaming barefoot over 30 acres until the soles of our feet were like leather.
From the moment we were born, Celia’s career was the upbringing and nurturing of her children. While mum might have possessed many of the softer characteristics, she was by no means lenient in our upbringing. Very early we were given a small sum of pocket money each week which was debited in 20 or 50 cent increments according to our misdeeds, causing pain and tears with some of us and “who cares you can take it all” in others, after which other methods of discipline were employed. For all of us, at least part of our education was completed via homeschooling, and here some stronger characteristics also came out. If our time for breaks was exceeded, the whistle was blown with more than usual energy and we knew we had to rush in and avoid other consequences! Receiving the “I can’t do that” plea on one occasion, her reaction was “just sit down and say to yourself I can, I will and I must!” Bringing up and homeschooling four lively and opinionated individuals is not for the faint hearted, and our mother did admirably at the task. She proved that an effective education and a firm foundation can be gained though homeschooling, as demonstrated by the fact that we went on to successfully pursue our careers, between us attaining two University Degrees, a Minister of Religion and an Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy.
Mum took diet and health very seriously, and in her last notes we also found the words “eat yourself smart”. This sums up beautifully mum’s ongoing self-education on food and herbs. She studied carefully the specific aspects of each nut, seed, herb and other food that came to her notice, wanting to truly understand not only their nutritional value but also their other health benefits. She was far ahead of her time. Whenever the latest wonder food hits the market – quinoa, chia, almond milk, goji, you name it… the odds are we have already learned about its benefits through my mother’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the blessings of nature.
Many people have commented over the years and more recently, of the beautiful nature of our mother. The quiet helpfulness, the non-judgemental listening skills and the gentle understanding that she exuded was no accident, but was arrived at through many hours of Bible reading, meditation and prayer. Again, with her natural curiosity, intelligence and ability to self-educate, I think my mother often found that peace that passeth understanding and was able to share it with those around her. Of course she had her struggles, as we all do. She once told me about her struggle with pride. I remember telling her I certainly didn’t see her as overly proud… and she confessed that sometimes, she was proud of being humble.
Hearing the stories of how Celia has helped and encouraged so many of us over the years with her soothing presence, listening and kind, gentle advice continues to be a great comfort to all of us.
If we continue to practise and share these skills that she so humbly demonstrated throughout her life, not only will we be helping others, but we will also keep her in our hearts for many years to come.
The Life of Peter Thiel:
The Early Years: written by Christine Hughes, Peter’s younger sister
Peter Siegfried Thiel was born on the 7th of March, 1941 in Sprottau, Selicia – now Poland. Peter was precious to each one of us. He brought sunshine and fun into the family unit. He was our ‘monkey’, and he made us laugh. His life influenced us in many different ways, but the impact and preciousness remains. Precious memories of our brother will remain in the hearts of each one of us, and I will share some of these memories with you.
It was wartime during Peter’s early years and when the Russians approached Gӧrlitz. Mutti took us – four small children – and fled with many others to the West. When Peter turned ten, our family moved from Gӧrlitz to Falkenstein, a little township in East Germany.
Our adventures led us to supplement our meager post-war diet with fruit of various kinds, gleaned when available. I was small enough to slip through gaps in fences and help the ‘windfalls’ while Peter stood guard. Or he would let me stand on his back so I could climb over the fence. This activity stopped when one day Mutti found a hoard of pears under our bed. She took Peter plus the pears to the owner of the orchard where he had to confess. The kind, wise owner gave him a basketful of other pears which he said we could enjoy with a clear conscience. But Peter returned home very subdued, and we did not enjoy those pears.
One winter’s day we decided to have a bit of fun dropping snowballs from an upstairs window onto unsuspecting pedestrians who used a small lane at the back of the house. One man took exception to this and made his way to the front to button-hole the culprit. Peter, aware that he would be in serious trouble, hid in the furthest corner of the coal cellar while he sent his younger sister out to face the man. Fortunately, I must have looked innocent enough, for the man took pity on me.
However, we did not always get into trouble, but spent beautiful, carefree days together. In summer Peter would invariably drag me out of bed while everyone else was still fast asleep. We would wash the accumulated dirty dishes from the day before and get the breakfast table ready to give Mutti a surprise. Other times we would go into the forest and return with buckets full of blueberries or bags of mushrooms.
Peter enjoyed doing things to make others happy, especially Mutti. Once we pooled our meager supply of hard-earned money, and Peter bought a dinner-set to give Mutti something beautiful. Giving others pleasure was an integral part of Peter’s makeup. As young children, we would pick bunches of meadow flowers and search out elderly people, to surprise them and bring happiness into their lives.
In 1958 our family faced a life-changing event; we immigrated to Australia. What challenges! But Peter, aged 17, embraced these new experiences with enthusiasm; especially as girls found this handsome, young fellow fascinating. Several years passed during which time Peter not only conquered the English language, but also the heart of a lovely 18 year old girl. In due course Peter and Wendy married, but sadly the relationship did not last. Separation and divorce followed, but not before Wendy found herself to be pregnant with twin girls. It has only been recently that Peter allowed himself to get to know Esther and Helena, and I know it brought peace to his heart; and I hope it brings comfort to the girls and also to Wendy and Waldemar at this time.
The divorce brought a dark time for Peter, but gradually healing took place. Then one day he asked me out for dinner; he wanted me to meet somebody. There sat an attractive lady, with a small, shy, coy little smile which Celia never lost; Peter was comforted.
Peter as a Father and Husband – written by his children:
As we got older we shifted from our home near Mt Compass SA, to “Bimbadeen” – a beautiful 13 acre property near Lismore, northern NSW. This was to be home to our parents for the next 25 years. After preparing the ground, 200 custard apple trees, 60 mango trees, and numerous other fruit trees such as bananas, papaya and avocados were planted. There was always a huge vegetable garden. From when we were little, dad taught us how to work hard, be frugal, and make do. During our school holidays, he took us macadamia nut picking. He was unstoppable; even when we had to pick nuts covered with ice in winter, he would rub his hands in the prickly leaves till they were warm and just keep going. We had races who could pick the most nuts in a day, and boy was Dad hard to beat!
Dad’s frugality led him to attempt to persuade us that we did not require a proper saddle for our flighty, poorly trained three year old Arab cross, Bubbles. A perfectly good saddle could be made from a Hessian sack, he said. After much careful measuring and stitching, the ‘saddle’ was attached, and as we naturally refused to mount up, Dad did the honours himself. We all watched on in fear and amusement as he trialled this homemade contraption. Just a few steps down the road proved our need for a ‘real’ saddle as Dad nearly came to grief. He quickly found himself on the road with one leg caught up in the reins high above his head while still being pulled along by a very scared Bubbles. Needless to say a real saddle was quickly forthcoming, which provided us with many more successful horse adventures after that!
Several years after moving to Lismore, Dad took up work as a country postman, where he worked part of the day delivering mail on one of the local runs. This was Dad’s happiest time of employment. He loved his run and the casual contact with so many people. Initially he felt guilty that he enjoyed it so much and that it wasn’t hard work and spoke of having to adjust his thinking to believe that this could actually be called work at all. On coming home from work, he often kept us amused with stories of accidently wiping out a letterbox or hair-raising adventures on the narrow mountain roads. During this time we left the nest one by one. Dad had his postal run, but it was a lonely time for mum, so she also took up a postal run for a while and later delivered meals on wheels and volunteered in the local SDA second-hand shop.
Dad’s stories were fascinating, and he told them with his whole heart and emotion. I remember people nearly in tears as he told the story of “Robust and Tenderheart” two lettuces who lived to make people healthy but never got to fulfil their life’s purpose because they died in the fridge before they were eaten. Or his parable of the wolf who was offered an operation to become a sheep but refused and instead became a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Honesty, serving others, level-headed advice, and a quirky inappropriate sense of humour were some of dad’s strongest characteristics. Though his bad nerves and allergies often made him edgy, he was never condescending but would apologise to us for being a bad Dad, which gave us more respect for him than anything else he could have done.
As a lay member, he was a strong and stable influence in the church for many years. Dad’s sermons where unique and interesting – each the product of several days of arduous study, beard pulling, head scratching, and prayer. His personal battles did lead him to step away from church membership for a time. In recent times, however, he was known to have said that the only thing that kept him from fully joining with the little church he attended here in Adelaide was that he knew he wouldn’t be able to say no to responsibilities that he was no longer able to bear.
Of all things that inspire us about our parents, none shines so brightly as their dedication and commitment to each other. They were so different, and there were rocky times along the road that tested that dedication to the limit; but they stood by each other when most would have simply washed their hands and walked away. Now even in death, they remain together, proving that true love endures all things.
During more recent times, Peter and Celia moved to a two acre property in Macclesfield, SA with garden, fruit trees and a creek running out the back. They resided here until they passed away on the 29th of August, 2014.
And so passes a legacy of two precious lives. Are some among the present generation being laid to rest because of the imminent time of trouble? Was pain and suffering around the corner? Or was the devil permitted to have his way so that one or more people would reach a turning point and be transformed forever? Whatever the reason this was permitted, we rest in hope and faith, knowing that one day up there we’ll understand, and all things will have worked together for good for them who love God.
There is a Thiel family website for those who are interested: http://www.thiel.id.au