August 16, 2004 in City

The sage of the reader board

By The Spokesman-Review
Holly Pickett photo

“This is my ministry,” said Ann Koschalk of the reader board she maintains.
(Full-size photo)

She has a pocket full of billboard letters and a sermon for the masses. Ann Koschalk is a Sunday driver’s chance at salvation.

Every other week, Koschalk, 67, lifts the Plexiglas lid on the Peace Lutheran Church message board in Otis Orchards and installs some windshield-sized pearl of wisdom for the hundreds of motorists driving Harvard Road.

She’s the sage who asks “in eternity, will you be seated, smoking or non?” She’s the roadside mathematician who suggests “three nails, plus one cross equals forgiven.”

“On our bulletin, it says Dennis Anderson is our pastor. He is. But the ministers are the members of the congregation,” Koschalk said. “I try to keep my messages toward being a better person.”

In the world of modern evangelism nothing is so underappreciated as the parishioner who engages drivers as they race down the alligatored asphalt at 45 mph.

Not everyone can come up with phrases like “be fishers of men, you catch them, he’ll clean them” or “if you judge people, you don’t have time to love them.”

Koschalk keeps her collection of phrases in a plain file folder, every message she’s posted since first taking on the job seven years ago. Some are from other church boards, or e-mails from friends. Her three children have her on speed dial in case they see or think of a good one.

The posts are a collaborative effort. Koschalk brings as many as six possibilities to Pastor Anderson, who gauges their appropriateness. She just brought him one from a tattoo parlor, “when the chips are down, the buffalo are empty.”

“It’s funny, Ann,” the pastor said. “But probably not.”

There are other concerns, aside from appropriateness. The church budget is a little tight and so it’s been a while since Peace Lutheran has invested in letters. Koschalk posts the same message on both sides of the message board, which makes the vowels go quickly. She used 14 e’s in her latest post, which almost broke the alphabet.

And there’s the risk of looking like a copycat.

Harvard Road is an unusual confluence of crossword puzzle wit and religious conviction. The road dividing rural Otis Orchards into parts east and west has three church boards breaking up the monotony of corn and telephone poles.

For nearly five years, Thelma Kinzer, has arranged the letters on the Otis Orchards Seventh Day Adventist’s reader board, less than 100 yards from Koschalk.

“I really like to get people’s attention and I think reader boards are wonderful for that,” Kinzer said.

The Adventist board reminds motorists “there are three types of people, those who make things happen, want things to happen, or wonder what happened.” Kinzer borrowed that phrase from the late cosmetic queen Mary Kay Ash. The Otis Orchards woman who recently passed the job to someone else has also paraphrased Carl Jung on occasion.

North down Harvard, on the opposite end of the Otis’ town center, Rebecca Mize posts messages for East Valley Presbyterian Church. Her latest is “rumor runs fast, but truth stays around,” which she gleaned from the Internet.

Koschalk speaks for all three women when she calls the work gratifying. She survived breast cancer a while ago and walked away feeling inspired to do something meaningful with her life, to leave a worthwhile impression. In between volunteering for Meals on Wheels and writing the church newsletter, the reader board is one of those impressions.

You never know whom you will touch, Koschalk said. The statement makes her think of a book by Mitch Albom, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” You’d think the five people you’d meet would be the people you knew best, but what if they were people you influenced? What if they were strangers from Harvard Road?

“That would be cool to know that,” Koschalk said. “Even if I give somebody pause for thought for a few minutes, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

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