WINNECONNE — Ted Kreuzer has served the parishes of St. Mary Churches, Omro and Winneconne, in a variety of ways, but playing music for Mass holds a special place in his heart.
Growing up in Winneconne since the age of 3, Kreuzer remembers serving as an altar boy at the original St. Mary Church and “crawling around in the dirt hole” when the current church was under construction. He was among the first group of altar servers when the church opened in 1970. After finishing high school, he attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.. It was there he began to play guitar.
“I bought a used 12-string and, as a reward for myself when I finished my homework in the evening, I would go out to the stairwell and sit in there and play,” said Kreuzer. “That was my nightly, or every other night, treat. The acoustics were great.”
He played guitar in church at the academy and sang in the Catholic Cadet Choir, securing his spot by auditioning with “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” Graduating in 1980, Kreuzer was assigned to Edwards Air Force Base in California. While stationed there, he met his future wife. They married in 1983 and had two daughters before divorcing in 1992.
After retiring from the military in 1997, Kreuzer moved back to the Omro area as a single dad with his daughters, Marci and Marisa. “Throughout my career in the Air Force, I sang and played pretty much everywhere I went. Now, after 40-plus years, I know a few songs,” he said, smiling.
Kreuzer’s favorite songs include “All Are Welcome,” “Eye Has Not Seen” and “We Are Many Parts.” The latter, with the lyrics, “We are many parts, we are all one body. And the gifts we have, we were given to share,” has special meaning.
“I think that sums up life,” he said. “Basically, everybody has a purpose, everybody has things that they’re good at, things they’re not so good at, but collectively, if we come together and work together, we can get a lot done.”
When he’s able to choose his own music for Mass, Kreuzer draws inspiration from the readings. At other times, if the song selection he’s been given is particularly challenging, he’ll rely on his voice.
“There are some traditional songs that are just really difficult to play on guitar and sing, based on chord changes or the time signature,” said Kreuzer. “‘How Great Thou Art’ and ‘Ave Maria’ are two examples that come to mind. If either of those are in the schedule, I’ll sing a cappella. They are amazing songs and sound great a cappella, too.”
Kreuzer has led music at both St. Mary churches, Omro and Winneconne, for Masses in English and Spanish, weddings, funerals and quinceañeras (the Latino celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday). He has also accompanied keyboardists for occasions such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
This year, St. Mary’s in Winneconne celebrated Pentecost Sunday in May with an outdoor Mass intended to be a “welcome back” for parishioners who had been unable to attend church because of COVID concerns. Kreuzer was delighted to be asked to participate.
“I was extremely excited to play. For Pentecost, we use Schoenbachler’s ‘Send Out Your Spirit’ for the responsorial psalm. It is a great keyboard-guitar song and has an interlude between the verses that is just a rocker,” he said with a grin. “After Mass, we were treated to a praise and worship band. The music was phenomenal. The band was actually a husband and wife duo — she’s the music teacher over at the elementary school. He plays guitar and she plays keyboard and sings like an angel. Listening to them play made me think about putting on a concert that would benefit some of the charities I support. Someday, maybe.”
Kreuzer attends Mass every week, whether or not he’s playing guitar. “I go because I want to, not because I have to. I truly believe in my heart, and I would tell anybody, that God gives us 168 hours a week to do with whatever we want and he asks one hour a week from us. I think it’s the least we could do,” he said.
Kreuzer is a former parish trustee, has chaperoned mission trips and confirmation retreats, taught fifth grade religious education and was a group facilitator for Alpha. These days, he’s largely sticking to leading music so others have an opportunity to be more involved.
“It’s good to spread the wealth. For a healthy church, a healthy family — there’s everybody doing their part,” he said, stressing that not everyone has to be a leader to contribute. “You need followers as much as you need leaders, because, to paraphrase an old quote, ‘What’s a leader without followers? A person out for a walk.’”
Name: Ted Kreuzer
Parish: St. Mary, Winneconne
Favorite saint: Francis
Words to live by: “Live simply, so others can simply live.”