Cedar Crest Resident Publishes First Book at 88 Years Old

At the age of 88, Loren Schmidtberger, a resident of Cedar Crest Retirement Community in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, is making his literary debut.  His first book, “The Beginner’s Cow: Memories of a Volga German from Kansas,” was published by Truman State University Press in December.

At the age of seven, he was assigned to a beginner’s cow—the gentlest cow in the herd and the easiest for a child just beginning to milk. As he learned to milk, he also learned the art of living within the unforgiving reality of the Dust Bowl years tempered by the steadfast resilience of his Volga German community. 

Schmidtberger’s engaging and humorous essays detail his life growing up in a Volga-German family in rural Kansas during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl years. The tales then span the decades with a clear-eyed gaze, reflecting a cultural legacy that laid the foundation for a life well-lived and illustrating the deep cultural changes between America in the 1930s and the America we know today.

He began writing personal essays in May 2006, after his beloved wife of 47 years passed away unexpectedly in 2006.  He had just retired from teaching at Saint Peter’s University and had moved to a new community in Rockland County, New York.  About a year later, a fellow widower invited him to join a small group of retirees who write for the fun of it.  The group meets weekly, and since October 2008, Schmidtberger usually writes a personal essay a week.  Also, after moving to Cedar Crest in 2015, he has been an active member of the retirement community’s writing group and short story group.

Schmidtberger was initially inspired to write the memoir to leave a record, primarily for his six children and six grandchildren, of episodes in his life.

“Since I am retired and have the time and am in reasonably good health, I thought now is the time to do it,” he said. His small series of essays eventually grew into book length, becoming "The Beginner's Cow."

He jokes that there is a particular challenge in writing about the dust bowl because the “topic is, well, dry as dust.”

Schmidtberger is professor emeritus of English at Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey. His writing has appeared in journals such as American Literature, Cross Currents, Thought, The Mississippi Quarterly, and America.  He earned his bachelor’s degree from Fort Hays State University. Following service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he obtained his Ph.D. from Fordham University.  He taught at St. Peter’s University for 51 years, specializing in American literature, especially the works of William Faulkner. He was appointed the Will and Ariel Durant Professor of Humanities in 1991. 

Schmidtberger’s advice for senior in their 80s approaching a book project:

“Hurry!” said Schmidtberger. “On a more serious note, every word processing program has a ‘save’ feature somewhere. I recommend that people find that button and press it often.”

“The Beginner’s Cow: Memories of a Volga German from Kansas,” can be ordered from Truman State University Press, Barnes & Noble, or through Amazon.