The gift of hospitality does not include retirement

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday September 23, 2012

Every so often you meet genuinely special people – people who make you say, “I would like to be like them.”  Mary Sue and I met two people like this shortly after we moved to Annapolis in 1993.  I’m referring to Graham and Libby Gutsche, who were married in 1948 and will soon celebrate their 64th anniversary.

Though the Gutsche’s have more than 20 bonus years to their credit – Graham is 87 and Libby is 84 – they have slowed down only a little while their passion for life and enthusiasm for helping others remains undiminished.  Because I see them only intermittently, I asked Libby what they are doing now, she said, “We just keep on keeping on.”

Keeping on, indeed.  Graham was a physics professor at the Naval Academy for 42 years.  In his “spare time” he was a founding elder of Annapolis EP – the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Annapolis – in 1965 and Libby was a leader of several women’s groups.  The Gutsches were co-founders with the late Sam Elder of the Annapolis Area Christian School (AACS), which started in the basement of EP church in 1971.  AACS – an independent, college preparatory Christian day school – now enrolls more than 800 students on three campuses.

In addition, Graham was a founder of the Chesapeake Reformed Theological Seminary, where he remains a board member and still teaches on a faculty devoted to training in Christian theology and ministry.  Together, Graham and Libby also founded Wayfarers, a weekly Bible study that would attract as many as 80 kids.  Each Friday night they would invite the first 30 to sign up to have dinner with their family.

Libby was the stay-at-home mom of three daughters.  Together Graham and Libby raised their children – and now have eight grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren – but in 1983, once their children were grown, Libby volunteered with The Traveler in Maryland.  It was there she learned about the expanding bed and breakfast business in Annapolis.  She thought, “We can do that” and they did.  After some minor remodeling of their home on a six-acre patch of land on Howards Cove off Luce Creek, the “Barn” was born – a quiet, peaceful, antique-filled waterfront B&B that quickly emerged as a popular base camp for out-of-town visitors to Annapolis.  It continued for 25 years

The Gutsche’s are long-time participants in the pro-life movement where, again, they walk the talk:  In 1978, they established a local affiliate of Bethany Christian Services, providing a maternity home for unwed mothers.  It was located in their own home, where they also used an adjacent garage to home-school the girls so they could earn their GEDs.  Though Bethany later moved the maternity home to South County, during eight years with the Gutsche’s, more than 80 girls passed through Bethany.

Over the years, the Gutsches built additional accommodations, two of which are inhabited by their daughters with their families.  They added beautiful English flower gardens, a large vegetable patch where they grow tomatoes, beans and lettuce, and some animals – including hens that provide B&B guests with free range eggs for breakfast each day.  When I visited the Gutsche’s a few weeks ago, the family compound still has five hens, three dogs and a steer – a small farm or petting zoo, depending on how you look at it, right in the middle of Annapolis.

Two years ago the Gutsches moved from the “Barn” to a nearby cottage where everything is on one floor.  The daughters now run the B&B.  But Libby and Graham are still engaged – Libby helps with the gardens and makes beds for the guests; Graham helps with maintenance and lawn care, and still teaches Sunday school from time-to-time and lectures at the seminary.

Libby loves serving people – especially one-on-one.  In the “old days,” she satisfied her love for engaging people through the B&B, church, the maternity home and many volunteer activities.  Today, she still welcomes guests to her daughter’s B&B – some of whom she has known from the past when they took a night at the Barn.  She and Graham also play bridge once a week with long-time friends.  But she has invented a new activity: The tea party.  Once a month, she invites 6-8 women to her cottage for an afternoon tea.  She likes to host people she does not know and do not know each other.  In addition, she loves to have friends who have lost their husbands or wives over for lunch or dinner on a regular basis.  The admonition of Scripture to “Look after the widows and orphans” has been a hallmark of the life of the Gutsches as long as anyone can remember.

The Gutsches are a couple blessed with many gifts – including faith, service, hospitality, giving, mercy, teaching and wisdom.  Importantly, they continue to use their gifts, consistent with the calling of the ancient Scriptures, to serve others and to repair the world, even in their bonus years.

Notably, they both have the gift of evangelism, by which believers are called to be a messenger of the good news of the Gospel.  St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel every day; use words if necessary.”  Or, in everyday vernacular:  “If you were indicted for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict?”  By the first measure, the Gutsches are good Franciscans.  By the second, the Gutsches stand convicted.  Indeed, they have lived a life of full time ministry, a life from which there is  no retirement.

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