By Brent Engel
They tried to dig up dirt on Ansel Niemeyer, but the shovels came up clean.
The retired Pike County banker was amiably roasted by family, friends and 130 guests Oct. 28 at The Keely Center banquet facility in Louisiana.
The fund-raiser benefited Champ Clark Honey Shuck Restoration Inc., which oversees the Bowling Green home of the former congressman and presidential candidate.
Niemeyer is a camping enthusiast, and the theme was brought to life with a tent at the entrance to the hall and a mountain-style mural above the stage bearing the slogan “Camp Ansel.”
Another artwork at the back of the room featured Niemeyer with a Mount Rushmore-like visage of Presidents John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
Throughout the evening, the kudos outnumbered the arrows.
“Think about it,” said Pat Flynn, emcee and Honey Shuck board member. “It’s only one letter off from ‘Ansel’ to ‘Angel.’”
The evening started with a humorous musical skit featuring Flynn and Honey Shuck board members Julie Leverenz and Milan Berry. Niemeyer family member Ryan Bibb portrayed a young Ansel who got lost on an outdoor outing.
Bibb joined other roasters Marsha McGraw, Martin Anders, Shelba Northcutt, Susie Oberdahlhoff and family member Teri Meyer Weise. They seemingly spent more time picking on others or admitting their own foibles than badgering Niemeyer.
McGraw remembered her first camping excursion to the West with other teenagers and the honoree. She packed for the 10-day trip—well, like a girl—bringing along such useful backwoods necessities as makeup and fake nails.
“I think I lost one nail a day,” she said with a laugh.
Unlike at home, the ventures came with few rules. Niemeyer let the kids experience away-from-home freedoms and have a little fun, such as sliding down an icy mountain tundra.
“I think Ansel left the food out at night just so that bears would come out,” McGraw said.
Niemeyer did show his devout side by praying with the kids.
“It was absolutely the best,” McGraw said. “I grew so much more in my faith. One thing I realized is friendship has no age limits. I can truly say Ansel is one of my best friends.”
Anders recalled antics that he and Northcutt experienced during their banking days with Niemeyer.
“Our ringleader was always Ansel,” Anders said. “He inspired us to do crazy things.”
With an affinity for dancing, it’s no wonder Niemeyer loved music. He once dressed as Elvis Presley and convinced Anders to put on a dress to be a backup singer.
“I had hoped to find that outfit,” Anders said with a straight face. “I was going to wear it tonight.”
Anders also claimed his lifelong bachelor friend went to Colorado so much because that’s the home of his wife and three sons—Wynken, Blynken and Nod.
“They operate a marijuana plant,” Anders joked. “When he comes back from Colorado, he has what John Denver called a ‘Rocky Mountain High.’”
Anders also poked at Niemeyer’s sophisticated look, saying he takes trips with “his very own personal stylist.” However, Anders concluded with grace.
“No one could ask for a better friend,” he said. “I love you.”
Oberdahlhoff started by explaining that her dentist had failed to send an upper plate in time for her to fully enjoy the banquet.
“The dog ate my teeth,” she said to laughter. “So, don’t look at me, just listen. I had to show up because Ansel invited me.”
Oberdahlhoff said her father, a Protestant minister, had warned her to stay away from Catholic boys and dancing.
“Well, I married one,” she said. “And then my very first friend in high school—who has been my friend for years—was Ansel.”
The former Pike County Clerk testified that Niemeyer was a good student, with one caveat.
“I wrote all his book reports,” Oberdahlhoff declared. “Our teacher adored Ansel. He could do no wrong. So, everything went well with the book reports.”
Some high schoolers cruise for parties. Niemeyer had a pink and black Mercury so big that it “wouldn’t fit in this building,” Oberdahlhoff expounded.
She recalled the time deputies showed up at a gathering in a rural field. While others scattered, Niemeyer stood his ground. Authorities said they wouldn’t bust him if he told his parents about the incident.
While in college, Oberdahlhoff had her first dance with Niemeyer. At the roast, they tripped the light fantastic again.
Niemeyer also has a green thumb.
“Ansel remodels his yard,” Oberdahlhoff explained. “It is beautiful.” She called her classmate and neighbor “a gracious man” who “would do anything in the world for you.”
Bibb and Meyer Weise had fond and fun memories.
“I was always under the impression that he had a home in Missouri and a home in Colorado,” Bibb said. “In Missouri, he could cut his grass and in Colorado he could smoke it.”
Bibb, a funeral home owner, highlighted Niemeyer’s penchant for detailed planning. Instructions for his last rites are so bountiful that they “nearly take up a file cabinet” and include “Vegas showgirls as pallbearers.”
Bibb reminded everyone that Niemeyer has six siblings.
“I know it must have been tough wearing all those hand-me-down clothes—your brothers’ and your sisters’.”
Meyer Weise didn’t hang any dirty laundry, saying Niemeyer was an “uplifter” and a “lover of people.”
“You’re a good sport and a treasure to all of us,” she said.
For his part, Niemeyer passed along his love for all those in attendance and beyond. He said he doesn’t dwell on the past and enjoys spending time with the young and the young at heart.
“My belief is we all have a calling—an unselfish call to serve,” Niemeyer said. “To serve in our church, to serve in our family and to serve in our community. Thank you for being part of my life. You have made me what I am today.”