Devout Catholic died at evening Mass

Posted on Sat, Nov. 06, 2004

Pioneer Press

“Art” wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way, said Bill Niemczyk, a friend and former high school teaching colleague of Arthur A. Herkenhoff, who died Sunday of a heart attack during the evening Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church in St. Paul.

For a devout Catholic who attended Mass every day, to die there may have been like “winning the lottery,” Niemczyk said.

Herkenhoff, 70, had open-heart surgery about two years ago but had remained as active as ever, teaching community driver’s education classes and organizing fund-raisers for his favorite causes.

Bev Wittgenstein, supervisor of St. Paul Community Education, last saw him Oct. 29, when he came to turn in his timecard. He was full of energy and always had a smile on his face, she recalled.

He was concerned for kids and “didn’t want them to drink and drive,” Wittgenstein said.

Herkenhoff was born in New Munich, Minn., in 1934, and went to high school in nearby Melrose. Initially he had planned to become a priest, attending three seminaries before giving up his studies after six years. He wanted to explore other options, but he also had problems mastering Latin, said his daughter, Mary Mattheisen.

In 1964, he earned a degree in secondary education from the then College of St. Thomas and later added a master’s degree in American history. He spent nearly 30 years teaching in the St. Paul school system, mostly at Como Park High School. He retired in 1999.

Herkenhoff loved to share his values with his students, said Niemczyk, director of athletics at Como Park High. “He was strict but fair.”

He often faced opposition for his views but never let differences of opinion affect his personal relationships, his daughter said.

Herkenhoff, for example, believed that kids should practice abstinence and, to drive home the point, raised more than $2,000 in 1995 to bring in a San Diego-based educator to discuss that view of teen sexuality at several Twin Cities schools.

He also opposed a plan for special services for lesbian, gay and bisexual students in St. Paul public schools.

“We need to educate kids,” Herkenhoff said in a 1994 Pioneer Press report. “The schools should not be getting into this sensitive issue.”

Opposition to abortion was a key issue for him, too, said his wife, Kathleen. He was active in several anti-abortion organizations, including Catholic Parents OnLine. He served on the board of Women’s Life Care Center and an archdiocesan council as well, his wife said.

In the early 1980s, despite winning in the primary, he refused to downplay his anti-abortion beliefs at the cost of losing the DFL Party endorsement in the general election for state representative, she added.

“People understood his heart was in the right place,” Niemczyk said.

That’s why friends and family didn’t mind when Herkenhoff played little pranks on them, such as disguising his voice on phone or making bird sounds in stores. Once it nearly drove a store clerk nuts, prompting the woman to call the manager to look for the bird, his wife said.

Herkenhoff is survived by his wife, Kathleen of Little Canada; daughters Anne Olund, Bridget Thauwald and Laureen Cornelius of North Branch, Katie Herkenhoff of Maplewood, Meghan Habisch of Vadnais Heights and Elizabeth Herkenhoff of Little Canada; sons Joseph Herkenhoff of North Branch, Phillip Herkenhoff of White Bear Lake; and 19 grandchildren.

Herkenhoff was buried Thursday at St. John’s Cemetery in Little Canada.