The strong voice which rings out during worship each Sunday at a tiny brick church in bustling inner Brisbane springs from a surprising source.
Ninety-eight-year-old Isobel Eisenmenger sings with vigour belying her years. The petite nonagenarian remains a vibrant matriarch of the Nazareth Lutheran congregation, Woolloongabba, which she has served for most of her adult life.
The historic church, built from recycled bricks in 1896, is the place where she met her late husband, Alfred, at the Young People’s Society. It was where she became the congregation’s first woman president in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And it was there that she spent a decade as matron/manager of its senior citizens’ hostel.
Always strong and community-minded, Isobel has been a mentor and matriarch to many, whether knowingly or not.
‘Nazareth has a special place in my heart’, Isobel says. ‘It’s where everything has happened.’
It all began in the mid-1930s, when the farmer’s daughter from a cane and dairy farm at Woongoolba, south of Brisbane, joined what was at that time the largest Lutheran People’s Society in Queensland, with more than 100 members.
The second youngest of seven, two boys and five girls, Isobel Stollznow fell in love with Nazareth member Alfred Eisenmenger and, when she was 23, they married on 30 September 1944.
Alfred ran his own garage and service station business at Red Hill in Brisbane and Isobel enjoyed providing a helping hand, held in good stead by her farming background.
‘Pumping petrol was no trouble as I was a farmer’s girl, so I grew up milking cows and feeding chooks’, Isobel says.
Isobel remembers Alf as a very bright fellow, who sadly was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in his early 40s and used a walking frame for years. Alf passed away on 4 January 1993.
His ailment didn’t stop him from playing an active role in the Nazareth congregation, including as president – the title used by the congregation to denote the chairperson of the Church Committee – from 1961 to 1965.
The following decade, it was Isobel’s turn to lead the congregation, first from 1978 to 1980, then again in 1981 and 1982. She was its first woman president.
In 1984, Isobel took on the role of matron for the congregation’s senior citizens’ hostel, at the site of the current Nazareth Residential Aged Care across the road from the church, which then housed about 26 residents.
Isobel’s role as hostel matron was one she maintained for the next 10 years, retiring after sterling service in 1995.
Her previous service as matron of Brisbane’s St Peters Lutheran College boarding school in the 1950s was a great training ground for the task.
Over that time, Isobel was also part of a small fundraising committee that had spent more than 20 years working to support congregational projects at Nazareth through a series of events, from lunches to concerts.
She recalls that the concerts included singing, poem recitals and fashion parades, the last two which Isobel particularly enjoyed. But there were no comedy acts, ‘we weren’t a funny lot’, she says.
Isobel is well-remembered for running a tight ship with the catering events, even down to inspections to ensure sandwiches were well-buttered right up to the crusts.
‘I was very particular’, she concurs. Another trait of a dairy farmer’s daughter?
These fundraising events helped finance a series of renovation projects in preparation for the church building’s centenary celebrations in 1996.
Coincidentally, Nazareth Residential Aged Care, or Nazcare, which replaced the hostel, has been Isobel’s home for the past two years. She remained in independent living in the neighbouring Nazareth Court units in the same street until she was 96.
Now as she approaches her 99th birthday on 31 July, Isobel says she has always felt very privileged to have been able to serve in her various roles over the decades.
‘I feel I’ve been very richly blessed’, she says. ‘I have had everything that I need … and it’s a blessing to give back to my community.
‘God has absolutely blessed me all through my life. I have gotten through everything with flying colours because of him.’
That includes a life of relatively good health, another blessing she attributes to her farming roots.
‘I am very thankful to God for my health. I put that down to farm living … good old cow’s milk and home cooking.’
She has also been blessed with a daughter Marilyn, son-in-law Peter, two grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.
Her reflections of God’s grace to her shine through in her favourite hymn: ‘Jesus lover of my soul’, written by Charles Wesley.
‘It just seems to fit me because he has been so good to me.’
Disclaimer: Helen Beringen is a fellow member of Nazareth Lutheran Church, Woolloongabba, so she has been blessed to come to know Isobel over the past 12 months.
Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.
Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor email@example.com
This feature story comes from The Lutheran March 2020. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.