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WALTER KERELL DIES - Catholic Worker odds & ends
March 31st, 2009
10:35 am

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WALTER KERELL DIES
Walter Kerell came to the New York Catholic Worker in 1960 and was office manager into the 1970s, He and Ed Forand ran day to day operations at 175 Chrystie St. for years. Walter died at a hospital in Jamestown, NY last week. He had been ailing for some time after suffering a fractured hip and was in rehab in Jamestown for many months but never managed to give up his wheel chair and was taking medication for clinical depression. One morning some weeks ago his care-giver, a woman from the Village of Ellington, NY where Walter owned a home, which he had shared with the late Paul Covington ( who had taught art history at the CUNY college on Staten Island, NY,) woke him up but found that he didn't recognize her and kept calling her Shirley, a name which meant nothing to her, and seemed to have reverted to his youth. I think Shirley was the name of a cousin of his he once introduced me to and she may have been the sister of his cousin, the novelist, Henry Roth. After he had refused to eat for a while Walter was sent to the hospital and it was down-hill after that. Walter's body was donated to a medical research center near Jamestown. It seems there will be no regular funeral. RS.


Walter's first cousin, Henry Roth, published a novel in 1934 entitled "Call It Sleep," which has achieved legendary status and Walter, it seems, was the model for a character in the novel "The Exquisite Corpse" by his friend Alfred Chester. Walter is also mentioned on page 161 of Edward Field's memoir, "The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag," where he is described as being in love with Alfred. This, according to Walter, was not true though they may have had a sexual encounter or two.

Walter was born in the borough of Queens, New York City in (I think) 1925. He attended public schools and then Columbia University. However, he dropped out in his senior year and went to Paris shortly before or after he married a Belgian national, Lynn Kustennar (Sp?). It was in Paris that he came out as a homosexual and took the name Kerell (a variant spelling of Querelle), the hero of a novel by Jean Genet. Walter's real family name was Schleifer. RS


Jan Adams writes that Walter, when she knew him in the Seventies, did not seem to be a practicing Catholic though he was still an editor of The Catholic Worker. There was, however, a strong streak of religiosity in Walter the nature of which I never really understood. Though he was born into a Jewish family he converted to Baptist Christianity when he was stationed in the South during the Second World War. Around 1960 he heard about the CW from a hippy couple. (Proto-hippies really, that phenomenon didn't become a large, social movement until later in the Sixties and you couldn't call them beatniks either because they were not particularly artistic or literary.) The girl's was named Blossom. Her male companion was quite a bit older.

How they knew of the CW I don't remember. Anyway, Walter was a bohemian by then and did not want to make the nine-to-five scene. He had been a part of the expatriate, gay demi-monde in Paris. Through his wife he had met such charter members of the group as composer Ned Rorem and novelist Alfred Chester. While at the CW he converted to Catholic Christianity. Dorothy and Ammon Hennacy were his god-parents. ( Later Dorothy said she would no longer be god-mother to anyone because they all left the Church!) . At what point he left the Catholic Church I can't say but he then, in concert with Mark Samara, a some-time actor, gave his allegiance to the Edgar Cayce movement. Now becoming a Catholic is one thing. After all, no matter how improbable its theology, it has a long and venerable history and has had among its adherents innumerable artistic and literary geniuses, but Edgar Cayce! When I visited Walter in Ellington a year or so ago he seemed to be quite bitter against the Catholic Church, the Catholic Worker movement and Dorothy. And there was no more talk of Edgar Cayce. RS
These photos of Walter were taken by Robert Steed

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From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 31st, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
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RIP!
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From:personalist
Date:April 1st, 2009 10:29 am (UTC)
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Coretta Corbin Bliss writes from Vermont: "Hey Bob, I just heard through a Frank Cordaro update that Walter Kerell has died...I remember him well from Tivoli. He used to do a lot of art with us kids. I remember painting horseshoe crab shells with him and decorating old shirts with felt tip pens. Always sad when I hear we've lost another CW old-timer."
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From:personalist
Date:April 1st, 2009 12:05 pm (UTC)

Walter's death

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Poet Edward Field writes: "Thanks, Robert, though I hate to hear of it. It's getting lonelier up here in oldie-land."

Edited at 2009-04-01 12:05 pm (UTC)
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From:personalist
Date:April 1st, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)

Walter's death

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Brian Terrell writes: "Bob, I was very sorry to hear this. Walter gave me a warm welcome when I got to the CW in 1975 and I felt the loss of his presence when he chose not to associate with the house. It was good to hear about him from you from time to time and I am glad you kept in touch with him. My sympathy to you at the loss of your friend. Brian"
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From:personalist
Date:June 15th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Walter's death

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Brain: When you say "when he chose not to associate with the house" it might be well to follow the idea of "full disclosure" and in light of the recent statement of repentance by some members of the movement regarding its treatment of homosexuals to reveal the main cause of Walter's leaving. I have recently been informed by an unimpeachable source that Walter confided to Dorothy that he was having sexual temptations regarding young men and Dorothy told him that if he could not resist these "temptations" then he had to leave the Worker, which he did. RS
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 23rd, 2009 11:04 am (UTC)

Re: Walter's death

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Thanks, too, for the info on Walter's leaving the CW. I was new to things and not much in the loop. Walter left without a word to most of us. I heard rumors of an argument with Dorothy. Walter wanting the CW paper to at least recognize the existence of gay folk and their oppression, but I cannot say from whom I heard this. Brian
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From:personalist
Date:June 23rd, 2009 11:14 am (UTC)

Re: Walter's death

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Younger people may not understand this reluctance on Dorothy's part but if there was anything that could cause a real rift between the Cardinal and the CW it would have been any sympathy for gays. Sexual scandal was something Dorothy wanted to avoid at all costs. I remember once when two women at Peter Maurin farm were holed up in one of the rooms and beer cans were piling up outside the door that Dorothy, who suspected an un-acceptable intimacy between them, expressed a fear that people would say that she was harboring "a nest of lesbians." RS
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 2nd, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)

Rememberances

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Walter was a friend of the young people who visited the Worker in the early 60s. He looked out for them and offered cautionary tales. But we all recognized him as a very "classy" sort of bohemian. A great sense of humor. I remember he and Edgar Forand sharing an apartment in those days. Those two were my mentors when I was on the Worker staff briefly in 62-63, and I remember them both fondly. I visited Walter in the late 70s with my first wife when he lived on Spring & Mulberry Streets and we sat outside during the Italian festival at a cafe drinking Compari. Later I tried to see him again. I remember returning to NYC & I told him on the phone that wife & I had split up. He was very pessimistic in his response and didn't want me to visit him. That was our last contact though I kept up on his doing through mutual friends. Chris Natale Peditto 4/2/09.
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