It was a sea of yellow shirts at the funeral for Wayne Laechelt as Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) volunteers gathered at Crosspointe Church in Oswego to honor their friend May 20. Laechelt, 67, died tragically when a tree that he and a co-worker were removing from the property at Streator Baptist Camp fell on him. The accident was simply without explanation.
What could be said, and was repeatedly in the weeks after his death, was Laechelt’s love for the ministry that became his passion in retirement. “Wayne and Bev are among the best examples I can name of Disaster Relief volunteers, representing Illinois and Christ well in every situation,” said Shannon Ford, IBSA Missions Director. “Wayne was always making certain that flood recovery, or tornado recovery, or work at Incident Command led to conversations about Christ. He told all the volunteers, ‘That’s why we do this.’”
Laechelt served on the IBDR Executive Leadership team. Since 2012, he had completed ten training modules, including chaplaincy. And as a former high school teacher, he turned his gifts toward training new DR volunteers.
“Wayne was an articulate teacher who stressed correct methods and procedures without being too technical or overbearing,” State DR Director Arnold Ramage said. “If a volunteer had questions, he would always answer them in kind and caring manner.”
One standout moment was his service after a mass shooting at the Independence Day parade in Highland Park in 2022. Drawing on their connections with other relief groups in Chicagoland, the Laechelts helped organize ministry to families shaken by the shootings, traveling three hours round trip daily for more than a week to serve in the north suburban community. “It’s hard work, but we know we’re supposed to be there,” Wayne said of their servant ministry at the time.
“This is a tragedy that is difficult to process, concluding a life so devoted to the Lord and to service,” IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said, in a message that resonated with the state’s more than 400 trained IBDR volunteers. “We as a Baptist family join Wayne’s wife, Bev, and the family in their grief.”
Laechelt was featured in a 2021 news story during a callout after Hurricane Ida in Louisiana. With DR co-worker, Ken Cummins, former school teachers from opposite ends of the state became good friends and a stellar ministry partners. “We’re a comedy team,” Cummins said of the joy they found in their labor. “We have a lot of fun.”
Laechelt’s friends honored him with an ice cream fellowship after the service. “I will always remember Wayne’s love of ice cream,” Ramage said. “Since he and Bev were often the first to arrive at a callout, he would always visit local ice cream shops before other teams arrived. We have many fond memories of eating ice cream together.