FAREWELL: Pastor Eric Liebelt helped establish the Peace Lutheran Primary School and Anuha disability support, among other things, during his time in Gatton.
FAREWELL: Pastor Eric Liebelt helped establish the Peace Lutheran Primary School and Anuha disability support, among other things, during his time in Gatton. Photo Tom Threadingham / Gatton

Eric's lifetime of generosity

EVERYTHING Eric Liebelt did, he did for his community and his faith.

The former Gatton Pastor died peacefully on December 24 and has been remembered for the enduring legacy he's left in the area.

Peace Lutheran Primary School, Peace Haven Cottages and Anuha's disability support were all projects Eric championed during his two decade-long service, but friends and family have said that was only the beginning when it came to the extent of Pastor Liebelt's love for his community.

Eric was born in the South Australian German settlement of Hahndorf in 1934 and spent his early days on the family's farm.

He married his childhood sweetheart Shirley May Stevens, had three children and began his own farm with inherited land before he found his calling in ministry and was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1974.

His first post was in the regional Queensland town of Emerald and in 1979 he arrived in Gatton, where he would spend the next 19 years fighting for improvements to the community.

Eric's daughter Nadien Sudhaus said he had to work hard to establish Anuha and the primary school, and keep them running.

"Dad fought to protect Anuha from closure to make sure the disabled workers had something to live for and something to achieve,” she said.

"He was happy to dedicate his time to Anuha and other causes because he knew he was doing God's work.”

His old friend Derek Schulz recalled he was confirmed under Pastor Liebelt as a boy and remembered him as a "tough operator”.

"In saying that though, he still knew how to operate with you, regardless of whether you were a teenager, middle aged, or an old person,” said Mr Schulz.

"He just had that knack where he could catch on to what you were trying to tell him.”

Often clad in blue or grey workman's overalls, Pastor Eric was easily recognised around town.

PASTOR ERIC: Former Gatton Pastor Eric Liebelt died on December 24 2017 and has been remembered as a man who served his community selflessly.
PASTOR ERIC: Former Gatton Pastor Eric Liebelt died on December 24, 2017 and has been remembered as a man who served his community selflessly. Contributed

Mr Schulz said Eric's attire wasn't the only thing which stuck in people's minds.

"Eric used to come around to all the farmers in the valley and collect the second vegies, the stuff you'd norm- ally leave behind,” he said.

"Then he'd take it to Anuha, to the older people he knew in Gatton, to the hospital, to the rest home, just people he knew were struggling.

"Another minister made the perfect comment that he was the only man to make a Sigma (car) look like a two-ton truck, because he'd have that thing packed up with vegetables coming out the windows and all.

"The time he spent doing something meant nothing to Eric.

"It was the end result that mattered to him... It was phenomenal, what Eric did for the valley.”

Outside work, the pastor cherished a love for fishing.

"Dad taught me how to fish as a kid,” said Nadien.

"I remember one Fraser Island trip during taylor season and he baited my rod as I couldn't come at baiting it up myself, threw it out and would always let me wind the fish in.

"Mum hated cooking the fish for Dad, but it always put a smile on Dad's face.

"When he retired in Mt Barker, I'm sure that every dam around the area was fished in!”

Eric retired as Gatton's Lutheran pastor in 1999 and moved back to South Australia, where he fulfilled his sister's dream of establishing a respite for people with disabilities.

He is survived by his wife Shirley, his three children Steven, Michael and Nadien, and five grandchildren.