William Kintzel: Singing His Song For God

By JO RECTOR, City Editor

At age 93 William Kintzel still has the spunk of his youth and a song on his lips for all who will listen.

At 10 a.m. tomorrow he will be the featured soloist at Cook’s Chapel, a country church one and one-half miles west of Rozella Ford Golf Course and for those moments the congregation might as well be in Carnegie Hall. Kintzel loves to sing. "The larger the crowd, the better I like it," he says with a grin.

Although the years have piled up on the calendar since his Feb, 20, 1881 birth, they have not betrayed his tenor voice. " I told a lady I was heading for 100, and if I make it, we would sing a duet," chats the vocalist.

There’s a trace of Midwestern nasal tone in the melodies he sings – a quality immigrants to Indiana blame on the humidity and summer pollen but one that sets Hoosier voices apart from any others.

Matching Notes
Kintzel seems to sing by ear, even though he sight reads his gospel music arrangements. Pecking out the tune on the upright piano in his living room, his voice matches the sweet notes and sour until the chord is played and the man and instrument blend as one.

"You’re probably not going to like this," he warns on the way to the piano to perform the debut of his Sunday solo, "Oh Lord Be Merciful."

"My granddaughter, Becky Carlin, accompanies me on the piano or organ when I sing in public, but here at home I have to accompany myself. I’m not very good on the piano because I just pick out one note at a time. You can’t get a very good idea of the song that way, but I’ll play it for you anyway."

In the living room the dark brown piano pressed its back into an inside wall. A chair and a floor lamp hug either side. Family photographs use its top for a mantle. Sheet music lines up soldier fashion on the music rack and William Kintzel slides onto the piano bench.

The incantation to the Lord begins, and the round, mellow notes ripple through the living room as pebbles dropping into a pond. The Homer N. Bartlett song chimes through Kintzel’s voice, amazing for its clarity at 93.

No Favorites
"I really don’t have any favorite songs," Kintzel says. "They each have their own merit, but I do like to sing the ones that have a higher register."

Kintzel’s vocal talents are doubly amazing – first, because at 93 he still has a strong, clear voice, and second, because he has never had any formal music training. He started playing in a country band when he was 18 or 19 years old with some of the Etna Green boys he was raised with.

"Charlie Fesler, Mode Hamlin and Charlie Johnson wanted a second tenor for their group, so they asked me to join them," Kintzel recalls. "I just went right to town."

He also has instrumental experience on the cornet and baritone. "I began by playing the cornet and then switched to the baritone when the group decided we needed one. I loved baritone more than anything. It had a beautiful tone of its own, much sweeter than the cornet," Kintzel says.

Baritone Gone
But the baritone has disappeared from his rendition of sacred music. Today his voice and a piano or organ fill churches with sounds.

"They think I’m too old to sing over here," Kinzel says, motioning toward the Walnut Creek Church across the yard from his Rt. 2 Warsaw home.

"I’ve tried to get in the choir, but I guess they don’t think I’m any good or just too old to sing along," Kintzel comments.

The front lawn slopes gently toward the creek that names the church, and another yard borders the west edge of the creek before State Rd 15 stripes the land and forms a path jutting north and south.

Trees shade Kintzel’s two-story white house, and east of the driveway he holds forth in large vegetable garden.

Sleepy sunflowers nod their heavy heads in the sun above rows of rambling tomato plants loaded with juicy red fruit. Hills of potatoes mound beneath the earth, and the tight-skinned harvest is collected in bushel baskets on a cool back porch.

Cauliflower plants give a gray contrast to the parched brown earth and green foliage of the tomatoes in Kintzel’s garden. Watering was too hard on the pump and the well, says gardener Kintzel, "so I quit last week after it rained."

Corn Shocks
Brittle golden corn stalks, remnants of a sweet corn harvest, testify to the summer of drought in the teepee-shaped shocks Kintzel formed along the garden row.

Outside the back porch a tiny bed holds springs of dill and miniature marigolds for cooking and looking.

"My daughters put up the vegetables from my garden, and I let them take whatever they want for their families," says the father of eight. The arrangement works out well because he ends up with enough canned and frozen foods to last through the winter and spring.

If Kintzel has an affinity for music, he also has a sprit for cultivation the earth. He was raised on a farm about a mile and a half from Etna Green with his four brothers and four sisters, the son of Christopher and Isabel Kintzel.

Eight Children
He continued the family farming tradition in the Etna Green area where he and his wife, the former Amy Leffel, also an Etna Green girl, raised their eight youngsters.

The Kintzel twins were Max, now of Etna Township trustee, and Maxine Cullison, who lives in Plymouth, William F., Joe and True Kintzel are the couple’s other three sons, and three more daughters are Faith Shearer of Bourbon, Magdalene Taylor of New Carlisle and Doris Anglin of Clunette.

His first wife died in 1938, and Kintzel moved with his second spouse, Helen, in 1942 from Etna Green to the 75-acre farm south of Warsaw.

A heart attack and age caught up with farming career, and the acreage he cares for is reduced to six today. For awhile he milked nine cows by hand every day while working as the head meat cutter for the Warsaw Locker Plant own by Wilbur J. Redick.

"I really loved that work, it was fascinating. And it takes some skill to dress out the meat with just the right amount of fat and without ruining other parts of it," says the one time butcher.

"But I didn’t think I could keep on working the locker and take care of the farm too. I suppose now I should have just stayed at the job instead of coming back to the farm."

"There are some people who won’t believe this, but one day I cut up 27 quarters of beef by myself," Kinzel reflects. He also helped wait on Warsaw customers at the locker plant counter, and his philosophy of "always keeping busy and working" manifests itself in his lifestyle.

Alone Again
Today he lives alone in the frame house with a yellow tom cat and a stray mother cat and her four kittens, which he hopes to give away for pets.

His daughter, Faith, helps her father with business matters and looks after a monthly housecleaning detail. Widowed for the second time on Thanksgiving morning in 1968, Kintzel has learned to keep house and cook for himself, "But," he says, "there are some things they (his family) think I don’t do just right, so they help me out."

A stroke and a subsequent fall damaged Kintzel’s eyesight, but he can still read the music on the piano where he spends the evening hours singing to himself.

Last November his daughter Doris, who is accompanist Becky’s mother, prepared a batch of carrot juice for her father, and Becky says he contends the concoction has greatly improved his eyesight. But sounds are what matter to him now as he lifts the song on his lips to God.

Warsaw Times-Union Spotlight Aug. 24-31, 1974