As kids, they picked beans on a farm to earn a little spending money. Oscar Lang had a crush on Vernetta, and when she wasn’t looking, he placed a few rocks in her bean-picking bag to give her some extra weight so she would make more money.Oscar and Vernetta Lang, pictured in an undated family photo, were hit by a car and killed as they were leaving Mass at St. Louis Parish, Caledonia, last Saturday evening. (Submitted photo courtesy the Lang family)

“My mom didn’t know he did this until years later, when my dad finally told her,” said Joe, 55, in a phone interview with the Catholic Herald. “They met again when they were 19 or 20 at a dance and he asked her out. They never separated after that and got married.”

Shortly before 6 p.m. on a frosty Saturday last weekend, a line formed outside their church. Shivering folks, some still fastening the buttons on their winter coats, greeted Fr. Mark Danczyk, pastor of St. Louis Parish, Caledonia, as he visited with them following the 5 p.m. Mass.

As he reached to shake Vernetta’s hand, she mentioned that he should go inside because it was so cold outside. 

“I told her that I love ice and snow and I enjoy being out in the cold,” said Fr. Danczyk, in a phone interview with the Catholic Herald. “She said, ‘OK, you take care of yourself,’ and smiled at me. I told her to take care of herself , too. I watched (her) and her Oscar hold hands as they went down the walkway. That little conversation will stick in my mind forever.”

Less than two minutes later, Fr. Danczyk said he heard a loud thump and a young girl screaming that there was a body on the side of the road.

Police said Vernetta and Oscar, both 83, died from injuries after being struck by an SUV traveling eastbound on Highway G at about 5:50 p.m. as they were crossing the highway to get to their car.  The SUV was driven by 32-year-old Monica Sanchez of Racine. 

Vernetta was thrown 50 feet by the impact and Oscar about 150 feet. Sanchez had two children with her, but no one in the SUV was physically injured, police said. No charges have been recommended for the driver and alcohol is not believed to be a factor in the accident, according to Caledonia police. 

Several witnesses tried to help. Two nurses, members of the parish and attendees at the 5 p.m. Mass, attempted life-saving efforts while paramedics were en route. Fr. Danczyk said he administered the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. 

“That just means so much to me that they were just coming back from Mass, had shared their faith with other parishioners, and then I was able to be present to anoint them both,” he said, choking back tears. “I will never forget seeing their four empty shoes strewn all over the side of the road though; it was just so difficult to see, so very sad … unbelievably sad. Those two were always close, holding hands and this simple act goes a long way in telling people how much they loved each other.”

The couple had nine children, Dwayne, Doreen, Steven, Jerry, Doris, Joe, Dave, Marilyn and Dale, and 63 years later, Oscar and Vernetta were still deeply in love, holding hands as they always did, until the end.

“They held hands when they went to church, or other social events, such as dances and stuff, especially later in their lives,” said Joe. “When we were kids, there wasn’t a lot of time for that, though, as they were always managing us monsters all the time.”

There were ups and downs in the family, but their steadfast faith kept the family close. It was their example that Joe expects will hold them together now and in the days ahead.

“Their love for us was incredible, and because they treated us so well, we enjoy spending time together. We are a close family and get along real well, and we all live fairly near each other, in Wisconsin or Illinois,” said Joe, choking back tears. “It is just such a shock to us; we can hardly believe it, and we’ve all had so many difficult moments the past couple of days. We have all broken down many times, but being with everyone has helped. I don’t know Fr. Mark that well, but he is really struggling, too, and broke down several times. He really knew my parents well.”

As longtime members of the parish, Vernetta and Oscar were regulars at the 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. Vernetta often baked for parish functions, and Oscar, a retired trucker for Benz Oil, Tank Transport, and Badger Ford, was also a farmer. In his spare time, he helped with painting projects in the parish buildings. Both helped during the parish’s annual summer festival. The couple recently moved from their spacious home with vegetable and flower gardens in Town of Raymond to an efficiency apartment in Caledonia. 

“When they moved, they gave away all of their vegetable and flower garden tools to their kids,” said Fr. Danczyk. “The kids told me that they treated all of them exactly the same, and had no favorites. They raised their children in the faith and were great people.”

Joe agreed and admitted that because of his parents’ example, all the children have strong faith lives that they have passed on to their children and grandchildren. 

“My parents had 16 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, and we all appreciate our faith and are followers of Jesus,” he said. “Our parents had a special way of handling us, making us feel special and knew each of us very well. Without the knowledge and comfort of knowing where they are now, it would be just too difficult to get through this.”

While Fr. Danczyk was too heartbroken to deliver his homily at either Mass on Sunday, he said the Gospel reading from Mark, where Jesus asked Simon and Andrew, who were fishermen, to follow him, holds a deeper meaning for him now. 

“Oscar was a fisherman and he always brought me fish – any kind of fish; I loved it,” he said. “It was always filleted and frozen, and this Gospel just carries new meaning to me now. ‘Come, I will make you fishers of men,’ so appropriate for this week.”

As pastor of the parish for 14 years, Fr. Danczyk knows every person in the 700-member parish, and considers them part of his family. This time, however, the pain of loss was so great that he needed the assistance of his parishioners to get through this pain.

“So many people have been ministering back to me and it truly helps,” he said, his voice breaking. “I keep telling everyone that I am so helpless, but you know through the power of prayer, we are getting through it. The parish is really coming through. We celebrate at our summer festival and in this tragedy, we pray and console each other. We really need to rely on each other as a family. This parish is so different than any other I have served as pastor. No one runs out the door after Communion; they stay after and visit. If a regular isn’t in the pew, they find out if they are OK and really look out after each other, maybe bring a meal, make a phone call or just visit.”

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Caledonia Police Department have offered counseling resources to those needing help in dealing with the aftermath of the accident. 

“If anyone needs counseling, there is help available,” he said. “But I ask for prayers for this family. If I am going through such a difficult time, I cannot imagine what they are going through.”

Visitation for the Langs will be from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Heritage Funeral Home, 9200 S. 27th St., Oak Creek. The Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, at St. Louis Parish, 13207 Highway G, Caledonia.