February 7, 2023 at 3:48 p.m.
God’s hand weaves through Ennekings’ lives
Tom and Laurel Enneking share a late-in-life love, accented by Laurel’s sister Anita “Nita” Schneider who adds sparkle to their 43-year marriage.
The Ennekings married in 1979, when both were in their mid-40s, after years in the religious life. Today, they are living the life they know they were meant to live.
“It’s God’s blessing, for sure,” Laurel, 88, said Feb. 2 at Mother of Mercy Nursing Home in Albany, where she, Tom, 90, and Nita, 80, live. “God has given us wonderful years together.”
Mild-mannered Tom credits his wife for their life of love and blessings.
“She’s heaven on earth,” he said, holding Laurel’s hand tightly.
Laurel softly adds, “Ditto.”
Intertwined in their lives is Nita whose inspiring story is depicted in “Anita, Our Angel of Delight,” a book in the final stages of being penned by Laurel.
Laurel and Nita were raised on a farm in rural Breckenridge, one of Joe and Catherine Schneider’s 17 children. Laurel explains Nita developed challenges, due to oxygen-lacking issues, soon after she was born. They had a “marvelous family life,” even though it was during war time.
“My mother was saintly with a sense of humor,” Laurel said. “She taught us to be self-sufficient and caring.”
Laurel attended St. Benedicts High School in St. Joseph, run by the Sisters of St. Benedict. With nine daughters in the family, her dad thought one would go into the religious life.
“I promised my dad I would be a nun,” said Laurel who was given the name Sister Bibianna.
As a Benedictine sister, she taught at schools, including in St. Joseph, Long Prairie and Sauk Centre and was principal in Wadena.
Then she was diagnosed with cancer and left the Order of St. Benedict. It was while she was in St. Paul, applying for a teaching position, that she met Tom Enneking, who, by this time had left the Order of the Holy Cross (Crosier vocation) and worked at 3M in the Twin Cities.
Tom was raised on a farm north of Melrose with his eight siblings, the children of Henry and Rose Enneking. He liked milking cows and working with draft horses.
Tom shares the story of how his dad reminded him if he wanted to imitate Roy Rogers not to get careless, and his dad told him not to ride the horses when he came back from the field. He rode a horse anyway and fell off.
“Typical teenager, don’t do what Dad says,” he said, a smile forming on his face.
His dad wanted him to take over the farm, but he chose to become a Crosier brother.
Tom was a Crosier brother for 20 years, and Laurel spent 38 years teaching, 28 as a Benedictine sister. She explained in order for them to receive dispensation (exemption) from their religious orders they each needed to write a letter to the proper authority in Rome, explaining, among other things, why they chose to leave their order.
Laurel fondly recalls that first meeting with Tom, March 17, 1979.
“It was love at first sight,” she said.
Tom told her he had been offered a position at a new 3M plant in Nebraska.
“I said I’d go anywhere with anybody I loved,” Laurel said. “I was so brassy.”
One month later, they were engaged.
“He came on my birthday, April 29, and said this is silly driving back and forth. Why don’t we get married,” Laurel said.
During their short courtship, Tom took Laurel to visit Nita in a group home in the Twin Cities.
“So, Nita got to know Tom well, and she loved him, and I knew he would help take care of her some day,” Laurel said adding, “How precious he is.”
On Aug. 3, 1979, Tom and Laurel were married at St. Alphonse Church in Brooklyn Center, where Laurel was teaching.
“We didn’t have any money so some of the sisters from St. Ben’s and my second graders sang for our wedding,” Laurel said.
One week before the wedding she injured her Achilles tendon so she was in a cast. Her wedding dress covered up the cast. Laurel and Tom danced their first dance as husband and wife to the song “Amanda.” She recalls the men lining for the dollar dance with her, as she sat on a chair and they knelt in front of her.
“Tom said it looked like they were going to confession,” Laurel said laughing.
Their “wonderful” life began.
In the mid-1980s, Catherine and Nita joined the Ennekings in Nebraska. By 1995 they all moved back to Minnesota, where the Ennekings found a home in Avon. From the get-go, they became active at the Church of St. Benedict in Avon, especially on cemetery projects.
Nita became a resident at Mother of Mercy Memory Lane in Albany. In 2018, Tom had back surgery, plus Laurel had dealt with cancer, had diabetes and was legally blind, which prompted a move to the assisted living facility at the MOM campus, which meant they were closer to Nita. They are grateful to “wonderful friends,” who helped them move.
“God gifts us in so many different ways,” Laurel said.
Laurel admits it was difficult when the decision was made to move Tom into MOM nursing home, as he dealt with other medical issues, but the silver living was by this time Nita was also at the nursing home.
“She was so sweet and sensitive to my loss, and said she was going to take care Tom, and I thanked her,” Laurel said.
Laurel joined them at the nursing home in 2019, and eventually they were all on the same floor, in different rooms near each other.
Wanting to share Nita’s story with family, Laurel started writing about her sister who she considered her birthday gift because Nita was born on April 23, which also was their parents’ wedding anniversary.
“It started just being about Nita, but I realized I couldn’t do that without including Tom and me,” she said. “It’s our autobiography.”
Even though she can’t see well, Laurel wrote page after page of details in cursive, and someone else typed it. She is excited for the book to be printed and distributed to their families.
These days, Nita keeps busy with her projects at the nursing home and watching her favorite show “The Price is Right.”
Laurel loves spending time with Tom.
“After supper they bring me to Tom’s room, and we watch ‘The Virginian’ and ‘Gunsmoke,’ and we visit in between,” Laurel said.
On this sunny February morning Laurel sings, “I’m the happiest girl in the whole U.S.A.,” words she still sings to Tom.
Their dream-like life has been marvelous.
“What makes our family special is we have strong faith and strong family ties and that kept with us – Tom, me and Nita,” Laurel said. “It’s been God’s hand weaving through our whole lives.”