LARGO — For 30 years, the Rev. Bruce Fehl shepherded Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, the distinctive angular structure on Missouri Avenue built in 1975 to accommodate its growth.
The Rev. Fehl answered his pastoral calling with the ease of a switchboard operator, balancing a multitude of congregational tasks with family, the ethics committee of Largo Medical Center and the formation of what is now Suncoast Hospice, among other commitments.
A musician, he even filled in when the pipe organist was sick.
The post at Prince of Peace was his second in the Tampa Bay area. The Rev. Fehl moved his family to Temple Terrace in 1962 at the behest of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Suburban residents answered their doors to find a genial man in a black suit, with a black shirt, clerical collar and glasses with clear plastic frames inviting them to Sunday services. Christ the King Lutheran Church opened in 1962 in the cafeteria of Temple Terrace Elementary School.
In time he built a sanctuary and served as the first Lutheran chaplain at the neighboring University of South Florida.
Bruce Allen Fehl was born in Vandergrift, Pa., in 1932, a plumber's son, and grew up in Akron, Ohio. He studied classical piano and organ on the way to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
He graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, marrying Lida Neal, a Wittenberg classmate, in 1956. He moved from an associate pastor's job in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1958 to Temple Terrace four years later.
The church called him to Prince of Peace in 1967, and over the next 30 years membership grew from 280 to 1,200.
"Bruce had an enormous — I would say innate — ability to stay connected to people," said the Rev. Eugene Kern, 61, who served as the Rev. Fehl's associate pastor from 1982 to 1995. "I watched him many times in meetings where he would know who would be disgruntled. He would find a way to seek them out, have a cup of coffee."
The Rev. Fehl had no hobbies.
"Your whole schedule is built around church, including holidays," said Lida Fehl, 81, his wife. "So we did family things as we could."
The Rev. Fehl retired in 1997. He preached his last guest sermon three years ago. His memory had worsened by then, and he knew it. He told his wife he did not want to appear in public functions again.
His family spent Christmas in his room at Cypress Palms, an assisted-living center. The Rev. Fehl gave them a thumbs-up sign when they left. He died at 3 a.m. Dec. 26 as a result of Alzheimer's disease, his family said.
He was 81.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.