John Victor Ankenbruck is being remembered as a man who was always thinking, always digging for the deeper truth. Francie Hogan, page designer for Today’s Catholic who worked with Ankenbruck for many years, remembers how he could often be found staring out the window in front of his manual typewriter — to the point where someone might mistake him for dozing off. But dozing off he was not. As a journalist, he was an advocate for the voiceless, and never settled for the story on the surface. As a historian, he sought the narratives that many others turned away from. Above all, Ankenbruck was a faithful follower of Christ.
Ankenbruck who passed away Aug. 21 in South Haven, Mich., was born in Fort Wayne on Oct. 10, 1925. He was the son of Helen Margaret Nussbaum and Oscar Ankenbruck and the last surviving of their six children. In 1944 he graduated from Central Catholic High School, Fort Wayne, and entered the U.S. Navy Air Corps to serve his county in World War II. Following the war he attended the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 1949. In 1956, he married LaVerne Alfoldy, and their family lived for many years in Fort Wayne.
Ankenbruck worked at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, as writer and columnist. Eventually, he became the editorial page editor for the newspaper. By the time Ankenbruck left the News-Sentinel and took his expertise to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, he was a veteran in the business. He had an expansive knowledge and extraordinary journalistic skills from his years of experience. In August 1986 he became the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and served the diocese for 12 years — during which time he made it clear he was dedicating himself and his talents to serve the church. His faith, hope and charity during his time at Today’s Catholic did more than prove his devotion.
There is a story that Ankenbruck was known to tell about naming Today’s Catholic what it is today, and why he is considered by many to be a founding editor of the paper. When he came aboard at Today’s Catholic, he and the late Bishop John M. D’Arcy were discussing a new name for the paper — which at the time was called The Harmonizer. As the story goes, Bishop D’Arcy suggested “Catholic Today” and Ankenbruck countered with “Today’s Catholic.” The results speak for themselves.
Ankenbruck authored several history books on the Fort Wayne area, including “Five Forts, The Voice of the Turtle,” and the “Twentieth Century History of Fort Wayne.” He found the history behind the Great Lakes area to be of great intrigue, even though it was often bypassed in favor of other facets of U.S. history, such as the westward expansion.
Before he retired, Ankenbruck owned and operated Ankenbruck’s Antiques in Albion. Considering his background, it seemed to some fitting that handling and selling antiques would be the final chapter of his professional journey. Nobody else could have appreciated the history behind the treasures that came and went through the doors of his shop like he did.
Ankenbruck respected the power of the story; not the fictional tales read for entertainment, but the true stories of real people, as is evident from his works and accomplishments. He told those stories in several types of written media, writing columns, articles and a book. What mattered was that the story was told. His articles on the treatment of the mentally ill, his books on the history of the area most textbooks simply neglect, all the stories and columns he has had a hand in over his long career as a writer and editor — they all came back to how important it is to tell a story.
A number of the people he wrote about may never have received any attention if Ankenbruck had not noticed them. Their stories, their histories, their very humanity may very well have been forgotten. But Ankenbruck saw their value as individuals who have played their role in God’s plan. His influence is still felt at Today’s Catholic, and his name is included in “Legendary Locals of Fort Wayne” for good reason.
The current editor of Today’s Catholic, Jodi Marlin, had this to say about her predecessor: “Mr. Ankenbruck’s name has long been synonymous with the foundational years of Today’s Catholic, under that particular name of paper. I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to know him personally, but his legacy of telling the compelling and inspiring stories of the Catholic faith as it’s lived in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend continues to inform the work we do every day.”
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