JS Archive

Jun 2003: Hard to argue with a mother’s calm logic

Mike Nichols Mike Nichols

Betty Balian was – wouldn’t you know it – just heading out the door when I called Monday, so she didn’t have time to talk. Which is just as well.

She talked plenty last week.

Balian, the Dodge County Board member and wife of Moose, was quoted in the Watertown Daily Times as saying she is “immensely sad” for Susan Gengler-Liermann, who lost her 17-year-old son in a hit-and-run accident in September.

So far so good.

Moose Balian has been charged with the crime, and Betty Balian is herself facing a probable recall election resulting from an e-mail she sent to the then-Dodge County sheriff during the investigation, so she is fully aware of the disturbing way in which Jimmy died while riding his bike home from a job at ShopKo.

It appears, however, that Betty Balian’s sadness isn’t about Susan Gengler-Liermann’s loss so much as what that loss has ostensibly transformed the dead child’s mother into: some sort of raging, Balian would have us believe, and lost soul.

“I know she has a void in her life, and she is filling that void with hate and anger,” Betty Balian reportedly went on to say in a story about the recall petition that Gengler-Liermann supports. “I hope she knows the only way to fill that void would be to turn to God.”

Thank you, Rev. Balian.

I reached Gengler-Liermann up north Monday morning where she was either frothing at the mouth while getting ready to perform a ritualistic bloodletting or, perhaps, doing her best to continue living life while dealing with what has to be a devastating loss.

For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to her probably 10 times, and the lady has always struck me as articulate, logical and composed.

Her religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are no one’s business – although she did offer an observation, plus a germane remark, about her own struggles after Jimmy’s death.

“Just like there are no atheists in foxholes,” she said, “there is no neutrality for bereaved parents when it comes to God.” Parents who have lost kids are invariably either drawn to him in search of comfort, she said, or turn away.

“I did not turn away,” she said. “I hope to see Jimmy again someday.”

Although able to laugh now, Gengler-Liermann confessed to initially being a little shocked by Betty Balian’s chastisement – not that it didn’t have a familiar echo.

In late April, a woman closely related to John Schulte, the Kewaskum auto body man who admitted fixing Moose Balian’s truck and not notifying police, sent out an e-mail asking why Gengler-Liermann didn’t “arrange to pick up the kid from work” the night Jimmy died, and opining that she “needs to think logically about this case beyond her grief over the loss of her son.”

Susan Gengler-Liermann isn’t just angry, hateful and godless, mind you, she’s totally illogical.

Not anywhere near as illogical, from where I sit, as a Dodge County supervisor who sends a sheriff an e-mail saying she would “very much appreciate it” if the Sheriff’s Department would remove her husband’s name from the “list of suspects to hassle.”

And then, it appears, sees absolutely nothing wrong with that.

“Even if he is innocent,” said Gengler-Liermann on Monday of Moose Balian, and his wife’s e-mail, “it is totally inappropriate.”

No hate or anger there – just a wholly rational opinion with which lots of voters in a recall election, God-fearing or not, might agree.