“I only had an eighth-grade education,” she loved to remind us editors whenever she’d spotted a howler. Verena Arnold, a long-time proofreader for Plough, usually got the printout of a book just before it went to press. By that stage, the text had already been scrutinized for errors. Verena’s check came near the end – “the disaster check,” in house jargon. With unnerving regularity, she caught disasters others had failed to see: the missing word, the garbled sentence, nonsensical punctuation.
Verena’s schooling may have stopped at eighth grade, but she was a voracious reader. Having grown up in the Paraguayan outback – she was one of twelve children born to Swiss pacifist émigrés – English wasn’t her mother tongue. (She immigrated to the United States in 1961 at age twenty-two.) Yet decades of reading had given her a sense for the language that outmatched that of many English majors.
She came to publishing in later life, after raising her own eight children and serving for decades with her husband, Johann Christoph Arnold, a pastor and author who for eighteen years was elder of the Bruderhof. She started by helping to proofread the twelve books he published with Plough beginning in the mid-1990s. In recent years, she branched out, with numerous Plough titles eventually going through her hands.
It was often a mystery where she found the time. Born in 1938, she was in her seventies now. Yet she and Johann Christoph still took an active role in the international Bruderhof movement; after fifty years of marriage, they were virtually inseparable. With him, Verena met with popes and presidents. She also visited prison inmates on death row.
Then, eighteen months ago, she became a widow. She continued to carry on the pastoral task that she and her husband had shared, usually meeting daily with several individuals or couples. Even so, this venerable grandmother of forty-four and great-grandmother of six still showed up daily in the community laundry, where she folded T-shirts and sorted jeans for the three hundred fellow members.
Verena got much of her proofreading done out in nature: she would take a stack of papers and her camera – she was a wildlife photographer – and head to a favorite spot in the nearby woods. In white-tail season, that spot would be a hunting blind and she’d bring a rifle. She’d mark commas while waiting for a deer to come into range.
Verena’s legendary forthrightness could make you squirm, but came laced with humor and a disarming humility. Intensely competitive, especially when it came to a card game, she had a rebellious streak, too, and enjoyed confounding expectations. Nothing was more certain to draw her rebuke than praise. Probably she disapproves of this article.
If so, she is disapproving in heaven. Verena died on September 21 after a five-year battle with cancer. She will be missed immeasurably – as Cardinal Dolan of New York announced at her wake, “A matriarch has gone home.” And if you, Plough reader, start noticing more typos, this is why: in her new home she’s been given greater tasks to do.