Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Visit from a Concordia Gift Officer

Last week I was visited by Mike Mettenbrink, who serves as a Major Gift Officer in the Development Department of Concordia University. He had written to me in advance:

I have been sharing your “blogspot” with many friends, alums and supporters of Concordia that have close ties to the university and the Seward area as I travel around the country.

I talked with Mike for about three hours, and I enjoyed the conversation and learned a lot from him. He is one of four members of the Development Department who travel around the USA to tell potential donors about Concordia and to arrange for those who do decide to donate in large or small amounts, as single donations or as periodic donations.

Mike attended Concordia during the 1980s and was one of the first students to graduate with a major in Business Administration. He worked for many years as a sales representative for private industry and then about four years ago accepted an offer to return to Concordia to work as a gift officer for the college.

He lives a short distance north of where my family lived on North Columbia Avenue. His wife manages the university bookstore, and they have three children who attend St John Elementary School, grades two through seven.

Mike said that St John School is growing and improving. The faculty, the families and the university are optimistic about the school's future. Recently one of the teachers departed, and there were 20 applicants who applied to fill the vacancy.

Although Concordia is no longer a teaching college, its Education Department still collaborates with the elementary school. The university still sends its students to observe and to serve as student teachers, just like in the olden days when my Dad managed that program.

Some of St John's graduates continue their Lutheran educations by attending a Lutheran high school in Lincoln. That is not a boarding school, but the commute is reasonable, and the families carpool.

Concordia University's enrollment has grown to 1,700 students and includes graduate students who attend classes in Lincoln. The selection of study majors has become much broader. Many students major in business, science, information technology, mass communications and even forensics.

Many students still are majoring in subjects that prepare them for careers in Christian education and the ministry. The university still offers courses in theology and other religious subjects (including Hebrew and Greek languages), music, art, drama and athletics. About 20 students are preparing to transfer to a seminary after graduation. A larger number are preparing for careers in Christian education and music.

Mike gave me the current issue of the Broadcaster alumni magazine and promised to arrange a subscription (which is free). The magazine has improved since I saw it the last time. In this issue I was interested particularly by the articles about former art professor Reinhold Marxhausen (I babysat his sons), retiring athletic equipment manager Stan Schlueter (older brother of my classmate Jane Schlueter) and journalism professor Toby Beck (my childhood neighbor on Faculty Lane; I never will be able to call him Tobin.)

The concluding two paragraphs in the article about Toby, who came to teach at Concordia after a long career as a journalist, made an impression on me:

I talk [to my journalism students] about what it means to have a Christian world view, dealing with people as Christ would have us deal with them, based on Scripture, and about the various world views that people around the globe may have.

As a journalist I often thought about Martin Luther's explanation of the Eighth Commandment, to "put the best construction on everything". Not to gloss things over inappropriately, but to be honest and fair and make sure in the reporting of stories that all relevant sides were told in a way that was accurate and in proper context.

That kind of thinking is a good example of the education that was and still is instilled by Seward's Lutheran schools.

When I asked Mike Mettenbrink about the donors' motivations, he remarked that several extremely generous individual donors never attended or even visited Seward's schools, but were deeply impressed by some of the school's graduates who had moved to the donor's own towns and "let their lights shine" in the local schools and churches. These graduates were not only smart and effective, they also were moral and inspirational. These donors knew Concordia from its fruits and so they donated a lot of money in order to preserve and develop that educational orchard.

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