- By April Bayer
More than 550 alumni and friends from eight graduating classes between 1968 and 2013 returned to Seward this past weekend as a part of Concordia’s Homecoming and 125th Anniversary Celebration.
Throughout the weekend, alumni had the opportunity to reconnect with former classmates as they attended class socials and banquets, listened to Campus Pastor Ryan Matthias preach during the opening chapel service, took tours of the campus, and attended the homecoming football and volleyball games.
One of the weekend’s notable events took place at Bottle Rocket Brewery on Saturday night, where alumni from all the classes gathered to enjoy dinner and drinks along with a social hour. Many in attendance were members of the high school graduating class of 1968 and had not returned to Seward for 50 years.
Alumna Francie (Ricker) Heinz, who graduated in 1972, studied elementary education at Concordia and said one of her favorite memories was being part of a music group called Small Majority, which sang popular songs and performed dance routines. She met her husband while singing in the group. He went on to be a Director of Christian Education, while Heinz taught third through fifth grade in Lutheran and public schools for 33 years.
“(Concordia) taught me to love children,” Heinz said. “It taught me to build relationships with students because the professors on campus, they were just such wonderful professors that you had wonderful relationships with. They taught me to love my students as they loved me.”
Alumna Gretchen (Stohs) Erhardt, who became friends with Heinz during their first week of college, graduated from Concordia High School in 1968 and Concordia Teachers College in 1971. She studied elementary education and went on to teach English and music. She said one of her favorite memories from her time at Concordia was going on tours as a violinist with the University A Capella Choir and having her son go on to be in the same choir 25 years later.
“It’s been just a joy to meet people I haven’t seen for 50 years, and for Seward to host them at the college to make it possible. It’s really been great,” Erhardt said. “What was really fun was to see some professors.”
Elden “Jack” Duensing was one such professor. He met his wife at Concordia as a student in 1949, and graduated in 1953. He and his wife taught for many years before returning to Concordia to work in admissions and the education department for over 25 years. He was also Concordia’s first financial aid director.
“I think (this) is so special because when we lived here together, we really got to know each other well, and we were close friends,” Duensing said. “Both students and faculty were close friends, and now they’re coming together, and it just pours out of you, remembering all of that.”
Duensing shared memories of living in Jesse Hall in 1945 as a high schooler and sharing a dorm with twenty American World War II veterans. Two months later, another veteran arrived on campus, a young man who served as a fighter pilot on the German side. Duensing said the two became good friends.
“It was just great. They’d been all over the world, and they loved to talk about it, and we loved to hear it. It was really a neat time,” Duensing said.
Other events during the weekend included the induction of several new members into the Athletic Hall of Fame and the Homecoming Banquet at the Graduate Hotel in Lincoln.
During the Homecoming Banquet, President Rev. Dr. Brian Friedrich delivered the State of the University address, and alumnus Ken Pullman received the Sower Award, which is given annually to a donor who has made a significant impact through his or her support of Concordia. Seven other alumni also received awards in honor of their philanthropic support of the university. The evening ended with a performance from Concordia’s Vocal Jazz Choir.
The weekend closed with Sunday morning services at St. John Lutheran Church featuring performances from the Cantamus women’s choir.
“I met such good friends here (at Concordia), and those memories are just so special to me,” Heinz said. “To be on campus again, just to see the improvement in the campus, it’s like coming back home.”