The likelihood of being elected President struck me as very remote. While I was one of five finalists for the position, expectations were tempered to say the least. Others on the ballot were excellent candidates. By comparison, there were lots of questions about me. Nevertheless, I prepared for the interview and anticipated questions that might be asked — about my relative youth and inexperience, about a vision for the future, about pretty much anything relevant to Lutheran higher education. I remember my responses to some of those queries. In fact, a few of those responses were fairly well-rehearsed in my mind before the questions ever left their lips. One question, however, caught me a little by surprise.
Before that interview in July 1997, I had not previously met LCMS President Alvin Barry. Of course, I knew he would be there as part of the process. After all, he was one of the electors. Would he want to talk about theology, or about the relationship between Synod and the church’s colleges and universities, or about the church’s position on various issues? Those were the questions I expected and was well-prepared to answer. Then, as now, I am fully committed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and am unabashedly willing to dedicate myself to our shared confession. President Barry did not go in the direction that I expected. Instead, his approach was more personal. “When all was said and done, when your career as the President of Concordia has concluded,” President Barry asked me, “what do you hope that your legacy will be?”
Not unusual for a fellow still in the early stage of a career and having only just turned 38 years old, I frankly had not given much thought to legacy. Without much forethought, yet without pause, I replied with what I knew was the most honest answer. “When all is said and done, when I am at the other end of my career, I want my wife to say that I was a good husband, and I want my kids to say that I was a good dad.” Certainly, I wanted to be successful as a college president — however somebody might measure success. But if being President of Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) would have an adverse impact on my wife or children, I would be content to leave the job to one of the other well-qualified candidates. Happily, Concordia and the Concordia University System have been a tremendous blessing to our family.
There was no way to know how it might unfold in 1997. Our five children were much younger 25 years ago. When I was elected President of Concordia, they ranged in age from 4 to 11. Much of their childhood and early adult life has been shaped, at least to some extent, by our collective Concordia experience. To say that we are committed Concordians would be no reach. Between the seven of us, we have received 13 undergraduate and graduate degrees from seven different synodical institutions as part of our higher education experiences.
Our relationship to our Concordias has not been limited to our years as students. My own three decades at Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor is perhaps best known, but I am proud of my family and their service to the Lord and the church’s schools. They can answer for themselves whether I have been a good husband and father. What is obvious to me, however, is that I have been blessed with an extraordinary wife and wonderful family. It is my joy to help you get better acquainted with them.
In addition to her role as president’s spouse, Dr. Tammy Ferry has been on the professional staff at Concordia for many years. Presently, she is the Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness. My retirement from Concordia after 24 years as President was one thing, but the university was not willing to let Tammy go so easily!
Our oldest son, Peter, and his wife, Dr. Kiki Hachiya, live in the Twin Cities. Pete, a graduate of Concordia University Irvine (CUI), is on the Development staff at Concordia University St. Paul. Kiki is a clinical psychologist at the V.A. hospital in Minneapolis. They are expecting their first child in June!
Dr. Hannah Meineke, a graduate of Concordia University Nebraska (CUNE), also earned a master’s degree from CUW ahead of her doctoral studies. She is on the faculty of Concordia University Texas (CTX). Her husband, Dr. Zach Meineke, is a physical therapist. He earned his Physical Therapy degree at CUW following his undergraduate work at CUNE. Hannah and Zach are the parents of Eva, Jonah, Leo, and Nellie, four of our beautiful grandchildren.
Our middle child, Andrew, is an attorney for Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York City. Presently, he is in the midst of a secondment with Major League Baseball. He has an MBA from CUW in addition to his undergraduate and law degrees. Dr. Stephanie Ruvalcaba, Andrew’s wife, is a pharmacist and is finishing a Residency at Ascension-All Saints Hospital in Racine, Wisconsin. This follows her graduation from CUW’s School of Pharmacy. Stephie has also earned a Master’s in Product Development from Concordia.
Rachel Thoms, our younger daughter, lives near Ann Arbor with her husband, Kyle, and their baby boy, our grandson. His name is Elliot, and he is awesome. Following her undergraduate experience at CTX, Rachel joined the staff at Concordia Ann Arbor (CUAA) and worked in various positions in admissions and communications. She also earned a Master’s degree in Organizational Communication from CUAA. Recently she joined the staff at University Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor as a communications specialist. Kyle is a graduate of CUAA with an MBA from CUW. He is the Director of Enrollment at CUAA.
Our youngest, Stephen, studied history at CUI. He stayed around after graduation to do a Master’s degree while assistant coaching their men’s basketball team. Now, Stephen is in his final year of law school and looking forward to serving a Clerkship for the U.S. Appeals Court for the Armed Forces in Washington D.C., following the bar exam.
Across the LCMS there are differences of opinion about our Synod’s colleges and universities and their mission. As a family, we have been heavily invested in Lutheran higher education. For some of us it has been our life’s work. Count us among those who have been blessed by a Christ-centered, Gospel-focused learning that has encouraged us in our Christian faith. Count us also among those who have benefitted from an education marked by excellence in teaching and learning that prepares students for many meaningful and useful Christian vocations. Our Concordia colleges, universities, and seminaries are an absolute treasure of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.
I found President Al Barry to be a kind and thoughtful leader, and I was blessed to get to know him better in the years before the Lord called him home. Perhaps I will be one of the five names on the ballot to be considered for the position he once held. The chances of being elected strike me as remote, and my expectations are tempered. Of course, I am ready and willing to answer questions others may have for me about theology. I am still fully committed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and am unabashedly willing to dedicate myself to our shared confession. Maybe there are questions about my experience including the impact of my presidency at Concordia. I would be delighted to talk about Lutheran higher education and our Concordia University System to anybody willing to listen.
But what most concerns my wife, Tammy, and me more than anything else is our children and our grandchildren. We join many other folks of our vintage who sit in our half-empty churches praying for an LCMS that will continue to be relevant and meaningful in the lives of those who come after us. We look around and see a lot of gray hair and wonder about the next generation. You see, I still care very much about what my children and their children think. But I am even more concerned about what they and their generation think about the Father who has loved them in Christ Jesus with an everlasting love. No doubt that is what drew me to Christian education in the first place. I care about reaching out to young people with the love of Jesus, and I am concerned about their relationship to the church through which the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, and enlightens them, and keeps them in the one true faith to life everlasting.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are part of the family of believers. It has always made sense to me to consider the impact of what we are doing upon the rest of the family. If the generation that follows us no longer follows us, we do well to pay attention.