Words for Thought

Aug 8th, 2019 | Category: Columns, Words for Thought
By Shirley K. Morgenthaler

A Lasting Influence, a Lasting Impact

As I thought about what to write for you, the reader, to contemplate, I thought of the words engraved on our Martin Luther statue in the center of campus.

For the sake of the church, we must have and maintain Christian schools. How true! The stories in this issue and in this column underscore that emphatically.

The organization we now know as CLEF grew from the visions of five men and their spouses who were friends. Each of these men and women had attended Lutheran schools. Grade school. High school for some. University education beyond that. Each of these couples appreciated the educations they had received in the Chicagoland Lutheran schools they attended as children.

Now, some decades later, these same couples began to be concerned for the viability of the schools they had attended. They saw the deterioration of the inner-city schools they had called home. They became concerned about the viability of the Lutheran high schools in the metropolitan area. They decided it was time to do something.

These men and woman had both business and personal relationships. They were successful businesspersons who decided that it was time to give back. Clarence Schawk, Jay Christopher, Bill Mattes, Dick Vie and Ann Rundio were all very successful businesspersons with the means to make a financial difference in Lutheran schools. But how? According to Jay, it was Don Roush, a member of the Concordia Chicago development team at the time, who pulled the group together into a team. Over time, that team became the beginning of the Chicagoland Lutheran Educational Foundation, the beginning of CLEF.

It was at least two decades ago that my late husband and I attended an alumni gathering at St. Andrews Lutheran Church at 27th and Hoyne. Bob had attended school there from first through eighth grades. He had fond memories of those years and of the schooling he received there. After Sunday worship, about thirty of us gathered in the school basement for lunch and a meeting. My most compelling memory of that meeting was an impromptu presentation by Bill Mattes. Bill spoke passionately about the need for all Lutheran-school alumni to give back by supporting Lutheran schools financially as well as with prayer.

He spoke about the changing demographics of Chicagoland urban Lutheran schools. And about the urgent needs for physical repair in many of the school buildings. And about the need for funding the professional development of the teachers in those schools His enthusiasm and passion were palpable. I can still see him speaking to us that day. His words and his passion made an impact on me.

The interesting detail about that lasting impact is that I already had that same passion. I was a professor at Concordia University River Forest. I had come to CTC many years earlier in order to become a Lutheran teacher. I, too, was a product of Lutheran education. Elementary. High school. College. I knew the value of those experiences. But here was this businessman, this very successful businessman, speaking passionately enough to match my professional passion about the schools for which I helped to prepare teachers. Here was this businessman describing an emerging way to support urban Lutheran schools in Chicago. Here was this businessman sharing a concept of support for schools that his fellow St. Andrews alumni could grasp.

The names of those working with him were only names on that Sunday afternoon. Over the years, those names have come to represent individuals whom I, too, call friends. Clarence Schawk is referred to as the person with the original vision. He and his wife Marilyn, spoke with their friends, Eunice and Bill Mattes. The four of them shared a similar vision for the support of urban Lutheran schools. Soon Jay and Doris Christopher were pulled into the vision, followed by Dick Vie and his wife, Joan plus Ann Rundio and her husband Lou. Those ten individuals gathered their considerable funds to make a difference for the Lutheran schools of Chicago. There were others who pitched in at the time of founding, However, the ten listed here are those who still sit on the board more than two decades after they helped to found CLEF.

In the early days, the urgent need was physical repair. New windows to replace old and drafty ones. A new hot water heater to provide the hot water that had disappeared with the breakdown of the old one. New floors. New doors. Whatever an individual school needed in order to provide a safe and aesthetically-pleasing environment for schooling.

Over the more than 25 years since the inception of CLEF, the vision has broadened and deepened. As Mike Welch wrote in his article, this board has come to the realization that the high quality of teachers and principals is the formula for a high-quality school. Parents will pay for high quality. Parents will pay for results they can see. Young parents watch the paths of the older children in the neighborhood and want the same high-quality path for their own children. Simeon Stumme’s book review adds the dimension of the sociological and cultural impact of high-quality parochial education. Lutheran education.

We have the facts. We know what it takes. We also know how a community is impoverished when a parochial school closes. When a Lutheran school closes. We have the knowledge. Now do we also have the will? Five individuals – Clarence, Bill, Jay, Dick, Ann – had the will 25 years ago. They have been joined by people like Mike and Janet, Eunice and Marilyn. By others whose names I do not know.

Most people who know CLEF know only one or two persons on that board or on the list of founders. Most people, like me, are impressed without knowing all the details. People are impressed by the vision. By the results. By the ability to obtain funding from others outside their CLEF family. By the fact that the board itself pays for all of its expenses. People and paper. Computers and communication systems. Office space and bank accounts. All of the money they raise for CLEF goes to the schools. The Lutheran schools of Chicago.

What else in our spheres of influence needs similar vision? Similar passion? Similar commitment? Similar investment? Can you and a colleague make a difference? Absolutely! Do you need to be rich? Absolutely not! Do you need a vision? Absolutely! Do you need to have all the details in order? Absolutely not! What you need is the conviction and the vision. The passion and the determination. The understanding that God blesses the work of his people. Especially when it is work that He needs done.

So figure out what work God wants of you and get busy! For some of you, like me, your passion will intersect with your professional life. That’s where you will make a difference. For others of you, your passion will grow out of a hobby, an interest, an experience. God will take whatever we will give Him. What’s your gift going to be? LEJ