- Accidental Philanthropists: Honoring Four Generations of Pastors with Endowed Scholarships
- Reverend Will and Betty Gertner: Devoted to Accessible Seminary Education
- Ken Becker – A Generous Heart
- Engaging God’s Future – The Ripple Effect
Accidental Philanthropists: Honoring Four Generations of Pastors with Endowed Scholarships
Harold and Grace Kurtz call themselves “accidental philanthropists.” Wartburg Seminary now has four endowed scholarships in honor of four generations of pastors in the Kurtz family. “There have been 24 members of our families who are Lutheran clergy, 20 of whom are WTS graduates,” reports Harold. “We want to recognize the pastors [in our families] who have faithfully served the church.”
Harold’s great-grandfather came to WTS in 1885, and since then, “We’ve been a continuous line.” This line of clergy includes three generations of pastors from Germany before emigrating to the US.
Why are the Kurtzs “accidental” philanthropists? Harold shared the story: “Once upon a time back in 1958 I was a graduate student working on a masters in journalism at University of Wisconsin.” Harold shared an office with a man named Sandy Moss. “Sandy and I were kind of a version of the odd couple,” quips Harold. “I was small town pastor’s kid who had graduated from Wartburg College. Sandy was from Philadelphia, had a Jewish Unitarian background, graduated from college in Ohio, and we just were from very dissimilar backgrounds! However, we became good friends, and for some strange reason, we remained friends since then, which would have been 50-55 years.”
Sandy eventually “adopted himself into” the Kurtz family. He was divorced, had no children, and had little other family. They stayed close over the years, though Minnesota and New Jersey, where Sandy lived, were quite far apart.
“He called one evening and asked if we’d be the executors for his will and we told him this is about the dumbest idea we’d heard of from him,” Harold laughs. “He ignored us and put us as executors in his will. We didn’t think a lot of this. . .The guy hadn’t had a full time job since Jimmy Carter was president, we didn’t think there’d be much of an estate.”
Eventually, Sandy became ill, and Harold and Grace supported him in every way they could. He died July 5, and later the Kurtzs’ found out that Sandy had inherited money. They were now in the possession of this inherited money that was to be given away. “As my wife puts it, we are accidental philanthropists,” Harold says. “
Sandy left no instructions as to which charities should benefit from this money. Grace and Harold thought about what Sandy would want, and decided that a large portion of the money would provide scholarships at various institutions. Harold shared, “One of my dreams had always been to set up scholarships in memory of the four generations of our family who graduated from WTS: great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and brother…when this happened, we were able to do the four scholarships in memory of them all.”
Wartburg Seminary is dear to the Kurtzes. “Grace and I have been modest supporters of WTS for years. We knew some people there, the seminary had been important to my family, and Grace knew lots of pastors who were WTS graduates, so we thought we should invest in the future of the church in this way.”
The Kurtzs support the future of the church by commemorating the past. The four scholarships they established honor the four generations of the Kurtz family, graduates of Wartburg Theological Seminary. “These four pastors will be remembered; their legacy will be passed on to future generations of students,” says Harold.
Engaging God’s Future – The Ripple Effect
Carl and Valerie Rausch have deep connections to Wartburg Seminary. Carl’s grandfather, Emil Rausch, was a graduate and served as Wartburg Seminary’s 5th President. Carl also served on the Wartburg Board of Directors for twelve years and the Foundation Board of Trustees for seven years. While board service and family connections have strengthened their relationship to the seminary this isn’t the main reason they choose to support Wartburg Seminary today.
“The seminary’s work is exponential. When you give to the seminary you are helping train people to go out into communities and they will have influence and start programs in that community. Think about all the ways one leader can inspire an entire congregation to serve and make a difference in the world,” shared Carl and Valerie.
The Rausch’s congregation in Ohio has had a number of seminary interns over the years. Each year as the intern comes in they see the transformation in confidence and skill. And each year they are excited for them to go out and serve. Carl shared, “They grow so much in one year’s time. It is amazing and we
can see the impact this person will have when they go out into the world.”
Valerie has spent many years working with kids as a teacher or in a volunteer capacity. She says, “I see kids struggling and I think, what laws can we pass? What curriculum can we do that will fix these challenges? I think change has to come from families and one of the best ways to strengthen families is through the church. The church could have a big role in fixing some of the social problems we have in this world. And to me, it’s all about the impact these pastors and leaders can have in our world. We need more pastors to be out there in churches and communities providing leaders that can change lives, whether that’s through after school programs, programs that serve families, or other ways of reaching out.”
Carl and Valerie take their giving seriously. They want to make the most impact with the resources they’ve been given. For them supporting theological education at Wartburg offers the best “bang-for-your-buck.” Carl said, “There are so many needy organizations that are great organizations. With many you can write a check and the gift is spent and gone. We don’t feel that way about our giving to Wartburg because of the exponential effect. The gift keeps on giving through the impact that pastors and leaders have during their lives of service.”
“A good analogy is throwing a pebble into a lake,” Valerie said, “you throw out the pebble and it is gone but the ripple effect continues almost indefinitely. Pastors and leaders have the ripple effect because of all of the lives they inspire for a different way of living. With a gift to Wartburg you are not just helping the seminary, this is a gift that keeps on giving to our world.”
Reverend Will and Betty Gertner:
Devoted to Accessible Seminary Education
For as long as he can remember, Reverend Will Gertner ’57 pondered a life in ministry. Growing up in southwest Minnesota, Will’s formal education began in a one-room rural schoolhouse. After high school, Will studied at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and at Iowa State Teachers College (ISTC). “Waldorf intensified my spiritual focus, which was furthered by the Lutheran Campus Ministry at ISTC,” Will says. “I had an urge to begin as a campus ministry counselor, but was advised that theological preparation might enable me to be a more effective servant of the Church.” Through the invitation of a WTS student, Will visited Wartburg Seminary, had an interview with Professor Augie Englebrecht and enrolled in 1953.
Except for serving in parish ministry for three years in Detroit, Michigan, Will served most of his career as a campus pastor and professor of religious studies at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. Now retired, he and Betty, his wife of 54 years, continue to live in the Eau Claire area.
Will and Betty are longtime supporters of Wartburg Seminary. “My enthusiastic support for Wartburg began by bringing college students—many of whom became pastors—to the seminary for a visit,” Will says. The Gertners’ financial support was stimulated by Reverend David Solberg, a Wartburg graduate who later served as director of development for WTS. David was one of the prospective students that Will brought to the Wartburg campus years earlier.
Will and Betty understand the importance of their ongoing support to Wartburg Seminary. “Two challenges that loom high today for our Church and its ministry are the need for continuing financial support of seminary education and excessive student debt among recent seminary graduates,” emphasizes Will. Because of these challenges, Will and Betty decided to use a portion of Will’s ELCA retirement account to establish an endowed scholarship fund at
Wartburg Seminary. “We want to make it a bit more possible for a current student to avoid excessive debt,” Will says.
The Gertners are grateful that they can help students receive a WTS education and encourage others to reflect on how they can do the same. “Consider ways you might use your wealth and your estate to provide longevity to what you have found enriching and beneficial in your life,” Will says. For him, the financial support “is a way of expressing appreciation for four of the most enlightening years of my life.”
Learn more about giving to Wartburg Theological Seminary.
Son, father, brother, former savings and loan executive, World War II B-17 navigator, proud University of Wisconsin alumnus, person of faith, philanthropist, all describe long-time Wartburg Theological Seminary supporter Ken Becker of Lodi, Wisconsin. They also take you to the heart of his generosity.
Ken grew up in a family that despite having limited resources was always generous. “My dad was a janitor at the church for a while and every month they gave a dollar to the church. Growing up during the Depression, needy people would come around and my mother always had a sandwich for them,” said Ken. Times were tough. Ken shared that his mother made most of his clothes from hand me downs from other people. Many of their family meals consisted of one piece of bread with a little bit of sugar and milk on it because that was all there was to eat. “What the Lord has given me now…well, I can have more than a piece of bread for supper!” reflects Ken.
Ken was baptized, went to Sunday School and was confirmed at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. After graduation, Ken wanted to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but his parent did not have the money for his tuition. Instead Ken went to vocational school in Milwaukee as a sheet metal apprentice. After a year, Ken’s older sister told him, “You are going to school.” She helped him find a job at the local A&P and Ken enrolled at Northwestern College in Watertown, Wisconsin. With a $60 inheritance from his grandfather and with the money that Ken had saved, he had the $100.00 he needed to attend school.
“My dad bought me a pair of shoes for $6.00 and I had my suit that I graduated high school in and at a garage sale, I got a sport coat for 75 cents. I had two ties. At Northwestern in those days, I’d wear my suit one day with one tie and my sport coat the next day with another tie. I worked all day Saturday and two nights a weeks at the A&P, so I helped a little bit what I could in the apartment with my sister,” Ken said.
Ken applied to the aviation cadets, but while at Northwestern, they offered to make him an officer right away if he signed up for the military. Ken enlisted, was called to duty and at the same time was also accepted into the cadet program. “While I was in service, most of my money went home so I could finish school. When I was in Italy for three years and receiving officer’s pay and combat pay, 100% of my check went to my savings account so I could finish school at the University of Wisconsin upon my return,” commented Ken.
Generosity is simple to Ken. He is just giving back to God all that God has given to him. “For the first 10 to 12 minutes every morning, I thank God for my blessings,” shared Ken. “I ask God, ‘What is the best thing I can do today with all that you have given me?’”
One of Ken’s passions is continuing education and raising up future leaders in the church. A way that Ken partners with WTS in the formation of future church leaders is through charitable gift annuities. “Gift annuities just make sense! I receive a regular income, get a tax deduction and have the joy of giving. It’s actually kind of selfish! I get so much more than I give,” commented Ken.
What Ken Becker wants most is for his generosity to be contagious. He wants everyone to feel the joy of giving back to God all that God has given to us.
Reprinted from Walking Together with permission from the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.