Six Concordia alumni recently earned honors for their faithful service in Lutheran education.
“We are thankful for the example of excellence set by our alumni educators,” said Adam Hengeveld, director of alumni and university relations at Concordia. “It has become my belief that the educators who are Concordia Nebraska alumni did not become excellent only through our program, but rather that Concordia’s well-respected program attracts talented candidates who develop to become outstanding educators. And when our alumni receive recognition such as this, it is an affirmation of our program’s excellence and reputation.”
Five alumni earned awards from the Lutheran Education Association, and one earned an award from the National Association of Directors of Christian Education. Both associations honor Lutheran educators each year who are nominated for their outstanding service to Lutheran churches and schools. This year, Concordia alumni were five of the eight educators honored by the LEA.
Cletus Pfeiffer – Christus Magister Award
Cletus Pfeiffer, a 1965 Concordia alumnus, was selected by LEA’s board of directors to receive the top honor, the Christus Magister Award. Since 1965, this most prestigious Lutheran Education Association award has been presented to Lutheran educators who have made significant contributions to Lutheran education.
Pfeiffer retired as principal of Rochester Central Lutheran School in Minnesota in 2007, having previously served Lutheran schools and congregations as principal and teacher since 1965. In his retirement, Pfeiffer has served as interim principal at schools in Minnesota and Illinois. He also continues active service in National Lutheran School Accreditation. After graduating from Concordia, Pfeiffer earned a master’s degree and an education specialist degree from Mankato State University in Minnesota. A product of Lutheran education, Pfeiffer attended Lutheran elementary school, high school and junior college.
“My greatest joy for many years has been found in mentoring current and future leaders for our school system,” said Pfeiffer. “Another joy … is the honor of continuing to maintain contact with former students."
William E. Unverfehrt – Distinguished Lutheran Elementary Administrator Award
William Unverfehrt, a 1978 Concordia alumnus, was selected to receive the LEA’s Distinguished Elementary Administrator Award. Unverfehrt is principal at Concordia Christian Day School in Conover, North Carolina. Unverfehrt previously served other Lutheran schools in Michigan and Florida, and he serves in many leadership and service positions in Lutheran education. In 2010, he led Concordia Christian Day School to receive the National Lutheran School Accreditation Exemplary Lutheran School Award. He is the second person in his family to receive an LEA national award. His wife, Kathy, was named Distinguished Lutheran Early Childhood Teacher in 2013. Unverfehrt earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Concordia University, Nebraska and a master’s degree in education from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
“I love to teach and help students learn,” said Unverfehrt. “As an administrator, I find joy in developing a strong team of faculty and staff members who support one another and do whatever they can to help students learn. Working with a high functioning group and seeing the results is a joy as students, parents and the school are blessed.”
Rebecca Bimler – Distinguished Lutheran Early Childhood Administrator Award
Rebecca (Schmidt) Bimler was selected to receive the LEA’s Distinguished Lutheran Early Childhood Administrator Award. Bimler is the director at the St. John Child Development Center in Seward, Nebraska. Bimler earned her bachelor’s degree from Concordia University, Nebraska in 1985 and completed a master’s degree in early childhood education from Concordia in 1999. She has served in Lutheran early childhood positions in California, China, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Papua New Guinea.
“God planted upon my heart, at an early age, the desire to be in service for Him,” said Bimler. “He has gifted me with encouragement, empathy and passion to serve others. Through life’s joys and hardships, Christ continues to guide me as I align my life with His will for me. As I profess Him as my Lord and Savior, may He continue to use me to witness to others.”
Benjamin and Amy Cooper – Distinguished Lutheran Secondary Educator Awards
Both Benjamin and Amy (Morton) Cooper were individually selected to receive the LEA’s Distinguished Lutheran Secondary Educator Award. The couple graduated from Concordia in 2004, and they both teach at Valley Lutheran High School in Saginaw, Michigan.
Amy Cooper serves as the high school technology coordinator, algebra and calculus teacher, summer camp coordinator and class adviser. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Concordia University, Nebraska and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Saginaw Valley State University. She previously served at a Lutheran high school in Maryland. Amy Cooper has been published in two education journals and has presented at numerous conferences.
“My mission is not to teach math to students,” said Amy Cooper. “My mission is to use the math classroom and the interactions that occur there as the backdrop for the more important task of caring for students, meeting their needs and showing Jesus to them. While being their ‘math teacher’ is my ‘in’ for knowing students, I pray that by the end of our year together I have been more than that to them.
Ben Cooper teaches life sciences and theology at Valley Lutheran High School. He also serves as junior varsity soccer coach, environmental club faculty sponsor, Michigan Envirothon faculty sponsor and Class of 2017 faculty adviser. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Concordia University, Nebraska and a master’s in biological science from Michigan State University. He previously served at a Lutheran high school in Maryland and has presented at various conferences.
“At the entrance of our school there is a colorful mural of Christ with the message, ‘Christ is our foundation,’” said Ben Cooper. “My goal of ministry is that every thought, word and deed is rooted in Christ and motivated by what He has done for me, and that the students in my care would get to know Christ through me.”
Josh Heirigs – Outstanding New Director of Christian Education Award
Josh Heirigs was selected to receive the Outstanding New Director of Christian Education Award at the NADCE national conference in January. Heirigs graduated from Concordia in 2011 and now serves as the DCE at Zion Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Heirigs was born and raised in Sioux Falls before attending Concordia, where he met his wife Rachel, who graduated in 2011 with a Lutheran teaching degree in elementary education. He completed a yearlong internship in 2012 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. Heirigs was installed as Zion’s Director of Youth Ministry in 2012 and then commissioned and installed as Zion's Director of Family Ministries in 2013.
“As a DCE, it is my passion and mission to teach, train and equip future generations of Christ followers to live out their living faith through actively sharing Jesus Christ with others,” said Heirigs.