Concordia's history

The school that grew to become Concordia University, Nebraska opened its doors on Nov. 18, 1894, with one professor, a dozen male students and a three-year high school curriculum. Concordia has since grown into a fully accredited, coeducational university that has granted degrees to tens of thousands of students.

Concordia History 101

Who was George Weller and why did someone put a manure spreader in the building that bears his name? Read on for a crash course in Concordia history.

What’s in a name?

The cornerstone on Founders Hall bears the initials E.L.S.L.S., short for Evangelische Lutherische Schullehrer Seminar, apparently the first name given to Concordia in 1894 by its German-speaking founders. Translated into English, the name was Evangelical Lutheran School Teachers Seminary. However, the school’s early leaders didn’t worry much about settling on a consistent name.

Dr. Jerry Pfabe, emeritus history professor and the university’s archivist, has found references to a dozen official and unofficial names. Several of those names cropped up in the first few decades:

Zweites Schullehrer Seminar zu Seward, Nebraska (The second school teachers’ seminary): The school’s only purpose in the early years was to train teachers for Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod parochial schools. The LCMS started its first teachers’ seminary in Indiana and later moved it to Illinois. Lutheran Seminary/Evangelical Lutheran Seminary/ Teachers’ Seminary/Lutheran Teachers’ College

Seward College: This was an unofficial name that appeared on baseball uniforms. No one knows for sure when Concordians first started playing organized sports, but they were believed to have adopted the Bulldog mascot in honor of Coach Walter Hellwege’s pet bulldog, who accompanied him to games in the 1920s.

German College: This was an unofficial—sometimes derogatory—name used by Seward County residents to describe the college. Historians can’t determine just when the school began to use English as its primary language, but the outbreak of World War I sped up Concordia’s Americanization considerably.

Lutheran Normal School: “Normal school” training was the term for teacher education programs in the early part of the century. Concordia began offering bachelor’s degrees in 1939, but in many states teachers were not required to have bachelor’s degrees for several more years.

Look long enough and you may still find the initials CTC stamped on objects around campus. Concordia Teachers College was the school’s official name for decades; however, the “Teachers” was gradually dropped from recruitment materials as the curriculum expanded to include DCE and pre-seminary programs, followed by a host of liberal arts majors in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although Concordia is still operates under the auspices of the LCMS, it now recruits students from many Christian denominations. Teacher education is still the largest program on campus, but makes up less than half the student body.

The school changed its name to Concordia University in 1998.

You can’t do that!

There are still plenty of no-no’s listed in the Student Handbook. But at least some of these rules are relegated to the archives:

Concordia was the first LCMS school to admit female students in 1919, but the earliest co-eds were not allowed to live—or eat—on campus.

When the college finally added women’s dorms, keeping track of visitation hours was simple: Students could never go in a dorm designated for the opposite sex. Women tended to be the subject of more restrictions than men. For years, female students had to be in before curfew, which was thought to be enough to keep the men out of trouble. Women were also prohibited from wearing slacks and doing their boyfriends’ laundry.

Brick and mortar

Here’s a quick guide to the history of prominent buildings on campus:

Founders Hall: The original campus building, Founders supplied classrooms and living quarters for the first students, along with their teacher and his family.

Weller Hall: Named for George Weller, the first teacher, director and president of the institution, Weller was built in 1925, but the chapel/auditorium wasn’t added until more than 25 years later.

Jesse Hall: Named for F.W.C Jesse, Concordia’s second president, Jesse was a men’s  dormitory for more than 60 years.

Link Library: Named for J.T. Link, one of Concordia’s first professors, the library was built in the early 1960s. An expansion more than doubled its size 20 years later.

Brommer Hall: Named for C.F. Brommer, Concordia’s third president, this building served as campus dining hall for almost 80 years.

Thom Leadership and Education Center: Concordia’s newest building is named for LeRoy and Jean Thom family of Hastings, Neb., leading donors to its construction.

Janzow Campus Center. The university added W. Theophil Janzow’s name to the facility when the dining hall and Cattle Conference Room were added. Janzow served as president in the 1960s and 1970s.

Residence Halls: The oldest dorms—Strieter and Schulke Halls—were named for early faculty members. The rest are named for Bible characters. David has the most morbid history of all campus buildings.

Workers uncovered a pioneer graveyard when digging its foundation. The remains were relocated. Male students were also relocated after a year of rough treatment to the new facility. The urinals were left in the bathrooms.

Nameless buildings: Science Hall, Music Hall and the PE Building were built in the 1960s with LCMS funds and never received more colorful names.

Good, clean fun?

Although Concordia students have been acting out variations of the panty raid for decades, a few stunts have earned their place in Concordia lore as a result of their authors’ creativity, daring and resourcefulness.

The first indoor plumbing facilities on campus were restricted to faculty, prompting students to burn down their outhouse in protest.

In a more symbolic move, students once took apart a manure spreader and reassembled it in Weller Hall lobby in the dead of night. Years later, a Volkswagen Beetle made a surprise appearance in the dining hall.

The “Son of Man Be Free” sculpture has been adorned with many costumes over the years, most of which were easily removed. However, a few students had to pay to have the sculpture restored a few years ago when their coating of clay and leaves damaged the finish.

Upperclassmen now help welcome new students to campus during orientation weekend, but freshman hazing used to be part of Concordia tradition. In the early days freshmen, or “fuchses” (German for “foxes”) had to run snowball gauntlets, and up until the 1990s the freshmen class were rented to upperclassmen at the beginning of each school year as a way to raise funds for class projects.  (Article originally printed in the Sower, Concordia's student newspaper.)