Due to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame will hold steady this homecoming of 2020. During a typical homecoming week, the Concordia Athletic Department would be well into preparations for the official induction of a new class of Hall of Famers at the annual Friday night banquet. This will be the first academic year since 1998-99 that the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame will not welcome new members to the distinguished club.
In lieu of such a celebration, we are taking a look back at the introduction of the Hall of Fame at Concordia, as well as the initial group of accomplished inductees. Back when it started in 1994, the school still went by the name of “Concordia College,” Dr. Orville Walz served as school president and Director of Athletics Dr. Carl Everts was on the brink of retirement after more than 30 years with the Bulldogs.
At the same time that Concordia celebrated 100 years of existence (founded in 1894), its Hall of Fame committee decided on 12 individuals and one team for recognition as the very first group of honorees. This inaugural and historic bunch featured a six-time NAIA national champion distance runner, a 2,000-point basketball scorer, an early gridiron star, a Chicago marathon winner, several administrative trailblazers and an undefeated football team, among others (full list below).
A longtime pastor and a former four-time cross country conference champion, Dan Cloeter ’74 was one of the chosen few to receive the call in 1994. Said Cloeter, “Of all the years of Concordia’s history to be chosen in that first class – it’s hard to even express in words what it means to have that kind of respect from your peers. That was very humbling because I think it not only deals with a person’s accomplishments but also their character.”
By 1994, Concordia had certainly seen its share of impressive student-athletes come through 800 North Columbia Avenue. The school’s Broadcaster magazine provided brief details on the first-ever Hall of Fame gathering. It took place at the Seward County Ag Pavilion and was actually held in late April of 1994. As the piece read, “Athletic competition has been an import part of the Concordia experience since the school’s founding in 1894.” The Hall of Fame was created as a means of “honoring the men and women who have contributed greatly to Concordia’s athletic programs.”
It must have felt like quite a responsibility to attempt to sort out the most deserving candidates to forever be known as the very first Hall of Fame inductees. Someone like Dr. Kregg Einspahr probably emerged as a no-brainer, even at a time when he was still young in his head coaching career. Einspahr achieved the aforementioned six individual national titles and was even named by the Lincoln Journal Star as one of Nebraska’s top athletes of the 20th century. The NAIA Hall of Fame member was also referred to by former university President Brian Friedrich and current Director of Athletics Devin Smith as “one of the most decorated coaches in the history of Concordia University, Nebraska.”
Each of the first 12 individuals and the 1931 Concordia Football team are worthy of extended examinations. That ’31 football squad went a perfect 7-0 while featuring ’94 Hall inductees in Head Coach Walter Hellwege (an important early figure in Bulldog Athletics) and do-it-all Bernard Arkebauer, who still holds the school single-season record with 19 touchdowns scored. In continuing the football theme, Dr. Herbert “Bulldog” Meyer (leader of the most successful win-loss era of the program), dominant lineman Gene Oetting and star running back Gary Seevers were also included in the class. The Oetting and Seevers names are synonymous with Concordia.
Of course we can’t forget about the influential women that received enshrinement. Penny Jacobsen (1984 All-American) is one of the finest softball players ever at Concordia while the same can be said for Michelle “Missi” Reed (held numerous school records at the time of induction) in regards to the women’s golf program. A Concordia professor, Judith Kretzchmar coached the women’s basketball team in the 1960s and helped lay the groundwork for varsity women’s athletics at Concordia.
In addition, the class paid homage to two greats on the basketball hardwood. Tom Raabe racked up more than 2,000 career points prior to the advent of the 3-point arc and was a 1970-71 NAIA Regional Player of the Year. Herbert Toensing starred many years earlier as the captain and leading scorer of the 1931 conference championship basketball team.
It was a grand celebration in April 1994 with a Hall of Fame class of such size and stature. Since that initial induction, the Hall of Fame committee has made it a standard to select four or five individuals and one team for inclusion. A year ago, those picks included Ron Bork, Gentri (Brown) Tollefson, Erik DeHaven, JaMaine Lewis, Michael Saalfeld and the 2004-05 softball team.
One of the highlights of the Hall of Fame banquet each year is the opportunity it provides for these standout alums, coaches and staff members to address the crowd and relive their memories and sometimes provide advice to current student-athletes in attendance. There are often moments of laughter and moments of tears. Below is just a small sample of impactful words spoken by Concordia Athletic Hall of Famers.
Erik DeHaven ‘01
Being a Bulldog is something very special to me. It’s something very special to my friends. It is a true family. The ultimate love people shared throughout the years to make me not only a football player – but the man I am today – is something I can’t pay back.
Ron Harms, Head Football Coach (1964-69); College Football Hall of Fame member
The whole atmosphere at Concordia is something you’re not going to find any place else.
Sarah (Harrison) Krueger ‘05
It was actually by the grace of God that I ended up at Concordia.
Robert Oetting ‘64
Once (older brother) Gene started, all the rest of us had to go. There were no ifs or buts about us going. We all enjoyed Concordia High School a lot. All of us had other colleges interested in us, but we never gave them any serious consideration, because Concordia College was our college.
Michael Saalfeld ‘09
I just hope my kids will have the same atmosphere and mentors that Concordia gave me.
Stan Schlueter, 43 years of service as equipment manager
The first thing you think about is the people (at Concordia). I don’t even know how to put it in words. You couldn’t get better people.
Jennifer (Davis) Schwartz ‘06
Going to Concordia after going to public schools was so much different. Initially it did take some getting used to. It felt like we prayed 37 times each practice. I was never used to that. If someone got hurt on the field we would immediately gather and pray for that individual. Once I got used to it there was no way I would want anything different because that part was just amazing.
Dr. Brandon Seifert ‘01
I really bonded with Coach Einspahr right away. I felt like we had a lot in common and had a lot of common goals as far as work ethic. The teammate aspect was wonderful. We clicked almost right away. The experience at Concordia definitely lived up to my expectations and then some.
Sean Stewart ‘03
It’s an honor and a privilege and I’m proud to say that Concordia University laid a Christian foundation for me. It provided me with the tools to become a servant leader throughout this country and throughout this world in whatever I do. It’s provided me a guiding light and Christian values that I’ve instilled in my Christian home.
Whitney Stichka ‘09
Half my wedding party was basketball players. (At Concordia) You get to spend every day with your best friends. You can’t ask for anything better than that.
Stephanie (Beberniss) Tietjen ‘04
Though the awards were big honors, that’s not what I remember. It’s the people and the relationships that were formed. It was influential in the rest of my life
Mike Works ‘92
I never expected it to happen (induction into the Hall of Fame). Those guys (Matt List, John Puelz and Devin Smith) all had incredible numbers and definitely deserved it. I’m just happy I can go in with so many members of our team. Concordia still holds a special place in my heart. I loved my time there. This is just kind of icing on the cake.
Jon Ziegler ‘07
I’ve known the history of Concordia for a long time. I grew up coming out here and watching games when Darin Engelbart and Devin Smith were playing. They’re both in the Hall of Fame now. I knew them when I was a fifth or sixth grader coming out here watching games with my dad. To be in the same class as some of those guys is definitely rewarding to know that.
The Hall of Fame will be back in 2021 while stewarded by AD Devin Smith. Smith oversees a Hall of Fame committee that has been essential in shining a light on outstanding individuals in Concordia’s athletic history. Past athletic directors Carl Everts and Grant Schmidt (and many, many committee members) have also played central roles in shaping the direction of the Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, it has sought to honor those who exhibit Christian character and excellence through competitive, academic and (post-collegiate) professional pursuits. It all started in 1994 with one exceptional class of 12 individuals and one team.
The inaugural Hall of Fame Class of 1994
1931 Football Team
Rev. Dan Cloeter
Dr. Kregg Einspahr
Dr. Herbert “Bulldog” Meyer
Dr. Eugene Oetting
Michelle “Missi” Reed