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Homecoming king Rohde flourishes as distance runner, musician

By Jacob Knabel on Dec. 14, 2023 in Cross Country

For Calvin Rohde, the ideal university for him to grow and flourish was going to be a place that would not only allow him to compete athletically, but one that would also enable him to expand upon his talents as a pianist and organist. Rohde is in his element when performing for more than 3,000 community members at Concordia’s always anticipated “Christmas at Concordia” concert series. While playing the organ, Rohde helps bring the spirit of Christmas joy to all those in attendance.

As Rohde says, “It’s been my privilege to be an organist at Christmas at Concordia for three years. It’s an amazing experience to be part of for sure. I look forward to attending for years to come.”

Just a few short years ago, Rohde made the decision to choose Concordia University, Nebraska and relocate from his hometown of Reed City, Mich., where he was an all-state distance runner. Since then, the accolades for Rohde have included a combined 11 GPAC all-conference awards in track & field and cross country and appearances on the national stage in both sports. A leader by example, Rohde became a captain on the cross country team and was even voted Concordia’s 2023 homecoming king.

As the middle of December rolls around, it begins to hit Rohde that the final semester of his collegiate career is upon him. “It’s weird thinking this will be the last time I run at some of these meets,” Rohde remarked back at the beginning of the fall. Looking back, Rohde can see clearly that the sense of community and sense of belonging at Concordia have played a role in his ability to thrive as a student-athlete.

“Probably that close community,” says Rohde of what he’ll miss once he graduates. “You’ll see people you know anywhere you go on campus. Coach (Matt Beisel) does a good job of paying close attention to everyone on the team. I feel like I’m connected to everyone on the team.”

Years before he arrived in Seward, Rohde had already developed a passion for making music, and his family held ties to the Concordia University System. Calvin’s parents Aaron and Laura graduated from Concordia University Chicago before later settling in Michigan. Furthermore, his father serves as music director at the family’s church in Michigan, an uncle previously worked in the music department at Concordia Chicago and a grandfather was the choir director at his church.

Naturally, Calvin aspired to follow a similar track for college. His father encouraged him to take a look at the Concordia in Seward. Said Calvin, “It was a direction from my dad. He said you should at least look at Nebraska. I was like, ‘All right, I’ll take a look.’ Then I auditioned for the music scholarship. I got an in-depth look at the music program then and I ran a workout with the guys here. I liked what I saw.”

As a Music Education major, Rohde will soon be certified in K-12 vocal and instrumental music with a Lutheran Teacher Degree. He’s spent his entire college career as a member of the A Capella choir, three years in orchestra and a semester in concert band. Through these endeavors, he’s been taught by the likes of Concordia professors Kurt von Kampen, Elizabeth Grimpo and Paul Soulek.

“In my experience, all the music faculty are extremely knowledgeable in their craft,” Rohde said. “Looking at experiences outside of Concordia, I’ve been more than equipped to perform and meet expectations when playing for a service or taking a standardized test. I’ve been prepared because of the coursework here.”

In addition to the Christmas at Concordia concerts, Rohde lists performances such as spring choir tours and his senior recital as major highlights. Of course, Rohde displayed his skills on the piano and the organ as part of his recital, essentially a capstone project that showcased the musical talents developed over his Concordia career.

As a capstone to his cross country journey, Rohde traveled to the NAIA National Championship meet and competed in Vancouver, Wash., on Nov. 17. He competed solidly in placing 103rd out of the 328 runners who finished the 8k course. Earlier in November, Rohde turned in the best GPAC placement of his career in crossing the finish line in sixth.

“Going into the national meet, I felt like on a crazy day I could possibly be an All-American and I could also finish 100 or 120,” Rohde said. “I didn’t really know what to expect going into it, but I could tell I was a more seasoned racer than two years ago. That comes with experience. It was weird going by myself (as the lone individual men’s qualifier). That made me think about how blessed I was to have such a great team of guys to run with.”

In his trips to national championships, Rohde has traveled not only to Vancouver but also to Brookings, S.D., and Marion, Ind. If things go as hoped, Rohde will visit all three of those locations during the 2023-24 academic year. He’s fully capable of winning a GPAC title (or multiple championships) and getting himself onto the All-America podium. He’s excited for one last go-round in both indoor and outdoor track.

“It would be nice to get an All-America award,” Rohde said. “I’ve gone to nationals a few times. I want to be able to make finals and be an All-American and have that experience once – or more than once. That would be cool too. I want to take some people with me too, like in a relay. I think we have a lot of guys who are capable of qualifying individually.”

No matter the results of this season, Rohde will have earned the respect of his coaches, professors, teammates and classmates in what has been a fine all-around college experience. For his work in the classroom, the former Reed City High School valedictorian has collected awards as an NAIA Scholar-Athlete and Academic All-District (College Sports Communicators) honoree.

Beisel has routinely had high praise for Rohde. As Beisel said following cross country nationals, “Finishing in 103rd is a tough thing to do at this level. I was very proud of his efforts. It’s another God thing where we’re thankful we had the season we had and got to spend this time together.” Added Beisel regarding each of the cross country seniors, “I’m going to miss them terribly next year.”

The experience enjoyed by Calvin likely had an impact on his younger brother Grant following him to Concordia. Whatever risks may have come with choosing life as a Bulldog, Calvin has found the rewards to be much more significant. The “Rohde” from Reed City to Seward was one worth taking – with perhaps a few literal and figurative bumps along the way. The path ahead will surely involve plenty of music as a means to glorify God.

“I spent my whole life growing up in Michigan and most of my life in Reed City,” Calvin said. “I like Nebraska. I don’t think it’s as flat as people say. I do notice there are more trees in Michigan. That’s something I miss sometimes. I notice it on the drive home. When there are more trees on the freeway, I know I’m getting closer.”