Alumni and friends honored for service to schools, communities
Concordia University, Nebraska recognized six individuals with awards and honorary degrees at its commencement honors dinner on May 6. The degrees and awards celebrate the contributions and service of these individuals to the Concordia University community, the church and the world.
James F. Sanft was conferred the doctor of laws degree. This degree is conferred upon individuals who have distinguished themselves through prolonged superior service in their field of endeavor. Sanft has served as President and CEO of Concordia Plan Services (CPS) since 2008 and formerly served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. At CPS, Sanft is responsible for overall management, building relationships with key stakeholders and stakeholder groups and establishing and implementing CPS’s vision and strategy. He shares his knowledge and passion as a frequent presenter at LCMS conferences and gatherings. He is also an active leader in the church benefits community, serving as the Chair of the Church Alliance (CA). This work frequently takes Sanft to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress, regulators and other officials to discuss issues and concerns of church benefits plans. Sanft’s leadership has also benefitted Concordia University, Nebraska. CPS administers health, retirement, disability and death benefits as well as a 403(b) plan for those employed at Concordia Nebraska. CPS also meets with graduating church work students to help them become financially prepared to enter church work and navigate their benefits as they begin serving the LCMS.
Dr. Kurt Senske, Founder and Principal of CEO-Board Services, was also conferred the doctor of laws degree. In a wide variety of capacities, Senske uses his talents and abilities to further the church and its ministry. A recognized and accomplished leader in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), Senske also serves as Chair of Thrivent Charitable and as Chair of Lutheran Hour Ministries. His previous accomplishments include serving as Chief Executive Officer of Upbring, serving as the Assistant to the President at Concordia University Texas, practicing law in Chicago, working as a political consultant and policy advisor for both the Republican and Democratic parties, serving as the board chair for Thrivent Financial, serving for twelve years on the Board of Directors of the LCMS, serving as Chair of LCMS World Relief and Human Care and authoring five books, including “The Calling: Live a Life of Significance.”
Leslie R. Morris received the Master Educator Award, bestowed upon those who have distinguished themselves through lengthy, outstanding service in Lutheran educational ministry. Morris served in Lutheran schools for more than 50 years in a variety of capacities including teacher, counselor and principal. In addition to his work, Morris generously volunteered his time serving both church and community. He has served as an adult reading tutor, reviewer of children’s literature, proofreader, evaluator of Lutheran and Catholic local schools, mentor to new teachers and in leadership roles for many education conferences and committees. Morris served as Commissioner and Treasurer for the Lutheran Athletic Association, Director of the Lutheran Basketball Tournament and Cheerleading Contest and Vice President of Nabata Yero Gridiron Club. Morris has also served convalescent hospitals, shut-ins and the needy as Coordinator of Mid-Peninsula Ministry. Morris has won numerous awards and recognitions including Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, Professional Teacher of the Year, Distinguished Teaching Award, Influential Middle School English Teaching Award and English District Lifetime Ministry Teaching Award.
Tim Hetzner, President/CEO of Lutheran Church Charities (LCC), Northbrook, Illinois, was presented the Crest of Christ Award. This award honors individuals who humbly share and demonstrate the love and grace of Jesus Christ in all aspects of their lives while serving public ministries and the work of the church-at-large. Hetzner previously served in parish ministry for 25 years as a Director of Christian Education. LCC works through LCMS congregations, schools and universities, helping them expand Christ-centered ministry to their community and world. LCC’s mission is to share the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and in need. In August 2008, Hetzner launched the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog ministry. In January 2020, Hetzner started the National Hearts of Mercy and Compassion Ministry to reach out to people in their time of sorrow with handmade wooden hearts. Hetzner is the author and teacher of an in-depth Bible Study curriculum called WORD with more than 4,500 students from 26 states. He sends out a daily devotions through email. Hetzner also shares his Biblical knowledge through study tours to the Middle East and European Countries.
Greg and Dixie Zabka were presented with the Distinguished Service Award, given to individuals who have demonstrated the use of God’s gifts in outstanding public service. The Zabkas faithfully serve as civic boosters, volunteers and supporters for a large variety of causes and events in Seward, Nebraska, and in the Concordia University, Nebraska community. Both Greg and Dixie are members of the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership. Through their combined efforts, Seward is a desired location for businesses, visitors and residents. The Zabkas are strong supporters of Concordia University, Nebraska, and the Nebraska National Guard Museum. Both Greg and Dixie have been recipients of awards and honors including the Seward Community Service Award and the Spirit of Seward Award. Dixie also has been awarded the Seward Above Self Award and the Outstanding Woman in Business 2019 Award from Concordia University, Nebraska. Greg was the Grand Marshal for the 2019 Seward Holiday Light Parade.