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Story Magazine

First Quarter 2008

Sanders Challenge Donors to Support Scholarships

by Laura Kaslow, Communication Specialist

Duane and Phyllis Sander present a scholarship challenge match.

Duane, a former professor at South Dakota State University and entrepreneur, and Phyllis, a retired registered nurse, also place great value on higher education. But they understand the debt that it can bring, and are especially concerned about the impact that this debt has on new pastors. They note that while someone may have received a call to ministry, they often wonder, "How can I support my family and pay off my educational loan?"

The Sanders would like to see the financial indebtedness of seminary students eliminated. To encourage others to take a step toward achieving this goal, they have offered a gift in the form of the Sander Seminarian Scholarship Challenge. Through this challenge, all general fund scholarship gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $250,000. The match will run through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The Sanders say they have given generously because "it's important to give now. If our gift can grow, as well as help people now, it will help people forever."

They say that the most important reason for the gift is to encourage recipients to concentrate on their studies because someone believes in them individually and wants them to succeed. "It provides the students with a sense of pride and responsibility to complete their education and become pastors or professional workers in the church. It's an encouragement. A way to say, 'you're doing something important.'"

Duane and Phyllis became aware of the problem of student debt and the financial challenges of new pastors through the ELCA Fund for Leaders. And through discussions with the development team at Luther Seminary, they learned more about the issue.

"We saw that the students were graduating with significant loans after undergraduate school and seminary. The loans seemed to be high enough that it would be hard for them to manage family responsibilities and pay off student loans on pastors' salaries.We thought if there was a small way to help before they graduate and go out into the parish, we would do that," Duane says.

Ultimately, the Sanders hope the challenge match will help ease the financial burden of those who have dedicated their lives to ministry. "It is important to support [future church leaders] as students as they work toward dedicating their lives to that profession. [We hope] we can help make it a little more economical to be a pastor and help them as they start their careers. That is important to us."

The Sanders live in Brookings, S.D., where they attend First Lutheran Church. Duane was raised in the Lutheran church. While Phyllis was raised Baptist, she joined the Lutheran church after she and Duane were married because her mother taught her that it was important for the family to attend church together.

The parents of four children, with six grandchildren and another on the way, they want to ensure that the church continues to have strong pastors for future generations, saying that "the gift lives beyond us."

Do you want to give a scholarship gift toward the Sander Seminarian Scholarship Challenge?

Contact the Office of Seminary Relations at 888-358-8437 or e-mail To find out more, go to

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