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Story Magazine

Spring/Summer 2015

Honoring retired faculty

by Faculty members

Richard “Dick” Nysse, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament

Dick Nysse joined the seminary as assistant professor of Old Testament in 1978 and was named professor in 1993.

“First, Dick is a servant leader, in the deepest sense of that word. Over and over again, Dick led this community from the edges, from spaces where he not only did not get applause for doing so, but instead got grumbling and frustration. In fact, people were often annoyed at his insistence that we listen to marginalized voices, whether the voices of staff, of students in the TEEM program or of local pastors.

“One thing about being a servant leader which I think is truer of Dick than almost anyone I know is that servant leaders raise up other voices, support collaboration, and seek to see things whole. From my earliest time on this faculty, Dick was deeply involved in working with our efforts to teach online. He was never afraid to say that he was learning as he went, and he worked hard to invite other people into that learning. I’m not sure we ever could have accomplished what we have in moving into distributed learning without Dick’s thoughtful, patient, tireless and wise work in those arenas.”

—Mary Hess, Professor of Educational Leadership and Chair of the Leadership Division


Rick Foss, Director Emeritus of Contextual Education and President Emeritus

Rick Foss was director of Contextual Learning from 2008-2012, and stepped in as interim president in January 2013, serving in that role until his retirement.

“I’ve known Rick since I was a child. He belonged to the same congregation that I grew up in, Dennison Lutheran Church, which is about 50 miles south of here, and his father was the pastor there.

“Some of Rick’s most important work for Luther Seminary actually began long before he ever joined us on the faculty. He was the bishop in eastern North Dakota, and he has a keen interest in theological education. He was deeply involved in working with students, and with pastors in their first call. He was always deeply interested in, ‘What is the student experience like? How can an internship be a really formative experience? How can the church help students after graduation move effectively into their ministry contexts under first call?’ Rick was always one of the bishops who were out ‘treasure hunting,’ which was his expression. He was always trying to identify ‘Who are the graduates who will be best able to meet the needs of these congregations?’ He always wanted people to be able to feel that their gifts were going to be well utilized; to have a sense that they were known and valued, and have a sense of inviting people into that shared ministry. And when Rick retired as a bishop, we were in need of a new director of contextual learning and he seemed like a natural because he was so deeply connected to the life of the church. He understood the challenges of ministry, and first and foremost, Rick is a people person. It was a gift to us that he could step in with his lifetime of connections and sense of the church, and sense of what it takes to create a really effective learning situation for students.”

—Craig Koester, Academic Dean and the Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament


Craig Van Gelder, Professor Emeritus of Congregational Mission

Craig Van Gelder joined Luther Seminary in 1998 following 10 years as professor of domestic missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Craig really did play a leadership role here at the seminary in bringing to the fore the missional emphasis, along with other colleagues. He has a very organizational mind and he’s somebody who is very good at implementing ideas—taking a conceptual idea and turning it into a framework for action. It was really Craig who developed the Congregational Mission and Leadership program here at Luther Seminary with others, but he played a real leadership role there. He really sort of galvanized and brought that to the forefront.

“Craig also comes out of the Reformed tradition and he’s not Lutheran, so he brought to students a way to help think theologically about leadership for mission, and about what it means to participate in God’s reign in the world, particularly in terms of starting and developing churches, but also in terms of working for justice outside of the church. He was very interested in how we help students think in terms of ‘how do we evangelize and how do we start churches and how do we become leaders of communities that are starting new churches?’ His legacy here really is going to be our congregational and missional leadership activity. It is not just about sustaining existing congregations, but about starting new ones and growing and revitalizing existing ones.”

—Lois Malcolm, Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary


Sarah Henrich, Professor Emeritus of New Testament

Sarah Henrich came to the seminary in 1992 from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where she had been assistant professor of New Testament since 1989.

“Sarah and I have known each other since graduate school at Yale, around 1983 or so. We had the same interests, same teachers and same classes. The first thing that comes to mind about Sarah is that she is a very curious person who is full of interests. She loves to read and think, and she loves both art and architecture, as well. She specializes in the subject of ancient clothing, and she’s also really, really deeply interested in cities in Europe. She and her husband to this day travel extensively in Europe, visiting the major cities and going to the museums and to the churches.

“The second thing I would say about Sarah is that she always shares her interests with students, and opens all that up to them and gets them involved, as well.

“Another hallmark of Sarah is that she treats people like adults. She always treated her students as what they are, adult learners. I really respected her for the way she never, ever treated her students condescendingly, or thought of her students as objects that needed to be ‘manipulated’ or ‘formed’ to be taught. She set up her classes so that students were very engaged, and she always made sure that the focus was on her students in her classes and not on her.

“I think Sarah embodies the whole spirit of learning as a place for trying things out and letting your curiosity be your guide, rather than just learning dogma and echoing it back. She is just a lifelong learner, and I think her students always picked that up from her, that you don’t stop learning once you graduate from seminary.”

—David Fredrickson, Professor of New Testament


Walter “Skip” Sundberg, Professor Emeritus of Church History

Walter Sundberg worked at Luther Seminary from 1978-1981 as an instructor in systematic theology and returned as assistant professor of church history in 1984. He was named associate professor in 1986 and professor in 1994.

 “Walter brought so much to the seminary. He is somebody who the students really loved. Whether they agreed with him or not, they always felt that he respected them and that he worked very hard as a teacher—and he was an excellent one. He really gave students a lot in terms of understanding the ancient and modern periods of church history, and understanding certain issues that the church has always faced. Skip really combined a pastoral concern for students with a deep, deep knowledge, both of the early church and the modern period. He sought to convey that and was very successful at it.

“He was also a considerate and helpful colleague, and he really sought to build up the community here, both among the faculty and students. As a colleague, he was very forthright, and he often represented positions that not very many people took. He did it in an honest way, with a lot of integrity and a lot of pastoral concern for individuals and for the church.”

—Mary Jane Haemig, Professor of Church History

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