Longtime Seminary Family Members Retire

Curtis Wenthur and Linda Wenthur
Director of Buildings and Grounds & Campus Grounds Team

Curtis and Linda Wenthur have been mainstays on the seminary campus. Curtis joined the staff in June 1986 as the campus grounds supervisor and a few years later became the director of buildings and grounds.

For the next 34 years he was involved in various campus updates, including a five-year renovation of all the dormitory sections and the award-winning chapel renovation. He supervised as the seminary moved from wells to city water, built furlough homes, repaired the roadway system, and added miles of cable to accommodate technology. The most recent project was the inner court renovation that gives students a space to gather. It was all done for one reason: “We were always striving to make the seminary a better, safer place to live and study for our future pastors,” he says.

Linda joined the team in April of 1996 and spent her 24 years designing, installing, and maintaining landscapes on campus. She was also in charge of seasonal and special event decorating and helped with interior updates in the buildings and homes.

In their tasks, they worked with generations of student employees. “I am hiring students who are children of the students I hired when I first started. There are also a number of professors now teaching here that were students when I started,” he says.

Linda has noticed a consistency through all of them. “They come with many different skill sets, but they all have had willing hearts and good attitudes,” she says.

While looking forward to retirement, they will miss the seminary family. “I have loved working here for the simple reason that every person connected to the seminary cares about you, your welfare, your family, your life in general,” Curtis says.

Linda adds, “I have loved being part of the mission. This wasn’t work, it was being allowed to be a small part of preparing men to spread the gospel.”

Professor John Hartwig
Library Director • Faculty Secretary • Homiletics Professor

When we came to campus in 1995, we were fresh off twelve years of living abroad in Malawi and Thailand,” says Professor John Hartwig. This led to some awkward transitions both for his family and for him. “I remember coming onto campus as a new prof and seeing the many talents of my new colleagues. I was afraid I would not be up to the task God had placed before me,” he says, “but through it all, we had the assurance that this was God’s will for us. On top of that, our new friends and neighbors welcomed us with more-than-open arms.”

In the past 25 years, he’s seen many chang-es, “yet they happened so incrementally they didn’t feel like big changes. It’s only looking back that you realize how big they are,” he says.

In his role as the library services director, he’s noticed the switch “from a card catalog to the online catalog we have today with access to articles and essays online.” In addition, “the physi-cal space itself has been updated to provide a friendlier, more collaborative space for the way students work today,” he says.

He highlights the positive changes he sees in the student body—especially from his own days as a student. “Today’s student body is a kinder, gentler student body, eager to reach out to the community and to serve the church at large. They organize blood drives and the Seminary Scurry to attract others to our campus. Many work in various ministries throughout the metro area,” he explains. He also appreciates the stronger connection to students. “They are eager to get to know their professors. They invite us to social gatherings. They are much more open with the profs than I ever was with my professors—and that is a good thing,” he says.

Another positive change, he explains, “is the seminary’s global outlook, one it did not have to such a degree 25 years ago.” He highlights “the three members of the PSI team who are continually on the move, the brothers from all over the world who visit our campus, and the professors who travel to teach in training programs and seminaries worldwide.” In addition, he talks about the blessing of the library’s world mission collection that has materials in over 100 languages and the opportunities for students to participate in urban and Hispanic outreach locally and evangelism nationally.

As for what lies ahead, he and his wife had planned to retire to Madison, Wis., but God had other plans. Professor Hartwig and his wife Helen will be moving to Ger-many where he has accepted a call to serve as a civilian chaplain in Europe.

Though they look forward to this new adventure, they will miss the seminary family and beautiful grounds. As they look ahead to worshiping with small groups in non-churchlike settings for the next years, he knows they will miss the special worship services on campus. “In fact, that’s probably my favorite memory. To experience a festival worship service or graduation or call day service—to lift our voices as one—is truly a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all,” he says.

Professor James Tiefel
Dean of Chapel • Seminary Chorus Director • Worship and Homiletics Professor • Director of Student Field Services

Professor James Tiefel is currently the longest-serving seminary professor, having joined the seminary family in 1985. In those 35 years, his impact on the seminary has been immeasurable. In addition to revamping the worship courses, he added to worship experiences by introducing festival services, evening Vesper and Compline services, and worship with Holy Communion. He composed special services for all campus events and introduced contemporary accompaniments. His impact on worship extends throughout WELS, as he was a member of the Commission on Worship for 26 years and served on two synodical hymnal committees.

He also chaired the committee responsible for renovating the seminary’s chapel. Annually more than 50 percent of the student body participated in the Seminary Chorus. As the director of student field services, he devised the Early Field Training experience, the Student Summer Assistant Program, and the Senior Assistant Program.

The campus had an impact on him and his wife Brenda. “Since we arrived on campus when we were quite young, we raised our family here. So the time here is really the history of our family,” Professor Tiefel says. “This campus is a perfect place to raise a family. Of course, it is an uncommonly beautiful place to live.”

As he reflects on his ministry to the seminary, he notes some of the changes. “Dress has become far more casual,” he says. “No one imagined a ‘casual day’ in 1985, and professors’ wives would not have dreamed of coming to campus social events in jeans. In fact, in the early years, professors’ wives met on a set day each month at 7:30 p.m. Everything was very formal: dresses, coffee and tea, desserts served on china around a dining room table.”

While students throughout the years have some similar traits, he notes that “students today may be more interested in their families than 35 years ago; student excuses for taking children to doctors’ appointments were rare in the early years. Students today rely more on internet resources and less on books, which I think is a disadvantage.” The memories of the students are plentiful and one stands out. “I regularly say in class, ‘The day will come when you will know the lectionary as well as your name. You could call me in the middle of the night and ask me to name the Second Reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, and I could tell you.’ Sure enough. The phone rang at 1:30 a.m. (the student knew my wife was out of town) and he asked, ‘So Professor, what is the Second Reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent?’ Of course, I didn’t know. But I could have said anything, because he didn’t know, either.”

As he enters the next stage of life, he will continue to serve and support local congregations as a semi-retired pastor. 

Linda Buxa serves as the seminary’s communications coordinator. This article first appeared the 2020 issue of Preach the Gospel.