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Seminary donor turns 100

Supporting pastoral education a priority

Lutheran pastors have always played a big role in the life of Mildred Nienaber.

When she was baptized as a child in 1916. When she was confirmed in the faith as a teenager. When she married the love of her life, the late William “Bill” Nienaber, in 1951. … When he died in 2009 on their 58th wedding anniversary.

That is just one reason why Mildred Nienaber supports Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, which has been forming pastors since it was founded in 1839. “The Seminary is putting out some good pastors,” she said. “That’s very important in our lives today.”

Mildred’s Lutheran faith has played a central role in her life from her childhood in Kansas to her life today at a senior housing complex in Boulder, Colo.

“Christ was in the center of our lives, all our lives,” she said. Church, prayer and daily devotions give her joy and comfort and hope. When she feels blue, the Lord’s Prayer never fails to lift her spirits.

Mildred celebrated her 100th birthday Feb. 3, 2016, surrounded by family, friends and pastors at the complex with panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. Celebrating with her that day in the Aspen Room were Richard Jostes and Tom Rehkop of Concordia Seminary. Both men said they were thrilled to be on the guest list of such an amazing, generous and faithful woman of God who wants future generations to have the kind of pastors she has had her entire life.

“The Seminary is putting out some good pastors.
That’s very important in our lives today.”
— Mildred Nienaber

From left, Seminary Senior Gift Officer Richard Jostes, Mildred Nienaber and Tom Rehkop, executive director, Seminary Support.
From left, Seminary Senior Gift Officer Richard Jostes, Mildred Nienaber and Tom Rehkop, executive director, Seminary Support.

“Attending Mildred’s 100th birthday party was one of the most special events of my year,” said Richard, a senior gift officer.

“I was humbled to be invited.”

Mildred created an endowment in her estate plan that will help provide financial aid to students for years to come.

Richard said donors like Mildred enable the Seminary to help offset tuition costs for future pastors, allowing students to focus on their Seminary education instead of their financial concerns.

“She will, in perpetuity, be providing shepherds for future generations of children and their families for years to come,” Richard said during Mildred’s party as she looked on smiling. “We thank you for what you’ve done and for your prayers and for your concern for our students and for the pastors of the future.”

Born in Afton, Kan., Mildred was the second oldest child of six in a hardworking family of farmers. She spoke German until she went to school in first grade. Beginning at age 17, she worked as a switchboard operator in Hanover, Kan., but quit after she married fellow Lutheran Bill Nienaber, whom she had known since she was a child. He worked first as a barber and later as a carpenter.

The couple moved to Beatrice, Neb., for a while and then to Boulder where Bill Nienaber and his brother established a successful home building business.

The Nienabers, who were unable to have children, worked hard but lived simply, which allowed them to give to the Seminary, Children’s Hospital Colorado and Mosaic, a faith-based organization for people with intellectual disabilities in Omaha, Neb. They also created an endowment at Concordia University, Nebraska in Seward, Neb., to help support pre-seminary students.

Mildred Nienaber moved into the complex where she now lives after her husband’s death. While she walks well and her mind is sharp, she struggles with poor eyesight because of macular degeneration. While she feels happy to have had such a long life, she admits that it comes with some heartache because of the deaths of her husband and all of her siblings.

“When I sit back in my chair and think seriously about it, it fills my heart with sadness,” she said. “How wonderful it would be if they could enjoy the day with me.”

Even so, she rejoices in the visits from sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. The people with the organizations she supports have become friends.

“I have a lot to be thankful for,” she said. “All these things God has done. I’ve had a good life. I still have to be thankful to God that He’s taking good care of me.”

At her centennial celebration, she wore a burgundy pleated dress and graciously greeted one well-wisher after another. After many kind words were said about the birthday girl, a song was sung and cake was eaten. Richard Jostes and Tom Rehkop of Concordia Seminary bid her farewell.

Richard Jostes, right, thanks Mildred Nienaber for her support.
Richard Jostes, right, thanks Mildred Nienaber for her support.

“I’m glad I got to be 100,” Nienaber told them.

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Richard replied. “God bless you and thank you.”

“I’m so glad you got to come,” she said, gripping his hand. “It’s good we have a seminary down there. We need some
good pastors.”

“We’re working on that,” Tom replied.

“There’s a need for a lot of them,” she said.

“There sure is,” Tom replied.


Photos by Melanie Ave
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 Concordia Seminary magazine.
Melanie Ave is communications manager at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.