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Hardworking and welcoming

Seminary’s first lady embodies service to others

By Erica Tape

In summer, she plants and tends vegetable gardens for students to harvest and flower gardens to beautify the campus. In fall, she chips wood alongside grounds workers. In winter, she climbs atop Luther Tower to help raise the Christmas star. And in spring, she cheers students on as they receive their first calls into ministry.

She’s Diane Meyer, first lady of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis — campus beautifier, unofficial welcoming committee and friend of everyone she meets on campus. Though her name doesn’t appear in as many headlines as her husband, President Dr. Dale A. Meyer, her presence at the Seminary permeates the campus.
 
When asked, Diane deflects questions about her legacy at the Seminary. Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in her that makes her so humble. She grew up Diane Ermler in the Chicago suburbs, the daughter of a World War II veteran father and a travel agent mother. Her parents married in 1941 before her dad went overseas. When he returned, he went to work at Cardwell Westinghouse in Chicago. Diane and her sister, Kathy, came along later. 

After graduating high school, Diane studied physical education at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. College diploma in hand, she returned to Chicago and began her teaching career. That’s how she met Dale. “I taught physical education, and his sister was on the tennis team I coached,” she recalls. “When we would ride to games, she would talk about her family and where she went to church.”

Raised Lutheran but living in a different suburb from where she grew up, Diane decided she would visit the Meyer family’s church one Sunday. The family introduced her to Dale when he came home from his vicarage. It was a setup that succeeded: The dynamic Meyer duo was born. Diane and Dale married in 1973, the same year Dale graduated from Concordia Seminary. 

Dale’s first call into ministry the following year was to a dual parish, St. Salvator Lutheran Church in Venedy, Ill., and St. Peter Lutheran Church in New Memphis, Ill., both churches in towns of a few hundred residents about 45 miles southeast of St. Louis. Diane loved it there. “The people were so generous and so interested and helpful,” she remembers. “People would drive up after they had a cow butchered. They’d open their trucks and say, ‘Take all the meat you want.’” 

“Diane is the most selfless person I have ever known.”
–Dr. Dale A. Meyer

Diane and Dale lived in Venedy for seven years. They had two children, Elizabeth and Catharine. Since it was hard to find a physical education teaching job in such a small town, Diane busied herself with the kids, church life and hobbies. She played softball, the county sport. She learned photography and even built a dark room in the parsonage. 

In 1981 when Dale received a call to teach at Concordia Seminary, the Meyers made their home across the river in Collinsville, Ill. Diane became active with the city council and the library board, and took care of their daughters, who spent their formative years in Collinsville while Dale dove into his professorial role. 

The Meyers attended Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Collinsville, where Dale was called as pastor in 1984 when the church’s previous pastor died suddenly. In 1989, he became Speaker of The Lutheran Hour, a radio program of Lutheran Hour Ministries. In 2001, he rejoined the Concordia Seminary faculty to teach practical theology. Not much changed day to day for Diane during these transitions because the family did not have to move. But God had some major surprises in store for Diane and Dale at the Seminary.

In September 2004, Seminary President Dr. John F. Johnson announced that he was stepping down to take a post at Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., and Dale was made interim president. In May 2005, he was named the Seminary’s new president — which meant Diane became its first lady. 

“I honestly didn’t know what to expect, and the people didn’t know what to expect from me,” Diane says. Because the new position prompted the Meyers to move into the on-campus president’s house, Diane’s life changed dramatically — who she saw, where she went for walks and how she spent her time. 

Diane Meyer snaps a photo at field day during Orientation in September 2016 while her dog, Ferdie, enjoys the grass. Diane’s keen eye on the camera lens has resulted in thousands of images and blog posts of campus life over the years. Photo: Anthony Fields
Her dog, Speaker, helped ease the transition to this more public role. Walking him around campus acquainted her with the community. Speaker died in 2008, and the following year she and Dale adopted a golden retriever named Ferdie, who accompanied Diane everywhere she went on campus.

In time, Diane developed her own unique role at the Seminary. Her favorite pastime became campus beautification. She befriended the Seminary’s grounds coordinator, Gayle Zollmann, and volunteered with the grounds crew, laboring just as hard as any of the workers.

“Diane is the first one to volunteer and get out there and help,” Gayle says. “If something needs to be watered over the weekend, she’s the first one to say, ‘I can do that, no problem.’”

Diane serves the Seminary with great joy, as does her husband. In 2017, the couple started the Rev. Dr. Dale A. and Diane C. Meyer “Helpers of Joy” Endowment to uphold the teaching that students should serve in their future ministries with joy. The endowment makes not only a lasting financial impact for the benefit of students but also, the Meyers hope, an enduring personal legacy.

Dale is profuse in describing the impact his wife of 47 years has made at the Seminary.

“Diane is the most selfless person I have ever known,” he says. “She always goes out of her way for neighbors and friends and, of course, family. She is a true Seminary ambassador — in the stands cheering on the Preachers at soccer and basketball games, mingling with students and their families, taking photos at campus picnics and barbecues, and welcoming visitors, be they church leaders from around the world, a donor from across the country or a neighbor walking her dog across campus.

“Her spirit of selfless service is evident in the work she’s done to make our campus grounds beautiful, but that’s only a part of all she’s done for Concordia Seminary.” Her legacy also will go on in the friendships she has built. “She makes everything better,” Gayle says. What will Gayle miss most about Diane? Gayle answers, “Everything, everything.”

When they retire at the end of June, Diane and Dale plan to return to their old house in Collinsville, and they want to spend more time with their daughters’ families, especially their five grandsons, whom Diane affectionately calls the “Cinco de Meyer.” Diane plans to volunteer at church and become active once again in community service.

“This has been an amazingly fast 15 years,” she says. “I’ll miss it terribly.”

Erica Tape is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.