The end of the 2015 academic year brings the retirement of several longtime Luther staff members. Along with those profiled below, the college will miss the contributions of Marty Berg, supervisor of campus visits; Elmer Hansen, custodial; Sharon Rossing ’75, assistant director of admissions; Marty Steele ’75, counselor; and Pam Torresdal ’74, director of counseling service.
Torresdal sums up the experience of many of Luther’s retirees when she says, “I have loved working directly with students to help them grow toward greater wholeness and well-being and have felt honored and privileged to be entrusted with their stories, each so unique.”
Diane Tacke, vice president for finance and administration
With colleges nearly doubling their debt in the past decade and Moody’s predicting increasing financial challenges in 2015, Luther sits, remarkably, with a surplus in its coffers. That’s owing to the efforts of a large team of people who work hard to bring and keep students here, but it’s also because of the insight and sound financial policy of Diane Tacke, Luther’s vice president of finance and administration. After 18 years of keeping an eye on Luther’s ledger, Tacke is retiring this May.
“We’ve had some successful years where we’ve been able to put dollars aside,” Tacke says. “And while over the next 10 years, family financial need is going to be greater, eventually that will turn itself around. We have the stability to get through that period. I’m not sure that all colleges are going to survive the next 10 years, but I am sure that Luther can. We have a very strong product. We have academic excellence. And we have an amazing group of staff and faculty.”
While student financial need has changed dramatically over the past decade, one of the biggest changes that Tacke identifies during her time at Luther is the college’s increasing ideological and financial commitment to sustainability. In 2003, Tacke suggested that the college undergo an energy audit. She throws up her hands in disbelief: “Who would have known that it would be one of our greatest contributors to a reduction in our carbon footprint? It wasn’t meant to be—we weren’t looking at the impact of carbon at that time; the audit just made sense to me from a financial standpoint. It was a savings of about $2.5 million.”
That savings and a sesquicentennial strategic plan that committed to reducing Luther’s carbon footprint led to a finance-admin team that now looks through a dual lens: Will this save the college money? And does it serve Luther’s mission? Tacke says, “I want to know not only what we can save, but what’s the impact on our carbon footprint? Now they go hand-in-hand, and that’s been a wonderful learning experience for me.”
Rob Larson, Luther vice president for communications and marketing, marvels at Tacke’s long-term planning. “Building projects were managed with decision making that has created long-lasting facilities, and her management of finances leaves Luther with a considerable financial reserve and a strong balance sheet. Her work will bring value to Luther for decades to come.”
Tacke says that she’ll sorely miss interacting with college students, whom she calls “the best consultants I’ve ever hired. And when you’re my age, having them around is like a fountain of youth for your mind.” But in that sense, she’s still in luck since she and her husband plan to move to Utah to spend more time with their three-year-old grandson, Jackson.
“And everybody will have to come visit me,” she says, “because I’ll be so homesick for them.”
Joe Thompson, director of athletics and associate professor in health and physical education
Not many of us are judged on our job performance as obviously as those who work in sports, where scorekeeping is a way of life. But if numbers are what matter, then Joe Thompson, who retires this May after 20 years as Luther’s director of athletics and associate professor in health and physical education, has done well. Under Thompson’s leadership, Luther has one of the most successful programs in the Iowa Conference, winning an unmatched 229 IIAC titles, with 312 All-American honors, 38 NCAA Postgraduate Scholars, and 56 Academic All-American honors, the highest number in the Iowa Conference.
Asked what his secret is, Thompson’s answer is simple: staff. “Without a doubt, we have a fantastic staff,” he says. “They want to win, but they want to win the right way. And they’re interested in the well-being of the student-athletes above and beyond the arena.”
Part of that well-being is success in the classroom. While tension between athletic and academic personnel can run high at the college level, Thompson has been proud of the spirit of cooperation at Luther. “One of the strengths of this place is that there is good communication, and we’ve done a pretty good job of figuring out how to make things work for the students,” he says. “In my 20 years, there’s been a great sense of cooperation on this campus. I think our coaches have done a marvelous job of attending to the academic needs of the students, and I think the faculty appreciate that. There’s been an outstanding spirit of communication on this campus and a sense of community—you figure it out together.”
Thompson’s own experience in the classroom—he teaches one course per year—may help him see both sides. It also gives him direct interaction with students, which he’s missed since transitioning from coaching to take the athletics director job at Luther two decades ago. “As a coach, you see student-
athletes at the highest moments, when they have success, and at the lowest moments, when they don’t have success. It’s a very emotional business, and that’s the power of athletics, that there’s such an emotional involvement. Coaches have a great opportunity because of the emotional involvement they have in students’ lives to make a difference. When you move out of that role, it’s a little different, now you’re one step removed, and your team is your coaches and not student-athletes. But that’s where the classroom still keeps my foot planted in that direct interaction.”
Thompson, a lifelong planner, wants to keep his future open. He likens his postretirement life to the freewheeling cross-country bicycle trip he took last summer: “You can never anticipate what’s going to happen, but you hope that along the way it’s interesting and you meet wonderful people and that you impact them in a positive way. That’s the way this work has been. People make the place, and this place is full of good people.”