Luther College announces Distinguished Service Award recipients

September 24, 2019

Luther College President Jenifer K. Ward is proud to announce the 2019 recipients of the Distinguished Service Award. The award is presented to alumni or individuals with strong connections to Luther College who have exhibited admirable service to society in areas such as education, government, the arts, business, church, labor, industry, agriculture, research, medicine and community affairs. This year's recipients are Michael Anderson '99, Karen Austad '64, Steven Berry '74, Jennifer Clark Nelson '94, Richard Staff '69, Carl Stecker '79 and Carol Tomer '79.

A Celebration of Distinguished Service will be held on Friday, Oct. 4, where the 2019 recipients will receive their awards.

Michael Anderson lives in North Liberty, Iowa, and is the clinical coordinator and clinical assistant professor at the University of Iowa College of Nursing. Anderson has worked to raise awareness and funds for research and treatment of leukemia and lymphoma. In 2015 Anderson won Man of the Year from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Eastern Iowa by raising just under $140,000 in 10 weeks for the society. In 2018 Anderson was recognized by the University of Iowa College of Nursing twice as the recipient of the Daisy Faculty Award and 100 Great Iowa Nurses designation.

             Karen Austad was nominated based on her lifelong service to children. Austad lives in Ontario, Wis., and is a retired teacher and library media specialist. During her career, she implemented innovative teaching and library methods. Crestwood Elementary School, where Austad worked from 1964 to 2000, was named a "School of Excellence" by the U.S. Department of Education in 1993. Austad continues to volunteer and implement programs at the local library and elementary school. She created an endowment at the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton elementary school to permanently provide funds to help feed kids in need. 

Steven Berry lives in Des Moines, Iowa. He owned a private practice for chest and infectious diseases for 35 years until his retirement in 2018. From 1993 to 2005 Berry served on the Luther College Board of Regents. Berry was also a contributing author for the book "Outside In: African American History in Iowa, 1838-2000," published in 2001.

Jennifer Clark Nelson lives in Woodinville, Wash., and is the director and senior investigator of biostatistics at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. Her research on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and drugs earned her the 2009 VSD Margarette Kolczak Award for outstanding biostatistical contributions in the field of vaccine safety. In 2013, Nelson wrote a paper that was selected among the Articles of the Year by the American Journal of Epidemiology and the Society for Epidemiologic Research.

Richard Staff is a retired client services coordinator and registered nurse/social worker. He currently lives in Pigeon Falls, Wis., and works as a music department teaching assistant for Whitehall Memorial High School. Staff was a great support to students at his school and provided scholarships for students from his area to attend Dorian Summer Music Camps at Luther College. Staff won the Wisconsin Music Education Conference Community Service Award in 1981 and the Humanitarian Award from Ashley for the Arts in 2018.

Carl Stecker currently lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., and serves as the senior technical advisor for HIV and interim program director for the Faith-Based Organization Capacity Strengthening for Universal HIV Services (FOCUS), Global Health and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Stecker researches HIV screening for children in Zambia and Uganda and previously worked to educate people in Cameroon to improve health care. Stecker will be giving the Ironside Distinguished Alumni Lecture in Nursing at 11 a.m., Oct. 5, in the Jenson-Noble Hall of Music Recital Hall. The lecture is titled "Oh the Places You'll Go! The Mission and Life of a Global Migrant."

Carol Tomer received her Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University in 1987 and currently serves as the lead pastor for Pilgrim Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn. Tomer has also co-created and led evening contemplative services (Celtic and Nordic) at Pilgrim Lutheran Church since 2002 to help reach out to those who have felt exiled from the Christian community. She has served in leadership in the wider church and community in campus ministry, care of creation, building an inclusive church and worship innovation.

Nominations for Distinguished Service Awards may be made by sending a letter to the Office of the President, Luther College, 700 College Drive, Decorah, Iowa 52101, or by email to Sally Ming at

Luther College is home to more than 1,900 undergraduates who explore big questions and take action to benefit people, communities and society. Our 60+ academic programs, experiential approach to learning and welcoming community inspire students to learn actively, live purposefully and lead courageously for a lifetime of impact. Learn more at