Ribbon cutting highlights year of upgrades at Immanuel

Since the start of this school year, students at Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour have patiently waited as they watched new playground equipment be installed.

Day after day playing in the school parking lot while seeing new slides, merry-go-rounds, monkey bars and more being installed had students eager to try it out themselves.

All of the anticipation and waiting was finally over on Oct. 3 as the playground had been completed and opened for students to play and enjoy.

The two kindergarten classes were the first to test out the new equipment, which included an expansion and significant upgrades to the playground. The excitement could be heard with screams and cheers as the students rushed to try out the new equipment.

On Tuesday, the church, school and child care ministry met for a ribbon cutting with the Jackson County Chamber to officially commemorate the work leading up to this point.

While the playground is the most visual upgrade the school has made this year, it’s not the only one. It’s part of a bigger project the school and its affiliated congregation will make now and over the next couple of years.

This is possible due to a significant capital campaign, the Faith in Our Future Campaign, that Immanuel Lutheran Church launched at the beginning of 2023.

The three-year campaign has been blessed with commitments totaling more than $4.2 million, half of which will go toward the school improvements. The campaign also will fund an expansion of the congregation’s child care facility and use $500,000 to start a school endowment fund.

“Jesus spoke about the fact that people put their gifts where their heart is, and the ministry to children is an important value that people are willing to make sacrifices for,” the Rev. Ralph Blomenberg said. “That doesn’t happen by itself because families make sacrifices to provide for their children and congregations make choices to provide Christian education for students.”

This summer also has seen remodels of various restrooms around the school, new cafeteria equipment, new windows, a new public address system, ceiling tiles, new lockers, new flooring, new painting and more.

Principal Todd Behmlander said the upgrades are significant for the school and affect it in a variety of ways with some being desperately needed, some for functionality and some that serve as practical improvements.

“The improvements are needed updates to improve and enhance the functionality of our school,” he said. “Some improvements are just needed updates, like bathroom renovations and window replacements, while others bring an added value of excitement to students, such as a new playground. Improvements help the school’s day-to-day functions, such as HVAC replacements, roof repair, and others help to update areas that still evidence a 1950s motif, such as classroom improvements of more storage and the addition of student lockers.”

Which are the most significant? Behmlander said it depends on who you ask at the school.

“The most significant improvements are those needed to address the functionality of the school, such as roof repair and HVAC replacement,” he said. “The most significant improvements to the students are most likely the new playground or bathroom renovations.”

It was 2005 when the last major renovation happened at the school. That work included building a junior high wing with a lab, music rooms, new gymnasium and more.

Blomenberg said two years ago, the congregation — through a vote among members — authorized a school improvement committee looking forward to work that could be done in anticipation of the 150th anniversary.

That committee gave the results of its findings in the spring of 2022, and the leadership of the congregation and the congregation’s voters decided it was time to accomplish such a project.

Much like the dynamics of the pastoral leadership for the campaign, which included its newest pastor, the Rev. Will Fredstrom, Blomenberg said the congregation wanted new leadership involved in the campaign cabinet. That newer leadership was complemented and supported by those who had served in leadership for similar projects in the past.

“It was great to see multiple generations have the same goal, focus and commitment,” Blomenberg said.

The campaign proved to be an important opportunity for Fredstrom, who also served as the church’s vicar from 2020 to 2021 and was called to serve as a pastor in 2022. Fredstrom and Blomenberg partnered together as the pastoral leadership to work toward the important efforts of the campaign.

At the time when the campaign was forming, Fredstrom had only been ordained for a few months. He said it was a great gift to watch so many people help with the campaign, and it was not just one person’s effort or a group of people’s effort.

“No place thrives and flourishes for 150 years through one person’s effort, so this was the work of an amazing cabinet and an amazing congregation who gave financial gifts but also their time, talents, energy, effort and prayer,” he said. “I also had tremendous mentors, not only with professional staff, like Pastor Blomenberg, but with many other leaders in our congregation who stepped up and helped my part of the work take place in concert with various other participants and volunteers.”

While the improvements at the school are being made, there’s also work for the endowment and child care facility planning.

The endowment fund has already been established with gifts earmarked for it, and the completion of the fund should take place sometime in 2024.

The funds from the endowment will be flexible, Blomenberg said, because the congregation doesn’t know what the needs of the school will be in the years to come.

“The endowment will be managed by our foundation, and annually, the results will be sent to the school board, who can decide what the most important needs are,” he said.

That could be for keeping tuition costs low, providing scholarships or taking care of maintenance needs.

The child care board and other leaders in the congregation are conducting strategic planning to determine how the facility can be most effective in serving children and families in the community.

“There’s nothing in stone yet on how they will move forward, but it is being explored now that we know what we are working with financially,” Blomenberg said.

Behmlander said the amount raised exceeded expectations, but he added he was not surprised, as many at Immanuel have a deep love for the school.

“Immanuel is generational, so many of the parishioners attended here, sent their children and now see their grandchildren at Immanuel,” he said. “Just as they learned about their Lord and savior each day at Immanuel, their investment in the school ensures their children and future generations will also be at a place where Jesus is taught and loved.”

Blomenberg said the campaign’s success showed Immanuel’s commitment to Christian education while providing educational excellence.

“We work hard to provide that harmony where we have the Christian education and all the work we do for accreditation with the state to make sure we are preparing students for what’s next,” he said.

Fredstrom agreed and said the improvements are not just to make it look more aesthetically pleasing but help create a space where children can learn and teachers can teach in effective ways in order to shape students to love God and care for their neighbor.

“This is a way where those things work in harmony to where people can be supported and more people can be served as a result of this,” he said. “This also is for the community because we want them to know the love of Jesus Christ and the quality education we seek to provide.”