Celebrating 40 years of school at Minnesota Valley Lutheran

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School Front: Lorie Hicks, Sandra Bartel, Beth Marti, Theresa Lehne, Robin Bode, Kim Wulff, Debra Miller. Middle: Karen Bartsch, Julie Miller, Miriam Birkholz, Toni Gaub, Pamela Kuehn, Susan Blaalid, Kimberly Arndt. Back: Daniel Markgraf, Steven Martens, John Schenk, Ronald Bentz, Mark Koelpin, Paul Maasz. (not pictured: Deborah Koestler)

NEW ULM — Minnesota Valley Lutheran is currently celebrating its 40th school year since the school was established in 1979.

When Martin Luther Academy, the lutheran high school that shared the Dr. Martin Luther College campus in New Ulm, moved to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin to merge with another Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) preparatory school in 1979, MVL had its first school year at St. Paul’s Lutheran school in New Ulm, hosting its first classes in two classrooms and a lecture room. MVL’s initial 45 students represented the largest enrollment in the first-year history of a WELS area Lutheran high school.

St. Paul’s was the home for MVL for what was an arrangement of a “maximum of two years”. With a projected increase in enrollment, a land/facility committee was assigned the task of searching for suitable existing buildings and/or available land on which to construct a new school building.

MVL Association delegates were presented with 15 possibilities for the school’s future site and ended up selecting a 77-acre parcel of land along Highway 14 between New Ulm and Courtland as MVL’s next home. MVL still conducted school at St. Paul’s in Year 2, and after the growing enrollment of 76 students created a demand for more classroom space, a two-room frame building was purchased for $5,000 from Shayd’s of Color in May of 1980.

That building was then moved to its new location immediately behind St. Paul’s at a cost of $4,000 and remodeled for classroom use for an additional $4,000. In the fall of 1981, 121 students in grades 9-12 were finally able to attend classes in the comfort of their own school building along Highway 14.

Photo courtesy of Lime Rock Photography A current look at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School. MVL is celebrating its 40th school year and has had two dedications after its first school year at MVL in 1981, with one coming in 1995 and one coming in 2007. MVL is considering adding more classroom space and potentially, a fieldhouse in the future.

Jerome Birkholz, MVL’s first principal, served from 1979-1992, with the 1990-1991 school year seeing Birkholz temporarily assume the duties of Association Coordinator. John Schultz, MVL’s second principal, served from 1991-2000 after coming over from Northland Lutheran High School in July of 1991.

Rev. Wayne Fischer became MVL’s first superintendent in 2000 after serving five years in Watertown, South Dakota, where he was key in helping start Great Plains Lutheran High School.

MVL has gone through many changes over the last 40 years, but current principal Tim Plath, who has been MVL’s principal since 2005, said that he thinks the biggest change over the years has been enrollment.

“One of the changes would be just related to the social-economic impact on the region,” Plath said. “Farms are getting larger and larger and so you don’t see as many students. Trinity Nicollet used to be 140 students and now they’re under 40. Some of our other outside schools, they’ve decreased in size, too, so we’ve had to work very diligently at recruitment and encouraging those kids to come, but also finding ways they can afford it too.”

Mission Advancement Coordinator Val Holzhueter said that she also thought one of the biggest changes over the years has been in the building itself.

File photo by Steve Muscatello MVL’s Galen Holzhueter (15) drives inside and attacks the basket in a 2009 boys’ basketball game. Holzhueter finished his career at MVL in 2010 with 2,053 points, a school record.

“The changes in the building have been pretty major also,” Holzhueter said. “We started out with just this part (right side main doorways to just left of the second set of doors, including classrooms on the second floor) and now you’ll see all of the changes that have taken place since then.”

MVL built an addition in 1995 that currently houses its commons-cafeteria, main office, music room, media center, classrooms and computer labs. In 2007, the school added onto the building’s west end by adding locker rooms and storage space on the first floor and two art rooms upstairs, along with a large classroom and three second-floor windows.

Also in 2007, a fitness center was added, housed in a separate building behind the school.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years, though, has been how supportive of MVL that so many people have been.

“We certainly look at the number of blessings that we’ve received over the years and, obviously, are very, very thankful for them,” Plath said. “When I think about my first year of teaching being MVL’s second year down at St. Paul’s and their second year of existence and how we shared that lower level, and some of the students that were there that are now adults in this area and even parents of current students, what a change that was. How the people went from having MLA up on top of the hill to throwing their full support to MVL and how that has just grown. I’ve always thought of MVL as having just tremendous support from the Association, the individuals, parents and the communities too.”

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Valley Lutheran Principal Jerome Birkholz (center) and Architect Ibbs at MVL’s groundbreaking on Oct. 12, 1980.

Knowing how many parents took the chance and had faith in MVL when it first was established has always surprised Holzhueter.

“It’s always amazed me, we’re a privately-funded entity, and we’ve been in existence and grown for 40 years,” Holzhueter said. “To me, that’s just kind of crazy. To think that in 1978, there were 45 students whose parents sent them to be students at a high school that was physically part of a grade school, that was a huge leap of faith when they did that.”

To celebrate 40 school years, MVL set out a goal of raising $40,000 for the MVL Partnership Fund with a $40 for 40 fundraiser. That goal has already been reached due to several generous donators, but those interested can still donate online at mvl.org or send in a gift. Every gift impacts students today, yet will continue to help and multiply for years to come.

MVL Mission Advancement Assistant Kristin Matzke said that despite the typical Charger blue colors, this year, MVL has been pushing ruby red.

“We’ve had some questions about why red?” Matzke said. “We’ve been using a lot of red for our colors, for the t-shirts, for some of our other promotional stuff this year and that’s because ruby red is the color of a 40th anniversary. So normally we are very blue, two-tone blues in our logo and things like that, but we’ve incorporated red for an accent color this year in particular to subtlety remind people of our anniversary.”

Journal File Photo In this file photo from the Nov. 19, 1980 edition of The Journal, workers from Heymann Construction, New Ulm, worked on the gymnasium at the new MVL school. According to the crew foreman, one-fifth of the construction work was completed at this time.

For those interested in a red anniversary shirt, mvl.org has an order form that one can download by going to News & Events, selecting 40th anniversary and scrolling to the bottom of the page. One can also email Matzke with their request.

Throughout the year, MVL has also had many different events and ways to celebrate its 40th school year. One future event in particular to keep an eye on is a Booster Club Auction that will be held on March 23. Check in at mvl.org for more details as March approaches.

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