An Exciting Announcement from MLC!

An Important Advancement for Martin Luther College’s Campaign

The Martin Luther College (MLC) administration and governing board are excited to announce a significant advancement in the Equipping Christian Witnesses (ECW) campaign pillar designated to campus facilities. Thanks to the gift of two generous donors, our new athletic center is fully funded.

After extensive interviews, analysis, and research, MLC’s comprehensive campus site plan identified two priorities: residence space and indoor athletic space for sports teams, physical education training, and student life. For that reason, an athletic center and a residence hall were included in the facility improvement pillar of the ECW campaign.

MLC is thankful for the gifts received from many individuals, congregations, and schools throughout the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. We are also thankful for the support we have received from the New Ulm community. Those gifts provided a generous financial foundation for facilities, and now, God has moved the heart of two very generous donors to provide a transformational gift to the athletic center that will allow construction to commence.

The athletic center, named the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse, will be located at the MLC Athletic Field Complex west of the main campus, near the soccer and baseball fields. This 36,000-square-foot indoor turfed facility will feature large practice areas, baseball/softball batting cages, golf simulators, and locker rooms. In April, the MLC campus family will celebrate the groundbreaking of the fieldhouse, with student use anticipated by the beginning of 2022.

MLC President Rich Gurgel commented on this milestone of the Equipping Christian Witnesses campaign: “We are thankful to God for the generosity of so many people. The Betty Kohn Fieldhouse will serve our student body well. It is also a significant beginning to our long-range plans for making our campus even more attractive to prospective students. And we look forward to exploring how the fieldhouse can serve the recreation needs of the New Ulm community as well.”



A Message from President Gurgel

The MLC family invites you to take a few minutes and consider these encouragements from MLC President Rich Gurgel. May the wondrous gift, born in the little town of Bethlehem so long ago, bring you the true joy of our celebrations and the true peace of our salvation in Christ.

2021-22 MLC Calendar Release

MLC is pleased to offer our friends another two-year desktop calendar for 2021 and 2022. Calendars will be available at the two local New Ulm churches, but if you’re not in the area, please place your order with this form and we will mail it to you.

Order now

An Interview with Outgoing MLC President Mark Zarling

Outgoing Martin Luther College President Mark G. Zarling’s first step onto the campus was accompanied by “a little bit of fear. OK. More than a little bit.” He said he recognized the need “to grow to think in terms as an administrator” and was thankful to be blessed with “people [who] were doing their responsibilities very, very faithfully.” He reveals he had to overcome a tendency to be a quiet person, in order to become the “face of the college.”

The Chapel of the Christ highlighted his 13 years on campus. He remarks, “As the chapel went up and they [students] saw the beauty of it and the scale of it, there was no doubt in their mind. Jesus was most important here.” He remembers 900 or so campus family attendees walking in silence from the auditorium to the new chapel. “You could hear the birds . . . unforgettable.”

His 40 years of service to the church at large leads Zarling to recommend ministry because “you are the instrument of the Spirit. . . . The Lord will allow you to see trophies of grace.” Reflecting on his many travels for MLC, he says, “I would tell people one of the perks of being the president is I got to meet God’s children before we even meet in heaven. I met wonderful Christians all across the country.”

Zarling and his wife, Colette, retired to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. They hope to spend more time with family.

You can listen to or read the entire interview by clicking here.

Lois J. Bode
Temporary Archivist

The ability to use Covid-19 funds allowed retired Interim Archivist, Lois J Bode, to return for this interview. She also sorted through material which came in while there was no archivist, checked that the more than 9000 archival records were in numerical order, organized the thousands of records still to be processed, and standardized the archives database so that when an MLC archivist is funded, it will be easier to understand the collection.


Martin Luther College Welcomes New President

Martin Luther College is pleased to announce the arrival of its new president, Rev. Richard Gurgel.

President Gurgel replaces President Mark Zarling, who retired this June after serving the college from 2007 to 2020.

President Gurgel brings decades of experience in both ministerial education and parish ministry, as well as 18 years of experience as an MLC parent. Rich and his wife, Sue, have five boys, all graduates of the college he is now leading.


Pastor, Professor, Parent: From 1999 to 2020, Gurgel served as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) in Mequon, Wisconsin, where future pastors complete their ministerial training. There he taught Christian education, homiletics (preaching), and Christian doctrine.

In 2010, he was appointed WLS’s first director of the Grow in Grace Institute, the continuing education arm of the seminary. There he partnered with people on and off campus to begin retreats for pastors and wives, establish a mentoring program for new pastors, and make formal continuing education courses more accessible to pastors.

Prior to his tenure as a seminary professor, Gurgel served as the pastor of two WELS parishes: Gethsemane in Oklahoma City (1986-1992) and David’s Star in Jackson, Wisconsin (1992-1998). He also served as an emergency instructor for one year while still a seminary student, teaching religion and language arts, and coaching basketball at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in Jackson, Wisconsin (1982-1983).

“God wastes nothing,” he says. “At each place, God had so much for me to learn in order to be a blessing to those he called me to serve. That encourages me that he can help me through another (steep) learning curve as I serve with my new partners in ministry at MLC.”

He brings another perspective to this call as well. For almost two decades, Rich and Sue were MLC parents, “making tuition and room and board payments to MLC and watching how our sons were blessed as they grew in Christian maturity on this campus.”

It is through these three lenses—pastor, professor, and parent—that Gurgel sees the college’s blessings as well as its challenges.


Blessings: “Without claiming that we have the perfect worker training system in the WELS,” he says, “we have many reasons to give thanks for the careful and thorough training we expect that the next generation of our pastors, teachers, and staff ministers will receive. Since almost every future called worker in our synod is part of the MLC family at some point, MLC is a pivotal part of maintaining that careful and thorough training. A rich heritage has been handed down to us, and now is our time to pass that on to others.”

That rich heritage is founded on another blessing: the gospel itself. “As president, I also hope to guard our Lutheran understanding of the centrality of the gospel as it comes to us in the means of grace. If we lose our focus on the comfort and the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then we lose the beating heart of our Christian faith and the power and strength to serve in the public ministry.

“We are not all about creating Bible trivia experts on this campus,” he continues, “but about raising up witnesses for Christ who have tasted and seen for themselves how good and gracious is their saving God. That love of Christ empowers faith and ministry.”


Challenges: Also looming large in Gurgel’s thinking and praying are three challenges the college faces: reducing student debt, enhancing campus facilities, and offering students the best education possible, one that simultaneously holds firm to the unchanging gospel and rises to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

  • Student Debt: Regarding that first challenge, Gurgel wants to explore how the college can better collaborate with students, parents, donors, and the synod to reduce significantly the debt many students carry as they leave MLC.“As a synod, we have a huge stake in raising up a new generation of well-trained and faithful called workers. We must do all we can to avoid sending students out with educational debt that will burden them for years in public ministry and hinder their ability to raise a family. We are in this together as a synod. There is much more that we can do.”
  • Facilities: The second challenge focuses on the campus itself. Gurgel would like to expand and update the aging buildings and infrastructure here on the hill. He sees this not only as an issue of good stewardship but also as an important factor in recruiting new candidates for the public ministry.He says, “We need to remain an attractive option in an increasingly competitive market as high school students make decisions about the college they will attend. While it is only the gospel that can shape and form the next generation of servant-hearted leaders for our schools and churches, we do not want our campus and its facilities to become a deterrent to our ability to welcome them to our school.”
  • Educational Excellence: The third challenge is ongoing for every faculty member. “We must make sure we are equipping our students with an outstanding education that prepares them well to be ministers of the gospel in the 21st-century world. We have much to give thanks for, but we cannot close our eyes to where we can grow.”

A President’s Prayers: As President Gurgel takes the mantle, he does so in humility and prayer.

“I pray that God keeps me ever learning what it means to shepherd this campus with a humble gospel heart, in a way that proves a blessing to all who call this campus their home (students, faculty, staff, and administration). For our students, I pray that God will continue to use our campus to grow within them humble servant hearts, like their Savior’s, so that they stand out as lights in the darkness of a me-first world. For our faculty, staff, and administration, I pray that everyone who serves on this campus finds joy—under the cross—in that service.

“I have slowly learned,” he continues, “that I will be of little use to anyone I’ve been called to serve if my own soul is not feeding daily on the width, height, length, and depth of the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord. I have learned not to apologize for spending a considerable time each morning in Word and prayer so that God’s grace may bless me and enable me, in whatever way he might please that day, to be a blessing to others.”


Quick Facts: President Richard Gurgel Family

Rich’s wife, Sue, taught kindergarten for the past 17 years at Christ Alone Lutheran School in Mequon, Wisconsin. They enjoy supporting their five boys with their God-given callings and families:

  • Philip MLC ’06 is the Hispanic outreach pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Christa, have two sons, Theophilus and Amadeus.
  • Brad MLC ’08 is the principal and upper grade teacher at St. Peter Lutheran School in St. Peter, Minnesota. He and his wife, Bethany (Warnecke) MLC ’08, have four children: Kayla, Mason, Elianna, and Aiden.
  • Stephen MLC ’11 is the principal and grade 7-8 teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School in Rapid City, South Dakota. He and his wife, Megan (Ziel) MLC ’11, have two children: Warren and Whitney.
  • Nathan MLC ’14 teaches physical education, business, accounting, and economics at Manitowoc Lutheran High School in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
  • Ryan ’20 will be continuing his pursuit of the pastoral ministry this fall at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

B.A. Northwestern College 1981
M.Div. Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary 1986
D.Min. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 2010

Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School 1982-1983
Gethsemane-Oklahoma City 1986-1992
David’s Star-Jackson, Wisconsin 1992-1998
Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary 1999-2020

Hiking, biking (“I did the New Ulm circle tour twice in my first week here!”), theater performances, baseball (“I especially enjoyed coaching Little League and high school ball for about 25 years.”)

Classical, sacred choral (“My favorite musical events by far each year have been the MLC and WLS Christmas concerts.”)

Books on the art and science of preaching the gospel and on leadership in the public ministry, John Grisham novels, biographies, historical fiction

Did you know? Achieving a longtime dream, President Gurgel became a certified Gallup Strengths Coach. He hopes to use that training at MLC—and later, in his retirement—to help people grow in all their God-given callings.


Volley Wins Team Academic Award

Knights Return – 2020 Planning Document



We offer this Knights Return plan, trusting in God’s gracious care for us in our Lord Jesus. At the same time, we also recognize that such trust does not diminish the responsibility God himself entrusts to us to be wise stewards of our health for the sake of our whole campus family as well as for the entire community of New Ulm.
We will update these plans as more information develops or conditions change.
MLC President Rich Gurgel

MLC’s Philosophy of Financial Assistance and Student Indebtedness

WE ARE GRATEFUL. Martin Luther College (MLC) is deeply grateful for the continued support of WELS. The WELS operating subsidy, which comes from WELS Congregational Mission Offerings (CMO), funds about 17% of MLC’s budget. We are also grateful for the gifts that come directly to MLC from foundations and individuals within WELS.

The blessing of this subsidy and these gifts, coupled with careful stewardship by the MLC Governing Board and administration, allows MLC to keep costs relatively low without sacrificing quality in our educational offerings or the student-life experience on campus. MLC regularly ranks at or near the top of “Best Value” college lists, and the average debt for MLC graduates is several thousand dollars below the national average for graduates of other four-year private colleges.

WE ARE CONCERNED. Though our student debt figure runs lower than average, it is still a considerable cause for concern and prayer. About 75 percent of MLC students graduate with debt. The debt for that 75 percent averages $27,000. If two of our graduates marry, the debt can double. Many of our graduates, therefore, enter their public ministries with a challenging burden—a burden exacerbated by the lower lifetime earning potential of called workers compared to college graduates in other fields.

This financial burden has a negative effect on recruitment. In a competitive college marketplace, we are at a disadvantage in rankings that use a return-on-investment framework. According to a 2019 Sallie Mae report, most high school students and their parents list college cost, often including consideration of return on investment, as the most important factor in their college choice.

While we remain convinced that the value of ministerial training—and the blessings of a life dedicated to gospel ministry—far outweigh financial considerations, we still must admit that the debt load carried by many MLC graduates likely has a significant negative impact on student recruitment.

WE ARE RESPONDING. To reduce the debt load of our graduates and to assure that nothing hampers the recruiting of future gospel ministers, the MLC Governing Board and administration invite all our partners throughout the synod to join us in addressing this challenge as wisely and aggressively as possible.  Under God’s blessing, we seek to:

  • Increase gifts to financial aid.

We will cultivate even more generous foundation grants, individual gifts, and special congregational contributions, such as those facilitated by the Congregational Partner Grant Program (CPGP). Such grants and gifts will significantly increase our ability to award merit-based and especially need-based financial aid, allowing us to offer more competitive financial aid packages to prospective students.

  • Enhance student financial literacy.

We will expand the current excellent program that teaches students wise stewardship of their financial resources. The MLC program, established before it was common practice at other college campuses, offers students guidance about summer employment, limiting working hours during the academic semesters, and sensible budgeting in a consumer-mentality culture. Recent research by the Trellis Company confirms the positive impact of financial counseling, and all such growth provides a blessing long after graduation.

  • Encourage family financial support.

We will encourage parents to help fund their children’s college education in ways consistent with their resources. In a growing trend, more parents are asking their children to bear an increasing percentage of college costs. While having students contribute to their college education does foster maturity, parents might not realize that student employment comes nowhere close to covering the full cost of college, and that government support has shifted almost entirely from grants to loans. When parents help pay for college, they provide a double blessing: reducing their children’s debt load and assisting their children to make a stronger beginning in public ministry.

  • Urge students to utilize government loans judiciously.

We will help students evaluate the long-term ramifications of student loans so that they don’t borrow too quickly or carelessly. We will also assist them with loan repayment options. When we combine greater financial literacy with increased financial aid and additional parental support, we will be well on our way toward fewer and smaller student loans.

OUR GOAL: Under God’s blessing, we would like to cut student indebtedness in half in ten years. The current ratio of debt to starting salary is 92 percent.[1] The goal is to reduce that ratio to 46 percent in ten years.[2]

In 2020 dollars, a $1,500 per year increase in each of three areas—student contribution, family contribution, and financial aid—would result in an $18,000 decrease in the average debt over four years. That would more than meet this goal! The challenge is not as significant as it may first appear.

OUR PRAYER: In this, as in all things, we ask God to help us. May our efforts ease the financial burden our graduates carry, remove hindrances to ministry recruitment, and raise an ever larger corps of Christian witnesses who are qualified to meet WELS ministry needs.

[1] This ratio lists the average indebtedness of the 2019 MLC graduate ($27,196) as a percentage of the 2019-2020 WELS salary matrix column C with 0 years of experience ($29,511).

2020 Thalassa Winner

Congratulations to the 2020 Thalassa Prize winner, Micah Otto ’19. Micah served in Southeast Asia for one semester. He explains: “We did mostly friendship evangelism – fostering meaningful relationships in an effort to let our light shine, with the end goal of building self-sustaining churches.” The pandemic cut his ministry short, and he does not think he will be able to return. MLC’s International Services Office awarded Micah $1,000, half of which he designated to a Southeast Asia mission. This is the 14th annual Thalassa Prize.

The God She Thought She Knew

This is Bella—Bella the Buddhist.

Bella was dressed up as the Devil for our Halloween party at my apartment in Southeast Asia.

“ . . . and that’s why God’s love is so amazing!” I said amid our formerly secular conversation between sips of punch.

We were hosting this party just to make friends; but of course, it’s pretty much inevitable that He will get brought up in conversation if you talk to one of us Christians long enough.

Bella looked at me puzzled, her red fabric horns bobbing as she cocked her head.

“But . . . doesn’t your god send people to hell? That doesn’t seem very loving.”

She continued to describe the god she thought she knew—a god who was hateful, distant, and quick to hold a grudge—a god she didn’t want to believe in. Bella the Buddhist had been deceived by the very one she was dressed up as that evening.

“I don’t want to believe in that god either, Bella. Now let me tell you about the God I do believe in . . .

. . . about the God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love,

. . . about the God who gave me everything and refuses to turn His back on me even when I fail to love Him in return,

. . . about Jesus, who died so that freedom from sin, death, and the Devil wouldn’t have to be earned, but freely given right into our hands.

Tell me about the gods you don’t believe in, and I’ll tell you about mine—I’ll tell you about grace.”

Later, Bella opened up a Bible on our coffee table. We turned to John.

“For God so loved the world . . .”