Always an Advocate for College Athletics:
Coach Jim Unke
For many years our athletic director, Jim Unke, had been advocating for enhanced athletic facilities on MLC’s campus. As a lifelong coach, Jim knew very well how a strong athletics program can help shape character traits that are essential in the ministry: leadership, work ethic, teamwork, sacrifice, sportsmanship.
And he knew that athletic facilities are also attractive to prospective students. High schoolers base their college decisions partly on what amenities the college offers. They want to spend four years on a campus that respects their gifts, including their athletic gifts, and offers plenty of space for development of those gifts.
So as the vision for the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse became a reality, Jim was thoroughly involved. He attended every weekly meeting with VP for Administration Scott Schmudlach and the architect, and he was onsite regularly during construction.
“We looked to Jim throughout the process,” said VP Schmudlach, who’s also Jim’s brother-in-law. “He knew how the building should function. He knew what the locker rooms should look like. He knew how to ensure that all the amenities would serve athletic teams, PE classes, the student body as a whole, and the community. As colleagues—and as family—it was a really wonderful experience.”
Jim saw the building take shape. He saw the first students step on the turf, pass footballs and soccer balls, drive golf balls with the simulator, and hit softballs and baseballs in the cages.
But God took Jim home before the dedication. After suffering a stroke, he passed into glory on July 30, 2022.
Have no doubt, though: he left his mark. The MLC campus family sees Coach Unke’s touches everywhere on the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse, and he was in the memories of everyone at that dedication.
James Martin “Jim” Unke
On July 30, 2022, while actively serving MLC as athletic director, Professor Jim Unke was called to glory. Blessed to grow up in a Christian home, he was baptized, educated, and confirmed at Immanuel-Manitowoc, Wisconsin, before continuing his Christian training at Manitowoc LHS and Dr. Martin Luther College.
After spending a year as an emergency instructor at East Fork LHS-Whiteriver, Arizona, Jim completed his degree and was assigned to the teaching ministry—serving faithfully at St. Paul-New Ulm, Minnesota (1983-1987), and Lakeside LHS (1987- 1997). In 1997, just two years after MLC was established, he accepted a call to serve as MLC’s athletic director, physical education professor, and men’s basketball coach. For the next 25 years, Jim worked tirelessly to provide MLC students opportunities to develop and use their athletic gifts to God’s glory. He was instrumental in the planning of the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse. He oversaw all aspects of MLC sports, helped maintain and improve facilities, coached, taught, mentored, and modeled ministry to a generation of future pastors, teachers, and staff ministers.
He also served in many roles outside of his service to MLC, including commissioner of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC).
Jim’s wife, Lori DMLC ’84, continues to serve MLC as an admissions counselor. Jim and Lori celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this year. They were blessed with three children—Daniel MLC ’06 (Leah Morgan MLC ’06), Angela MLC ’07 (Brian Schmidt MLC ’07), and Jacob MLC ’12, ’21 (Jenna Kerr)—and 10 grandchildren.
A full obituary can be found at bit.ly/UnkeObit.
Memorials to MLC are helping establish a Jim Unke Scholarship Endowment Fund to provide financial aid for those studying for the public ministry at MLC. Watch for invitations to contribute on our website and social media.