Farmer from Jackson donates $569,000 to Lutheran school

Saturday, November 16, 2002

The staff, students and parents of Saxony Lutheran High School soon may witness the construction of a new building thanks to a sizable donation from a Jackson farmer.

Gerhard Birk gave $569,000 to the school Friday morning at a check presentation to the school's board of regents. His gift will go toward realizing the school's proposed campus master plan, which includes a 36,000-square-foot building with classrooms, offices, worship space, music and athletic facilities.

Birk is a lifelong member of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tilsit. Providing a place for students to get a quality education was his motivation.

"I think it is very important for young people to get a good education, and I hope that others will join me with support," Birk said.

Right now, Saxony students are attending classes at the St. Andrew Lutheran Church at 804 N. Cape Rock Drive in Cape Girardeau.

The organization of a fund-raising campaign for the new building is still in the beginning stages, but Birk's donation is being called the "lead gift" in the campaign, Zacharias said.

Next month, the school's board of regents will vote to set a fund-raising target for a new building.

"We'd like to see something in the neighborhood of $5 million for the campaign," said Dr. Thomas Kiehne, Saxony's school administrator.

Such an amount would cover the cost of the new school's construction and still leave enough for a school foundation fund to be created, he said.

Forty acres already have been purchased for the construction site at the southeast corner of the Interstate 55 Fruitland exit. The land, dedicated Jan. 15, 2000, cost $320,000.

The board also will vote next month on dates for proposed groundbreaking in the spring. If all goes as planned, students would start attending classes in a new building by fall 2004.

Saxony High School began its first academic year in 2000 with eight students. Now in its third year, the school's nine teachers use college preparatory curriculum to teach 30 students and offers extracurricular programs in basketball, cheerleading, band and choir. The school is operated by three full-time administrators and two support staff.

In August, Saxony received full National Lutheran School Accreditation, enabling its students to compete academically and scholastically with other schools in the Missouri State High School Activities Association, Kiehne said.

"That opens a lot of doors for us," Kiehne said. "Certainly our students who are interested in going to a college or university will need to have graduated from a school that is accredited. In addition, some companies will match their employees donations to a school only if the school is accredited, so it helps us in that way too."

School officials have been working with Birk on finalizing the donation for about three months, said Rhonda Zacharias, director of development.

Birk first met with Zacharias and his longtime friend, Dutch Meyr, in July to discuss his donation.

"I am so thankful for Mr. Birk's financial leadership as we prepare for our campaign," Meyr said. "This is a phenomenal gift."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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