A lasting impact: Fred Heinze to be honored at St. Paul’s Lutheran School Alumni and Friends Dinner

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Fred Heinze has played the organ for church and school services at St. Paul’s since 1975. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – When St. Paul’s Lutheran School holds its annual Alumni and Friends Dinner and School Auction at Terri Pines April 18, longtime educator Fred Heinze will have a special seat at the table as the inaugural recipient of the school’s new Impact Award.

In a statement, St. Paul’s Director of Creative Services Emily Hayes Trahan shared about the award and its first recipient:

“The inspiration for the award comes from the following scripture: ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.’ 1 Peter 4: 10-11

“In choosing the first recipient of this award, several things were considered, including years of service, leadership, and character. We are honored to announce our first Impact Award recipient is Fred Heinze. Mr. Heinze retired in 2012 from St. Paul’s Lutheran School after many decades of teaching. He continues to use his talents to serve the school as the organist for our Wednesday morning chapel services.”

Heinze came to Cullman in 1970 to teach third grade at St. Paul’s, after completing his undergraduate education degree and becoming certified as a Lutheran teacher. After two years, he went into public education and taught at Cold Springs until 1976, when he returned to St. Paul’s as both fifth-grade teacher and principal. Desiring to focus his energies in the classroom, he asked to be relieved of administrative duties and stepped down as principal in 1978, but remained as a teacher for 34 more years, teaching all grades first through fifth, as well as sixth-grade religion classes.

Today, Heinze and his wife farm hay and a have a small herd of cattle, and indulge their shared passion for motorcycles while he continues to play the organ for church and school services and teaches a Bible class at church.

The Tribune sat down with Heinze this week to talk about a little of everything, from cattle ranching and bikes to the role of faith development in Lutheran education.

Heinze talked about his introduction to Cullman:

“I graduated in 1970 as a Lutheran teacher and, at that time, the teachers got a call like the pastors do in the Lutheran Church. They said, ‘What section of the country do you want?’ like north, south, east or west. That’s the only choice you had. I said southeast because my parents lived in Louisville. They sent me here to Cullman, Alabama.

“I’d never been in Alabama. That was 1970; you know, I’d heard some negative things about Alabama from the 60s and so forth. Well, everything was negative in the 60s, I tell you, wasn’t it? I don’t know if you were around then. But I said ‘Alabama, that’s flat and hot,’ but when I got to Cullman, came down the hill up there at (Highway) 31, it looked real pretty, so I stayed here my whole time.”

Of his teaching career, Heinze said, “I didn’t know if I’d like teaching or not. It’s one of those things that God kind of says, ‘Well, you’re going to do this,’ and I didn’t know that, but it kind of just worked out. I never wanted to be a teacher in my life; I thought when I turned 18, getting out of school was good. I was going to get a job and buy a car, because I liked to work with my hands, too.

“Anyway, so I came here in ‘70, taught third grade, and found out I really enjoyed teaching . . . I kind of ended up being a teacher by the grace of God- I didn’t know what I wanted to do- and enjoyed it thoroughly for, I guess, 40 years.”

Faith is the key

Heinze said helping his students develop their faith was as important as the academic subjects he taught.

“I always saw myself kind of like a pastor-teacher,” he said. “I was most interested in their spiritual growth more than anything, first of all. That was most important to me, because I know you can teach them different subjects, but they’re going to get repeated, but if you can get them spiritual when they’re young, that’s the greatest thing, I think, so that was my goal in teaching.”

What is your fondest memory of your years at St. Paul’s?

Said Heinze, “When they celebrated my 25th anniversary in teaching in a Sunday service with the parents of the kids here, and I got a standing ovation, and I thought, ‘What are they doing?’ But I remember that as, ah, that just seemed really nice that they would do that. I didn’t know why, but that was nice, so I remember that.

“Something like that keeps you going: a compliment or something like that. Somebody comes up and compliments you on something you played for the service or something, you know it’s like, ‘I’m writing you in my will!’

“I guess that’s what you learn from teaching, too: you don’t change people by criticizing; you change them by treating them with love. That’s the same thing; it’s really neat how love works. But it takes a long time to learn that.”

When your former students tell their own kids about Mr. Heinze?

Heinze responded, “I hope they remember that he was a Christian man who was really interested in their growth in faith, I think would be the main thing. You hope that they would adopt a Christian way of life in their lives. That’s what I was about.”

St. Paul’s Pastor John Bussman, who arrived at the church about the time Heinze concluded his teaching career, has continued to work with him as his organist, and has seen the legacy that the teacher left.

Bussman told The Tribune, “Fred has been excellent. I’ve been here for seven years now and, you know, obviously with being the organist, you get close quickly. But learning how he and his wife Hazell have been involved with the school for so long, more than four decades, you tend to- well, it would be a wise thing to do to talk to them and figure out about this place, about church and school relations and these kinds of things. 

“And of course, just like anywhere, you go through highs, you go through lows, but really, what I gathered from them was how much he cared, not only for the church, but for the school- not because it was a source of income, but because of how many kids came through, how many lives have been impacted. 

“I was just speaking to somebody- it’s probably been three weeks, maybe a month ago, now- and Fred was the first one that came up. ‘Is he still there?’ ‘Yes, he’s still playing the organ and teaching the bible class,’ and all this. This person could, from a third- or fourth-grade classroom- I guess it was fourth grade- remember specific religion classes that they’d had. You’re going back 20, 25 years at this point. But to remember specifically an individual, to remember specifically something they taught in religion, you know, it’s just something that we, I guess we kind of pride ourselves on here. It really meant a lot, and it just solidifies the impact that he’s had, and often goes unknown, undiscussed. But to be able to pass that on, to carry that on, generation to generation, is something that’s very important and, really, an unsung hero of Cullman, kind of tucked away here at St. Paul’s, teaching and doing those kinds of things, so very important to me, very important to the school as we go forward.”

St. Paul’s Lutheran School Alumni and Friends Dinner and School Auction

From the St. Paul’s office:

“St. Paul’s Lutheran School is combining two great events into one exciting night. The Alumni & Friends Dinner and School Auction will be held April 18 starting at 5 p.m. at Terri Pines. Tickets are available in the church and school offices for $25. The Silent Auction will begin at 5 and conclude before the live auction at 6:30 p.m. Follow the St. Paul’s Lutheran School – Cullman Facebook page for sneak peeks at items up for auction. 

“St. Paul’s wishes to thank and recognize the support of local businesses in our community that have donated to this event. They are Shirley Quattlebaum – State Farm, Cullman-Jefferson Gas, Mitch Smith Chevrolet, Merchants Bank and Virgil B. Fowler Insurance.”

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com