Honoring Mr. Heinze

Fred Heinze receives first ever St. Paul’s Lutheran School Impact Award

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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Rev. John Bussman, honoree Fred Heinze and presenter Erin Smith pose in front of a quilt containing Bible verses and quotes shared by church members, donated for St. Paul’s Lutheran School’s fundraising auction at the alumni dinner. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – St. Paul’s Lutheran School at its alumni dinner on Saturday evening presented retired teacher and longtime school/church organist Fred Heinze its first ever Impact Award for his “significant impact on the lives of the young people in our school community with his decades of service.” According to St. Paul’s, the new recognition is “given to those students, teachers and support staff who’ve made significant contributions to our school and their community.”

“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, ” said St. Paul’s Director of Creative Services Emily Hayes Trahan.

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. Heinze has played the organ for church and school services since 1975.

Erin Brown Smith, a former student of Heinze’s at St. Paul’s and now an educator herself, traveled to Cullman from Tennessee to present the award Saturday evening.

Before the ceremony, she told The Tribune, “Some 20-odd years ago, I was in Mr. Heinze’s fourth-grade class, and because of some of the experiences I had in his class at St. Paul’s as a student, I became a teacher- a fourth-grade teacher. I won Teacher of the Year, and now I work for central office in Clarksville, Tennessee. I wrote an essay in his class saying that I wanted to be a Christian teacher when I grew up, to teach children about God. Even though that’s not in a private school setting- it’s in a public school setting- I’m still able to do that.”

Continued Smith, “I’ve only had two male teachers in my career, I guess my life, fourth grade and then not again until 12th grade. There’s just something different about his character and demeanor, and he was patient, he was funny, he was sarcastic- but you had to be a little bit ahead of the game to catch it. He read to us every day. He played the organ in chapel on Wednesdays, so our class would get to see him playing, and he felt like a rock star up there on stage, and we would all, ‘He’s our teacher!’ We respected him, but we loved him at the same time.”

During the award presentation, Smith told her former teacher, “Mr. Heinze, you know you’ve influenced a child when they write an essay in your class expressing goals to become a Christian teacher one day, but you know you’ve made an impact when that same girl, over 20 years later, still thinks back to memories from her fourth-grade year as your student. I can honestly say as an educator, I have strived to mold my teaching practices and my character from experiences I had as a student at St. Paul’s, specifically in your class.

“If you asked one of Mr. Heinze’s former students what they remember about his class, they may talk about the comforting smell of tobacco from his flannel shirts, the calming sound of his voice reading a few chapters from the weekly novel, or the chalky feeling of his hands after writing the daily lesson on the board. Maybe it was the sense of pride his students had that our teacher was beautifully playing the organ for Wednesday morning chapel, or the sense of fear that we’d lose recess if another teacher reported that we had acted out during the service. They may even remember his sense of humor, like his clever riddles during spelling tests, or when he promised he would eat the classroom rug if it snowed in Cullman. Spoiler alert: My fourth-grade year it DID snow, or ice, is what I think we call it around here. And poor Mr. Heinze slipped and fell. The class collectively decided a broken leg was punishment enough, and he would not have to eat our classroom rug after all. These, and many more, are the memories that personally resonate with me when I think back to my time in Mr. Heinze’s fourth-grade class.

“I recently read an article that stated, ‘You should recognize that every interaction you have is an opportunity to make a positive impact on others.’ I don’t necessarily agree with that; I truly believe Mr. Heinz didn’t recognize the impact he was making on his students, his colleagues and even the church congregation each day, and continues to do so, which makes him such an authentic, kind person. The positive impact he made in my life, and so many others, was done unknowingly. His genuine, humble, faith-filled character is what makes him more than deserving of this award. 

“Thank you, Mr. Heinze- and congratulations!”

Heinze retired from teaching around the time that Rev. John Bussman joined the staff of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, but he has continued to play organ for chapel services up until the present, and has been unafraid of sharing his decades of experience with his young pastor.

Bussman said of Heinze, “What a blessing he is, not only to our school, but especially to our church, to have invested his entire life, really, to the expansion of our school and the ministry of music and our church. He’s a teacher at heart; he never stops teaching, whether it’s in the classroom for the four decades that he taught, or in Bible class on Sunday morning, teaching the organ as he is now on Sunday mornings. But even when my ministry seems a little off track, he’s not shy about coming into my office and letting me know. I really appreciate that about him. There’s no better person to be receiving this award tonight.”

The alumni dinner also featured silent and live auctions to raise funds for the school.

For more information on St. Paul’s Lutheran School, visit www.stpaulscullman.com.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com