CUAA proudly announces the Christus Primus, Honorary Doctor of Letters, and Outstanding Alumnus commencement honorees, along with the student recipients of the Academic Excellence Awards!

Christus Primus Award: Mrs. Laura L. Thomas

Laura L. Thomas currently serves as the Director of Development for the Michigan District, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Mrs. Thomas’s degrees include a BS in Individualized Studies, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree, and a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management, all from Eastern Michigan University. Additionally, she earned a Certificate in Fund Raising Management (CFRM) from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Prior to her work in the Michigan District LCMS, Mrs. Thomas served at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, as Senior Gift Officer. Prior to that, she served as Senior Director of Donor Relations and Alumni at Concordia University Ann Arbor; Donor Relations Officer – Principal Gifts for the University of Michigan Health System; Manager of Donor Relations for Eastern Michigan University Foundation; and Fraternal Specialist for Aid Association for Lutherans.

In addition to her professional achievements, Mrs. Thomas serves as Vice President of Communication for the Council of Lutheran Women and is the secretary to the Michigan District Stewardship Committee.

Mrs. Thomas and her husband, Gary, have three children and five grandchildren. They are members of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Michigan.

Outstanding Alumnus: Dr. William R. Cario

After graduating with an AA degree in 1976 from Concordia Lutheran Junior College, William Cario completed his baccalaureate degree and Lutheran Teacher diploma from Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, Illinois, in 1978. He accepted a call to teach social studies at Redeemer Lutheran School, Glendale, New York, where he taught until June 1982. For the next eight years, he pursued graduate degrees at New York University, earning an MA in History in 1984, and a PhD in 1992. Between 1986 and 1988, he also taught religion at Martin Luther High School, Maspeth, New York. During this time, he met and married Cheryl A. Gross, a Concordia College New York graduate and fellow Lutheran teacher. In August 1990, Dr. Cario received a call to teach history at Concordia University Wisconsin. He taught
thousands of CUW students in the history department between 1990 and 2004, chairing the history
program from 1990 through 2000. In 1998, CUW faculty members recognized him with the Ronald E.
Berg Faculty Laureate award.

Also in 1998, Dr. Cario moved into higher education administration when he accepted the part-time
role of Assistant Vice President of Academics at CUW. In 2006, then CUW president Patrick Ferry
chose him to take the Vice President of Academics role. He remained in that role until 2021, although
the title changed several times, in 2010 Senior Vice President of Academics, and in 2016 Provost.
During his tenure as Chief Academic Officer, he was involved in the addition of several doctoral
programs, the introduction of the Pharmacy School, numerous international initiatives, and the merger
of CUW with CUAA, among other accomplishments.

In spring 2021, Concordia’s Board of Regents asked Dr. Cario to serve as Interim President upon
President Ferry’s July 2021 retirement. He served in that role until mid-January 2023 and finished the
year as special assistant to the president until his retirement in December 2023.
Dr. Cario and his wife Cheryl continue to live in Mequon, Wisconsin, where they are busy in their
congregation and community. Their two sons, David and Stephen, both benefitted from Concordia
University educations.

Honorary Doctor of Letters: Rev. David Nehrenz

Rev. David Nehrenz was raised in Lakewood, Ohio. He received his AA degree from Concordia College in Ann Arbor, Michigan; his BA in Education from Concordia, River Forest, Illinois; and his MDiv degree from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1982. He began his ministry in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, in 1982, in a mission congregation, Our Savior Lutheran Church.

He has been serving Trinity Lutheran Church in Norman since 1988. The mission statement of his congregation is “One Family in Our Church, Early Childhood and Campus Ministry.” Over thirty-three vicars have assisted Trinity in the Oklahoma District LCMS U Campus Ministry at the University of Oklahoma.

He has served as a delegate to national LCMS conventions, worked with Laborers for Christ building programs, been an Oklahoma District Circuit Counselor, and served on the Oklahoma District Board of Directors. He was second Vice President from 2009 to 2015 and first vice president from 2015 until his election in June 2022 as President of the Oklahoma District. He was also the Oklahoma District Convention Chairman for the last five conventions beginning in 2009.

Rev. Nehrenz believes the future opportunities for serving our Lord in Oklahoma are exciting! He says, “We are living in a time when the old things have now become new. Our fidelity to the inerrant and inspired Word of God is a necessity. Our commitment to the confessional standard of the Book of Concord is a strength. Our administration of the means of grace in preaching, teaching, baptism, absolution, and holy communion is what the world most needs.”

Rev. Nehrenz and his wife Kathy Sue live in Norman, Oklahoma. They have four children, Kurt, Mark, Stephen, and Michelle, and two granddaughters, Corrie and Beatrice.

    Academic Excellence Award Recipients

    To be eligible to be considered for the award, the students must have a 3.6 or higher grade point average.  The names of eligible students are sent to faculty members in their programs, and faculty select which eligible student within the program has demonstrated the highest academic standards and accomplishments.  Only one student per program per academic year can receive the award. 

    Ellesyn Fritcha – Natural Sciences

    Justin Goodrich – Theology

    Calista Bickel – Fine Arts: Music

    Lydia Thurm – Fine Arts: Digital Media Design

    Shannon McAlinden – Sport & Entertainment Business

    Luke Hovarter – Justice & Public Policy

    Cynthia Click – Master of Science: Elementary Teacher Education Certification

    Michelle Suzuki – Master of Science: Secondary Teacher Education Certificate

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