Interest Time, LCEF News

Mr. LCEF: Fred E. Lietz

June 11, 2018 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

Fred E. Lietz served as the first full-time Synod church extension executive. He served at the national level for 22 years (1957-1979) and was instrumental in the growth of the Church Extension Fund (CEF) from an LCMS department to its incorporation in 1978 as a national entity—Lutheran Church Extension Fund. That’s why some people refer to Lietz as “Mr. LCEF.”

In his role, Lietz worked with many Synod leaders, districts, congregations and LCMS members to educate them on how the invested dollar helped build churches, while providing the investor with the ministry dividend.

“He wanted it to be clear they were in a partnership with LCEF. Not like a bank. Together, through investor resources, [the Synod was] able to support these ministries and provide space and place,” said Rich Neubauer, who worked under Lietz during the former’s time as director of Administration and Finance for the LCMS Florida-Georgia District.

“That was always his thing: space and place . . . a building in a specific location to do mission for a ministry,” Neubauer said.

Merle Freitag poses with Fred E. Lietz (center) and other early contributors to LCEF’s incorporation: Vince Hinrichs, John Schuelke, Norman Sell and John Schumaker.

The visionary

Was anybody surprised that a former teacher and principal from Saginaw, Mich., could have so much influence over the growth of LCEF and the Church?

“No,” said Jerry Wendt, former business manager for the North Wisconsin District. “Fred was definitely a visionary. He had a heart for people engaged in ministry, saw the future for the department of CEF, focused on that and taking on projects the district couldn’t handle.”

But Lietz wasn’t all work and no play.

Wendt said that he got to know Lietz during the late-night card games at the annual church extension conferences. Lietz, Wendt and others would sneak off to a room to play poker, teasing and bantering each other, but ultimately created those bonds that forged a strong leadership team.

The hobbyist

Lietz was also a talented musician. “He could sit down and play the boogie-woogie on the piano and his leg would be thumping,” said Sue Zajicek, his middle daughter. “It just sounded so amazing.” On Sundays, Lietz was known to climb into the organ seat and fill in for the regular organist. “We would watch him do this and we would think how did he learn to do that also?!”

Lietz was full of surprises.

On the weekends and around the holidays he would take over the kitchen to make Christmas bread, coffee cakes, rolls and onion bread. “He was a serial hobby person,” Zajicek said. “He’d tire of it and move on. But he wasn’t afraid to try anything.” Including candle making.

“When he got into candles, mom told him to move it outside because he was making too much of a mess inside,” Zajicek said. The stone barbecue pit he used as his table was covered in wax. For a while Lietz even made his own ties. “But mom would have to make them presentable, so that’s maybe why he became a bow tie man,” Zajicek said.

Fred E. Lietz with wife, Vera (second from the left), and their three daughters: Sue, Gene and June. Gene graduated from Concordia River Forest in 1963.

The husband

Vera Lietz meant the world to her husband, so when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 43, his appreciation for her—already at a high level—soared. As did his zest for life.

“He always loved life, always seemed to be happy and smiling. We didn’t really remember difficult times,” said June Gardner, Lietz’s youngest daughter. “Every Friday evening Mom and Dad would head downstairs and whip up a batch of Manhattans for cocktail hour and they would discuss [difficult] issues.” This included Vera Lietz’s diagnosis.

“We never heard the word cancer,” said Gardner.

“He never showed any stress in front of us. He handled it in a quiet way. I think he was trying to keep us from worrying because he knew we were already worrywarts.”

In 1963, cancer treatment was in its infancy, but Vera Lietz, after surgery and a round of radiation, was cancer free for 20 years—until it came back and spread to her lymph nodes. She declined rapidly and passed away at 63. Lietz was devastated.

Through it all, Lietz remained faithful to his positive spirit. For as long as she can remember, Gardner said her father would end all of his letters with “Keep smiling.”

Each year during the Fall Leadership Conference LCEF presents two awards in Lietz’s honor—one to an outstanding LCEF volunteer and one to an outstanding emerging ministry of the LCMS.

And let us all remember to keep smiling.

Originally appeared in the 2018 spring issue of Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s official magazine, Interest Time. View a digital version here.

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.