Winona Campus Faculty and Staff Newsletter

Congratulations to Nikki Fennern on Breaking Barriers Award

If you ask those who know Saint Mary’s Athletic Director Dr. Nikki Fennern, this selection was a no-brainer.

Every year, the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership presents the Breaking Barriers Award to individuals or organizations who have broken barriers and/or made an impact in providing athletic opportunities for girls and women in their communities. And this year, Fennern was among those to earn this illustrious and well-deserved honor.

Fennern will receive her award at the Minnesota celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day held at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. This year’s celebration will be held Wednesday, Feb. 7This event is held in conjunction with the national event and is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments in girls and women’s sports, to recognize our state’s leaders and athletes, and to look to the future.

“It is my honor and privilege to be a Breaking Barriers awardee,” said Fennern, who earned the 2016 Women’ Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA) Administrator of the Year Award for Division III. “To be among the distinguished list of current and former recipients, and to be recognized on National Girls and Women in Sports Day, is truly humbling. I appreciate the work of the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership, the awards committee, Saint Mary’s alumna, Sara Eisenhauer, and all others involved in this great event.

“I thank all of my mentors—who broke barriers for me to be involved in athletics as a student-athlete and as a professional,” Fennern added. “This is a tribute to those people, and it is my honor to continue to work to pave the way for our future student-athletes and leaders in all levels of athletics.”

Fennern is an active Women Leaders in College Sports member who embodies the mission of advancing women in collegiate athletics. As the director of athletics at Saint Mary’s, Fennern is committed to the education of students both in the classroom and on their respective playing surfaces. Under her guidance, Saint Mary’s athletics have enjoyed some of the best years in recent history. On top of encouraging athletic success, Fennern also leads, mentors, and provides vision for her staff, while being a positive role model for student-athletes and up-and-coming young administrators.

“Beyond her achievements as a coach and administrator, Nikki has instilled in Saint Mary’s athletes a sense of responsibility to others in keeping with the Lasallian themes of the institution,” said former Saint Mary’s women’s hockey player and current assistant commissioner of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Sara Eisenhauer, who nominated Fennern for the Breaking Barriers Award. “Additionally, Nikki has shared her talents through several mentoring programs for young administrators within the conference and the region. Nikki has been a friend and role model to me since my time as a student-athlete at Saint Mary’s. She has shown me what it means to be a strong female leader in intercollegiate athletics.

“Aside from being one of the toughest people I know, she is also one of the most caring,” Eisenhauer added. “She always puts others before herself and shows true care for student-athletes beyond their years on campus. Most admirably, she is a fantastic mother who has set an example for women in her department and within the industry on how to balance a powerful career and a family. I don’t remember ever being at an athletics event where at least one of her three daughters wasn’t there. She is very deserving of this honor—I can’t think of a better role model than Nikki.”

“Nikki has been breaking barriers as long as I’ve known her—and it is good to see others taking notice and recognizing her,” said Chris Kendall, Saint Mary’s associate vice president of Campus Services. “She is a great role model for young women and young men with her can-do attitude. Many times, I have heard Nikki say, ‘We’ll just have to out-work them.’

“I trust this award is especially gratifying for Nikki,” Kendall added. “Oftentimes she is breaking barriers that others do not see.”

Page Series presents Step Afrika!

Step Afrika! will perform at the Page Theatre Saturday, Feb. 3, at 7:30 p.m. Winona local Nathan Graff will open the show with a solo tap performance.

Step Afrika! is a dance company that dedicates itself to the tradition of stepping. Founded in 1994, the company travels throughout the world each year, visiting 10 countries to put on performances for more than 50,000 people. They now rank among the top 10 African-American Dance Companies in the U.S. They are based in Washington, D.C., and perform numerous events there each year.

The tradition of stepping as performed by Step Afrika! blends percussive dance styles popular among African-American fraternities and sororities at historically black colleges and universities, traditional West and South African dances, and an assortment of contemporary dance and art forms into a compelling artistic experience. In their show, the company will perform their pieces Tribute, Ndlamu, and Isicathulo, among others from their repertoire. Each dance contains different components of the stepping tradition, as well as elements of African history and culture.

In these performances, the audience is invited to interact with the company through clapping, stomping, cheering, and calling out in response to the performers. This interaction has been a part of the stepping tradition since its beginnings.

Set to open for Step Afrika! is 18-year-old Winona Cotter High school senior Nathan Graff. He has been tapping at the Minnesota Conservatory of the Arts since a young age, largely under the direction of Christine Martin. Recently, he was named a Tap Scholar by the internationally known Chicago Human Rhythm Project, and had the opportunity to study under founder and artistic director Lane Alexander. Graff will perform a solo choreographed for him by Alexander and set to Thelonius Monk’s “In Walked Bud,” prior to Step Afrika!’s performance. His solo will be a fusion of rhythm tap and jazz, with fast footwork and musical creativity.

Prior to the show, the public is invited to attend a free stepping workshop with Step Afrika! in the Gostomski Fieldhouse gymnasium on Saint Mary’s campus. The workshop will begin at 12:30 p.m. and is open to all ages; no experience is required. For those attending, only sneakers and soft-soled shoes may be worn in the gym.

Tickets for Step Afrika!’s Page Series performance are $27 for adults and $24 for students and senior citizens, and may be purchased at or by calling 507-457-1715 (noon to 6 p.m., weekdays). Tickets are not required for those attending the stepping workshop in the Gostomski Fieldhouse.

Students ready to make a SPLaSH

Saint Mary’s students will present “SPLaSH!,” the biennial Short Play Showcase that puts students and their work front and center. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Feb. 7-10, and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 10-11, in the Studio Theatre.

“SPLaSH!” features a kaleidoscope of professionally written and student developed one-act plays from our playwriting class that are produced, directed, designed, and acted by Department of Theatre and Dance students.

This year, there are six great “shorts,” including four original works by SMUMN theatre students:

• Victoria Madigan takes on Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang’s Nina in the Morning.

• Peyton Roberson brings to the stage the further adventures of Dick Piston, Hotel Detective, in Jeff Goode’s 10-minute mystery film noir spoof, Murder by Midnight.

• Then Roberson shifts gears to playwriting, handing his script off to Stefan Kahlstorf to direct. A demon helps out on his host’s first date. What could go wrong? Find out in “My Wingman is a Demon.”

• Directed by Shania Merchlewitz, Margo Hansen’s Lix Dalakan takes a man with revolution on his mind time-traveling 1000 years into our dystopian future.

• Michael Britton will present a staged reading of his absurdist-inspired play in development titled Everytheory.

• And Darren Cajipo directs John L. Donovan’s autobiographical The Lovable Losers. One die-hard fan roots from abroad for the Cubs to reverse the curse during the 7th game of the World Series.

The variety of genres ranging from comedy, drama, and sci-fi to absurdism, mystery, and much more means that there will be something for everyone.

Tickets are available at or by calling the Page Theatre box office at 507-457-1715.

Still need chili entries for cookoff

So far seven people have stepped up to ladle it all on the line. At least three more entries are needed to be sure we have enough chili to feed the masses! Who’s going to take home the golden ladle at this year’s annual faculty and staff chili cookoff on Thursday, Feb. 1? Spooner or later somebody has to beat the reigning champ: Deb (I swear it wasn’t rigged) Nahrgang.

Each year, this is a hot competition and people are bowled over by the culinary skills of the competitors. All are invited to throw a crockpot into the ring and compete for prizes, the admiration of your peers, and the enviable right to taunt other competitors.

Please let Deb Nahrgang (ext. 6966 or know if you plan to enter the contest. Then, just bring your “unmarked” and already hot crockpot to the Common Room by 11 a.m. and check in.

All faculty and staff are invited to eat chili for the cost of a donation between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. You do not need to compete to enjoy. No beans about it, the Volunteer Committee believes this is a great fundraiser. The winner will help decide where proceeds will be donated.

Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir to perform Feb. 7

The Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir will perform at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Saint Mary’s University. The performance, titled “Love, Unity, and Praise,” is free and open to the public and will be held in Saint Thomas More Chapel. The Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir, through its soulful interpretation of the African-American gospel music tradition, moves audiences spiritually and creates community across racial, cultural, and economic boundaries. While celebrating a love of gospel music, the choir seeks to model community and reconciliation. The event is hosted by the Office of Campus Ministry.

Students donate blankets to Winona Area Ambulance Service

Students in the ArtsAlive! Living Learning Community completed a Lasallian project for the Winona Area Ambulance Service crew. Their hand-made, kid-sized tie blankets will be used to comfort children in need. (Last year the blankets were donated to the Head Start preschool program.) Only half of the class was able to attend the presentation of the blankets, but everyone was involved in making them.

Along with the EMT staff, students in the photo, left to right, are freshmen Michael Bauer, Lela Patterson, Amanda Pohlman, Billy Scannell, Noah French, and Hayden McNamee.

S.O.U.L. spaghetti fundraiser planned

On Saturday, Feb. 3, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. students from Saint Mary’s will host a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the United Church of Christ at 161 W. Broadway. This event will support alternative spring break immersion and service trips for students involved in the S.O.U.L. (Serving Others United in Love) program.

This year students are traveling to Rochester, N.Y.; Browning, Mont.; Flint, Mich.; Tulsa, Okla.; and New Orleans, La. In each of these places participants will be learning about systematic poverty and injustice, as well as the creative solutions each community has in improving lives through education and community programming. Service will be done in schools, soup kitchens, community centers, and among homeless populations.

In its 31st year of sponsoring trips, S.O.U.L. is an outreach of Campus Ministry. The mission of this program is to provide alternative break opportunities for students to learn about injustice and create relationships through service. Students work to raise funds to support their efforts, as well as pay a portion of the cost of the trip on their own.

For more information or to make a donation, contact Colleen Dunne at


Rita Wiltgen, mother of Nancy Wiltgen (Development and Alumni Relations), died Jan. 18.

Clara Luella Drill, mother-in-law to Dr. Larry Luttmers (Psychology), died Dec. 24. Larry’s son David is currently a student at Saint Mary’s.

Rita Ann Lehnertz, mother of Tami Lubinski (Central Services) and Tracy Lehnertz (International Programs and University Effectiveness), died Dec. 15.

The Saint Mary’s community extends its sympathies to the Wiltgen, Luttmers, Lubinski, and Lehnertz families.

Faculty panel to discuss ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’

Saint Mary’s faculty and students will discuss James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree from 7-8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22. The event will take place in Salvi Lecture Hall, located on the third floor of Saint Mary’s Hall.

This book is already regarded as the swan song of one of the most influential theologians in America. The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful work, Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of the black community.

In a work that spans social history, theology, and cultural studies, Cone explores the message of the spirituals and the power of the blues; the passion and of Emmett Till and the engaged vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. He invokes the spirits of Billie Holliday and Langston Hughes, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ida B. Wells, and the witness of black artists, writers, preachers, and fighters for justice. And he remembers the victims, especially the 5,000 who perished during the lynching period. Through their witness he contemplates the greatest challenge of any Christian theology: how life can be made meaningful in the face of death and injustice.

As Cone’s work takes a multidisciplinary approach, a multidisciplinary panel of Saint Mary’s faculty members will address the text and its insights. Panelists will include Erin Mae Clark, English; Tycho de Boer, history; Wes Miller, sociology; and Susan Windley-Daoust, theology. A student discussion will follow.

The public is welcome, whether or not you have read the book, which is available at the campus bookstore and is on reserve at Fitzgerald Library.

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