Fantastic Fives Teacher Wins EmBe’s 2018 Tribute to Women Award in Humanities & Education

Mrs. Tina Lenz, Fantastic Fives teacher at Sioux Falls Lutheran School, poses with administrator Tia Esser after EmBe’s 2018 Tribute to Women event.

Mrs. Tina Lenz, Fantastic Fives teacher at Sioux Falls Lutheran School, poses with administrator Tia Esser after EmBe’s 2018 Tribute to Women event.

On Thursday, April 19, Mrs. Tina Lenz of Sioux Falls Lutheran School was named EmBe’s 2018 Tribute to Women award winner in the Humanities & Education division.

The annual event honors the achievements of women in the community and recognizes men, women, and businesses that show a commitment to empowering women and families.

Having worked alongside Mrs. Lenz for the past several years, Sioux Falls Lutheran School Administrator, Mrs. Tia Esser, views her as a deserving recipient of the award.

“In short, this servant-leader loves all people—with special affection for the very young and the disenfranchised,” Esser said. “To the people God has placed in her life, she has committed her own.”

Fresh out of college in 1979, Mrs. Lenz accepted the call to be the first kindergarten teacher at SFLS.  With true pioneer spirit, she taught students with deep love, innate creativity, and DIY innovativeness.  In addition to teaching, she recruited new students, swept floors, took temperatures, supervised lunch and recess, and did countless other tasks that fell outside her job description.  Most importantly, she spearheaded new initiatives—playing a significant role in a building project, which moved our school from a church basement to a brand new facility in 1984.            

In 1991, she followed her husband’s career to southeast Iowa, pioneering a new path as a small-town candy shop owner.  During those years, she honed skills in visioning, planning, and executing a successful business plan as she pursued her passions of cooking and hospitality.

In 2003, she followed her husband’s career back to Sioux Falls, where she reignited her first passion—teaching.  While serving as a full-time teacher in our pre-kindergarten program, she felt prompted to do more.  In response to families looking for meaningful education for 2-year-olds, she researched successful programs across the country, developed a vision and a business plan, and launched a play-based educational program for 2-year-olds.  The Kid’s Day Out program, which opened with 11 students in 2015, now serves 30 children and, given additional space, has the demand to serve even more.

“From her roots as a Kindergarten teacher to her foray into business ownership to her present roles as an early-childhood educational leader and community volunteer, Mrs. Lenz is a servant leader who has dedicated her life’s work to making others’ lives better,” Esser said.

Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Lenz is an active member of the Lutheran Education Association, a leader in her church’s women’s missionary organization, and has researched and developed a dual-purpose Bible study for non-English speaking Liberian women in her church congregation.  She teaches them about the eternal promises in God’s word while simultaneously teaching them the English language. Last, but not least, she has also enthusiastically trained to serve as a SFLS capital campaign volunteer, for which she called on high capacity donors in an effort to raise funds for a new preschool through 12th grade school facility.

“Perhaps her greatest contribution to our school and to our community is her joy-filled resolve to make life more fun, and to share the love of Christ with everyone in her world—regardless of her own significant challenges,” Esser said.

In November 2016, Mrs. Lenz was diagnosed with a rare form of chemo-resistive ovarian cancer. After undergoing grueling chemotherapy treatment in the spring of 2017, she returned to the classroom in August to serve those she deeply loves as our Fantastic Fives teacher.

In January 2017, as she was preparing to start chemo, she shared the following in an email to her classroom parents:

“I have found the word J-O-Y pop up in many places the last 2 months.  It seems I see the word and hear the word in many places around me a lot!  I feel God has placed this word in my midst and I am trying to keep JOY in my heart through this difficult situation.  I pray the kids feel JOY in our classroom with their teachers these next few months!  I know I will feel JOY when I am able to Facetime them and someday return to them.   Thank you for your understanding!  And, thank you for your continued love, prayers, and concern!  I have taught the kids one of my favorite songs, ‘Jesus By My Side.’  I know He is and will be by my side through this whole ordeal!”