Serving as a teacher on Maui, alumnus Zachary Potratz also aides residents impacted by recent fires

Published by Amy Crawford 3 months ago on Fri, Sep 1, 2023 10:16 AM

Zachary Potratz ’22 grew up in Seward and was familiar with the university campus from a young age, because his father worked there for 24 years. His parents are both alumni. He has fond memories of attending football games and basketball games on campus. His childhood home was across the street from campus, so he and his brother often played catch in front of Concordia’s iconic Weller Hall. 

“Concordia treated me very well when I was growing up,” he said.  “I wanted a good Christian, Lutheran education. There’s no better place for that than Concordia Nebraska.”  

Potratz majored in history education and minored in geography and has a Lutheran Teacher Diploma. He currently serves as a seventh-grade homeroom teacher at Emmanuel Lutheran School on Maui. He teaches American history for seventh and eighth grade, Old Testament for seventh grade and language arts for eighth grade. He also facilitates a student running club, coaches cross country and serves as yearbook advisor.  

“There’s never a dull moment…I teach middle schoolers!” he said. “The best part of my job, hands down, is teaching students about Jesus. It’s great to be at a school where I can teach the students and help them grow in their faith. At the end of the day, I do my best to be a good Christian example to my students. It is also enjoyable teaching American History; I am a very big fan of America. I also find fulfillment with helping at church in any way I can.” 

Emmanuel Lutheran Church and School were not damaged during the recent fires on Maui, but their satellite church location in Lahaina sustained some fire damage.  Many at Emmanuel have been working around the close to gather items to donate to people in need.  He encouraged those interested to donate to relief efforts to different Lutheran charity organizations or to donate directly to Emmanuel via PayPal to fund their ministry to those in need in their community. The principal at Potratz’s school – Josh Rempfer – is leading the outreach efforts, and preschool teacher Desi Omura is providing valuable assistance in the relief efforts.  

“Please continue to keep the people of Maui in your prayers,” he said. “It’s going to be a long rebuilding process. With the help of the Lord, I know this community can get through this disaster.” 

Potratz said he has grown and changed during the year and a half since graduation.  

“It took a big “leap of faith” and the help of God to move more than 3,000 miles from the town where I grew up and lived basically my whole life,” he said. “But I’m glad I chose to take the leap, because I have been very blessed here at Emmanuel on Maui. The people of the church and school took me in right when I landed. They are very friendly here.” 

He fondly recalls his early years in Seward and the great sense of community both in the town and on the university campus. 

“Once I got to Concordia as a student, the sense of community grew even more. I was blessed to be a member of Concordia’s cross country and track teams and I have so many great memories of hanging out with my friends on the team in practice and outside. Coach [Matt] Beisel was and still is so great in making the track and cross country community a great place for fellowship and growth in faith. I also really enjoyed going to chapel, especially twice a year when we had hymn sings.” 

A myriad of professors strongly impacted him, he said, including Dr. Joel Helmer, Dr. Mark Meehl, Dr. John Hink and Dr. Matthew Phillips

“Both Dr. Hink and Dr. Phillips helped prepare me for my content area of teaching. Dr. Hink was a great mentor in helping me make my decision to move to Maui,” he explained. “Dr. Helmer was awesome in helping me prepare for teaching. His methods class taught me that sometimes you have to ‘roll with the punches’ when it comes to the classroom. Dr. Meehl is just overall a great professor and person overall. I love Old Testament and archeology, so Dr. Meehl’s classes were so much fun for me. I also grew up knowing Dr. Meehl only living a few blocks from him, so it was cool having him as a professor. All these professors - along with many more - were a great example of Christian faith to me and other students.” 

He said his time at Concordia Nebraska equipped him for service in church work. 

“The great people and community at Concordia has helped me learn how to help the community on Maui right now, especially with the relief in the wildfires,” he said. “It’s great to have the tools to be a witness to Christ in those ways, even if you are not directly talking about Jesus when helping in the community. You can still be an example by the way you act towards others.” 

In addition to preparing him for church work in the teaching ministry, he said that his time at Concordia also developed his faith. 

“The best characteristic about Concordia Nebraska is that it holds true to its Lutheran Christian values,” he said. “There were many ways for me and other students to grow in their faith. Having chapel five times a week along with other worship opportunities such as praise or evening prayer made it easy to find ways to grow in faith. Both faculty and staff showed that they lived their lives in a Christian way. It is great to have not only professors, but also IT workers, administrative assistants, food service and custodial staff who live the faith as well. When you have great people supporting you as you grow in faith, it really helps.” 

Potratz’s family still resides in Seward. His father Kevin ’93 works at Seward Memorial Hospital as an IT specialist. His mother Janelle (Schotte) ’14 is a Kindergarten teacher at Our Redeemer Lutheran School in Staplehurst, Nebraska. Brother Jacob is an engineer at Western Irrigation Supply House in Ulysses, Nebraska. Sister Jenna is a senior at Concordia Nebraska, and youngest sister, Brianna is a sophomore at Seward High School.  

“I love my family very much. They are very supportive of my move to Maui. I am very blessed to have great parents who raised me in the faith and a family that supports me in the faith. I credit them all with helping me become the man I am today,” he said. 

When he’s not serving at the church and school, Potratz enjoys hiking and running, doing handyman fix-it jobs on the church and school campus and watching sports, especially the Nebraska Huskers. 

“I consider it a blessing to have attended Concordia Nebraska,” he said. “A lot of people want to leave their hometown for college, but I loved Seward and Concordia so much that I wanted to stay. You really can’t beat the community the town of Seward and Concordia has built.” 

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