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  • Writer's pictureDani Hatfield

Dave Coker's Retirement, After 27 Years of Service

Rev. Mark Grorud, Rev. Dr. Reuben Swanson, Rev. Roger Sasse, Darlene Swanson and Dave Coker celebrating NLOM’s first $1 million gift to build The Swanson Retreat Center.
Rev. Mark Grorud, Rev. Dr. Reuben Swanson, Rev. Roger Sasse, Darlene Swanson and Dave Coker celebrating NLOM’s first $1 million gift to build The Swanson Retreat Center.

In 1991, Dave Coker sat in Roger Sasse’s pickup truck at Inspiration Point at Carol Joy Holling Camp. Roger was the Executive Director and Dave was interviewing for a temporary position. While they talked and smoked, Roger told Dave of the plans for this 317 acre property.

The project at hand was building cabins at The Springs site. Campers had outgrown the current facilities and more space was needed to serve more campers. Roger had a grand vision and Dave wanted to be a part of it.

Dave had spent the previous 20 years of his life in advertising, marketing and public relations in Omaha. He, his wife Karen and their two children had found a church community at St. Matthew Lutheran and life was going well. But, everyday Dave said, “My gut would churn on my way to work, ‘How am I making any difference in the world?’”

Dave was struggling. His pastor knew that the camp was starting a campaign and was looking for some help in development. “I had no idea what development was but I was intrigued,” said Dave.

And, so he was hired for 30 days. 27 years later, he now fills the very important role of Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries’ Executive Director. However, his time as E.D. will be coming to an end on December 31, 2018 when Dave retires after 11 years as Executive Director.

Of the last 27 years, Dave says, “I used to go to work every day wondering what good I was doing. In all of my years here, I haven’t ever had that same feeling. I know why I am here and I know the good that I am doing. I know the value of what I do.”

Q&A with Dave Coker

How has this place changed since 1991?

Well, certainly we’ve added buildings. From the first campaign I was involved in, The Springs

cabins to the last, the new Monke Lodge at the same site, there have been many physical improvements to the property.

Technology has changed a lot, too. When I started there was a small donor base. All of the info was located on note cards, but I found such joy in going out and meeting donors and asking for support to the camp. I connected with a lot of parish pastors who really supported camp and helped to connect me with the right people. Jason Gerdes now serves as the Director of Development and the systems he has set up are lightyears ahead of those note

cards. But, I know he feels the same joy in connecting with our friends.

Our staff has grown and we’ve gotten a lot better in our hiring practices. I’ve always felt like God gifted me with ability to find good people and empower good work. But, I’ve made mistakes too. Our leadership team has spent a lot of time making sure we have hiring

practices that help us find the right people for this organization. We hire humble people who are hungry to serve with the gifts God has given them.

I have also changed over the years. My faith is so much more mature. Karen would say I’m

a better husband. Karen and I have had the incredible pleasure of doing this together especially when she was our volunteer nurse for 4 summers. Our kids, grandkids, nephews and nieces are connected and camp has been a huge part of their faith life. Watching other people come through here has such an impact on me too – from the kids who struggle to those that come from strong family homes and come to camp for a week of growth – it is

so cool to see the lightbulb go off for all of these kids. This place is just so darn meaningful to me.

Is there a memory that stands out that felt momentous for you?

One of the momentous things that happened during my time here was in ‘94 or ‘95. I got a note from a woman I had not met, LaVonne Loseke. She wanted to talk to me about improving camp. She asked if we were ever going to get a swimming pool because she

couldn’t get her granddaughter's swimsuit clean after swimming in the pond. LaVonne provided $100K as a match for the $200K swimming pool. LaVonne, by making this gift, really gave permission to others to make large gifts. She was the first and she has been such a strong partner since then – opening the door for so many other donors. What a special memory and a turning point for our ministry.

What has challenged you most during your role as Executive Director?

In 2009, the economy was in the dump and the church was in turmoil. There was a lot of junk going on in churches and donors were focused elsewhere. I had to lay off two very good people who were both doing good work – for the sake of the budget. The decision was so hard and the strain it put on the staff made it a difficult time. But, I also grew a lot during that time. Prior to that I think I was kind, to a fault, and with the intensity of questions and strong opinions presented during this challenging time, it got to the point where I just had to say boldly, “this is who we are and how we are going to move forward.”

Dave and Karen Coker, with two of their grandchildren, Josh and Mikayla Meehan.
Dave and Karen Coker, with two of their grandchildren, Josh and Mikayla Meehan.

What has brought you the most joy during your time at camp?

The incredible people I get to work with on staff; getting to be a part of the lives of the young adults on our summer ministry team; witnessing campers exploring their faith through Bible study and worship; the awesome relationships I have been able to build with donors; and the incredible partnership our Leadership Team has with NLOM’s Board of Directors.

When I call donors to set up a visit, they know what I’m coming for. They know I’m going to ask for a gift. The greatest joy is when they recognize that what I am asking for is as much a gift for them as it is for camp. It is fun to see the joy of giving and it is especially wonderful when a donor starts to talk about what “WE” are doing, not “you.”

What are you going to miss the most?

“My big fat paycheck and the company plane.”

(Editors note: Neither are real).

How will you stay connected to NLOM after you retire?

No doubt I will continue to be a donor. I want to continue to support the amazing work of this ministry!

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