This fall Alfred Neukukatz, a World War ll veteran and retired aerospace electrical engineer, gave his 500th gift to Concordia University Irvine — and he says it won’t be his last.
“Once you develop a good habit, it’s beneficial to both sides,”
Neukuckatz says. “That’s what my wife and I did with our giving to Concordia.”
Still, Neukuckatz says he didn’t realize how many gifts he and wife Lillian, who passed away in 2012, had given.
“We had regular monthly contributions and threw in some extra ones for the music and theater programs and the like,” he says. “Lo and behold, you do that long enough and you have a reasonable number of contributions.”
Neukuckatz calls himself “an immigrant by birth” because he was born in Brazil to missionary parents.
His family returned to the U.S. in 1929 when he was five years old and he attended parochial Lutheran schools, then served in the Army under Gen. George Patton, providing reconnaissance.
“Our job was to take high-speed vehicles, light tanks and scout cars and find out where the enemy was,” he says. “Sure enough, we’d find them. Then the shooting would start and we’d try to make an assessment, call back to our divisions and they would move forward.”
Neukuckatz was wounded in a skirmish and received a purple heart and a Bronze Star for meritorious service.
“I was totally surprised [to get the awards],” he says. “I was just doing my job. I was wounded in my left arm and whoever it was, was a bad shot. A couple of inches over and I’d have had it.”
What sticks with him most about the War is the memory of his hospital ship pulling into New York harbor.
“There came all the poor guys, no legs, no arms, hobbling to the front of the ship. Guess why? To see her — the Statue of Liberty, a beautiful sight for us,” he says. “I really will never forget it. It gave all of us chills and still does.”
His advice to anyone involved in a war: “By all means, try if you can to get on the winning side. It’s very helpful.”
He spent the rest of his career working as an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry. He and Lillian, whom he had met at a Lutheran youth meeting, moved to California in 1967, joined St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange and have been members ever since, serving as a board member and president of the congregation at times.
“Our life has always been associated with the Lutheran church,” Neukuckatz says. “The Lord has been good to me.”
They began giving to Christ College, which became CUI, because “I thought starting Christ College was the right thing to do, especially when I saw the land that they had in mind,” Al says. “I said, ‘That’s a beautiful site.’ The most amazing thing was watching the development — the staff, the president, the whole bunch. It was a marvelous experience to watch Concordia grow. We would attend meetings and there would be another building coming up, now more staff, expanding our curriculum, more students. We watched it all. It’s like a small miracle.”
As active supporters, Al and Lillian ushered for campus concerts and sang in the community choir for years. Al even tuned the campus pianos in the 1980s in his second career as a piano tuner. And they always made their monthly gift. Over time, the number of their donations added up.
“I was surprised when I heard about it,” Al says. “I hadn’t thought about it that way. I went to my calculator and did some calculations and said, ‘Yeah, it could happen."
Neukuckatz was honored by CUI president Kurt Krueger in a chapel service in September
“That was so nice,” Neukuckatz says. “I was embarrassed almost to tears and when he finished I gave a few words of wisdom, I hope, to the students. I appreciated the recognition immensely. I was overwhelmed and so moved by the entire experience that I got home and wrote another check for $500 as a thanksgiving for what they had said.”
Neukuckatz says he continues to give and is encouraging his great-grandchildren to attend CUI.