As one of the “founding five” faculty members, Martin Schramm helped build Concordia University Irvine’s academic foundation, student body, and popular communications program. This year Schramm becomes the last of the original five to retire, leaving the university in the hands of the next generation of faculty.
“Marty is a wonderful, caring colleague and a much-loved mentor and encourager to junior faculty, many of whom he helped recruit to Concordia over the years,” says CUI president Kurt Krueger. “I consider Martin Schramm a good friend and colleague, whose unshakeable faith in his Lord and Savior has provided an example for all who serve, teach, and learn at Concordia University Irvine.”
Schramm is known for his quiet, determined persistence and consistent encouragement. He did not expect to spend his career starting a Lutheran college in Southern California, but looking back he says, “I can certainly see God’s hand guiding and directing, opening and closing doors along the way.”
“I can certainly see God’s hand guiding and directing, opening and closing doors along the way.”
Born to a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) pastor and his wife, Schramm and family moved from the Midwest to answer a call to Alhambra, California, in 1949. Marty later enrolled at Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska, intending to become a Lutheran school teacher. While sitting in a “call service” waiting for calls to be given to graduating students, Schramm heard them announce his assignment: “Concordia College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.”
“I thought, ‘They’ve got the wrong guy,’” he says. “I was trained at the elementary level at the time. They were giving me a call to a college? I was dumbfounded.”
Not only that, but Schramm had made only one request, to be sent west. Still, he followed the call to Milwaukee to teach English at Concordia College High School, which was attached to the college. He started a speech and debate team which won 13 state championships in 4 years, and coached the cross country and track teams, bringing home a league championship.
But things were stirring out west. In 1970, while on a trip to California, Schramm and family visited the site of the proposed Christ College Irvine (CCI).
“I had heard they were starting a Lutheran college in Irvine and I thought, ‘Who would want to go to a little Concordia next to a big California university in Irvine?’” he says. “My first reaction was incredulous.”
In 1973 he met founding president Charles Manske but didn’t give the proposed Irvine college much thought until 1976 when a life-changing phone call came at a critical moment.
“I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to leave Lutheran teaching and try my hand at working in an advertising agency,” says Schramm. “I called a friend from our church who worked at an ad agency and left a message for him. That very day I got the call from Manske asking if I would consider a call to California. I said certainly, I would love to move in that direction. Then I got a call back from the ad agency and I said, ‘I think the situation has been resolved. Thanks.’ It was incredible, the timing.”
Schramm and family arrived in Irvine and discovered that, to get the college up and running, each of the founding five faculty members were doing multiple jobs.
“Manske asked if I would do other things in addition to teach. I said anything but director of admissions,” Schramm says. “That’s exactly the job Manske had in mind.”
Schramm didn’t know how dire the recruiting situation was. Months before opening, Christ College had just 8 students enrolled.
“We couldn’t have done it without him,” says Dale Hartmann, another member of the founding five. “Miraculously, Marty dug up another 15 or 20 students. We got 8 from Hong Kong to hit 36.”
Hartmann still marvels that Schramm “could attract students to a campus with no athletics, no dorms, no food program, no choir.”
In year two, CCI had 80 students and went up from there.
Schramm did it as he did everything: with single-minded determination.
“I would go home, have dinner with my family, then close the door to the study and make phone calls to prospective students until they started yelling at me for calling so late,” Schramm says. “I put my front yard and backyard in by the light of street lights because by the time I was done making calls it was 10 o’clock at night.”
CCI co-founder Shang Ik Moon says Schramm was “very methodical, very much attending to details, persuasive in his manners and efforts—a trustworthy, no-nonsense person but quietly, in an unassuming kind of way.” Schramm’s reward, he says, was seeing students decide to take a chance on CCI.
“I have to take my hat off to students who came to CCI when we had only one building,” he says. “We had none of the amenities you think of when going off to college. Students who wanted to play soccer would remove rocks and boulders from an area roughly the size of a soccer field. But they were helping to establish the new school and create the mottos, the school song and so on. They were really neat kids who had the vision of what the Lord was going to create here with their help.”
Schramm’s next major task, after serving as Director of Financial Aid and chairman for the academic policies committee which approved all new courses and syllabi, was to establish a communications major.
“I kept fighting for that until finally we got it approved,” he says. He served as chair of that department for many years. It is now the fourth largest major on campus, with 5 full-time faculty and 11 part-time faculty.
Krueger says Schramm “is persistent, just a bulldog. He gets something in his mind and will persist until it’s done.”
Schramm embraces that as “a good word and a fair description. Just about everything that I’ve done in my life took persistence.” For example, when he decided to earn his doctorate, he aimed high and studied hard.
“Marty showed incredible persistence going after his doctorate at USC,” says Bob Dargatz, the first faculty/staff member added after the founding five. Dargatz watched Schramm spend a year diligently preparing for the GRE test with flash cards and various books and pre-tests. “He’s a man of real prayer and a man of absolute determination. He sets his sights on something, comes up with a strategy, and then works the problem.”
Dargatz also calls him “consistently one of the most positive of my colleagues and one of the great encouragers.”
Students soon found that Schramm was encouraging without lowering his standards.
“He comes off as easy-going and is always friendly, but those who had him in public speaking classes know he wasn’t the easiest professor for anybody,” says Dargatz.
Krueger says Schramm’s “expectations and standards” have “ruffled some feathers of some students but by the time the semester is over they’re thankful they were put through the Schramm system of public speaking.”
Schramm created an annual award to give to the student he considered the best public speaker that year, an award which came to have special significance among students. After every graduation ceremony he took the bulletin back to his computer, typed the names of communications majors into a database, and made them promise to tell him what kinds of jobs they were getting.
“I have students all over the world now who are doing great and wonderful things,” he says. “I have quite an extensive list. It’s a really big family I have out there. No matter where I go I’m running into people I recognize. We laugh about some of the times we had together when they were students here.”
H.E. Durbin ’93, who works with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and is the chair of the board of trustees at CUI, double majored in communications and business, taking many courses from Schramm.
“He was extremely professional and caring. He was nurturing,” Durbin says. “He was encouraging and helped me build skill sets to be better and stronger.”
At the recent Gala of Stars auction, Durbin showed his appreciation to Schramm by bidding on and winning a parking space for him.
“I think the world of Marty,” Durbin says. “He is the heart and soul of the University. He lives it. He’ll tell me that he’s praying for me.”
To Schramm, his former students become “ambassadors for Concordia.”
“I tell them to stay in touch with me so I know how to pray for them and to help them celebrate all of the good things that will be coming their way in the futures the Lord has prepared for them,” he says. “In effect, I become a life-long connection for them to our Christ-centered institution. The way I see it, the better I connect with them while they are here, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the better they will represent Concordia in the future.”
He uses his knowledge of former students’ jobs, internships, and graduate schools attended to recruit prospective students.
“They’re all pretty impressed by seeing that list,” he says.
He has been no less dogged when recruiting other faculty members, often sending prospective hires a postcard every other day depicting beautiful southern California scenes and the message, “This could be you. Put these on your refrigerator door.”
“Whoever had a call got my shameless postcard binges,” he says.
When not in the classroom or office, Schramm loves ocean fishing and reading. He also created and supervised the student internship program at CUI.
“In every role he played at Concordia University, Marty exhibited the characteristics of a servant leader.”
“In every role he played at Christ College and at Concordia University, Marty exhibited the characteristics of a servant leader,” says Krueger. “Always humble, always helpful, always persistent, Marty never looked for recognition or praise but took great satisfaction in knowing that he was part of a Christian community that God was blessing for His purposes.”