Ryan ’97 and Lyndsay (Kahler ’96) Ermeling met in the choir at Concordia University Irvine. Two years after graduating, they started the Ein Feste Burg Choral Scholarship to support the choral department and students with financial need. In the years following, Ryan’s start-up business moved from his garage to an office building in Phoenix where he now has 20 employees and a business that has enjoyed double-digit growth for the past 12 years.
“Concordia is near and dear to us,” says Ryan. “It has a strong Christian environment. The scholarship was something we prayed about and talked about. After we graduated we wanted some way to keep connected and figured it’d be neat to fund an annual scholarship that would help students who needed assistance or give leverage to the music department to recruit a student for the choir.”
Ryan, a communications major, and Lyndsay, a music major, toured Japan, Korea, and Germany with The Concordia Choir.
Our relationship began in the choir,” says Lyndsay. “That’s where we met. It brought us together in a very unique way. We spent so many hours together in the rehearsal hall, on the stage in the CU Center, on tour. The music program at Concordia has a really special place in our hearts.
While touring All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door, the choir did an impromptu performance of “Ein Feste Burg,” in English “A Mighty Fortress.”
“We broke out in song and everyone else touring stopped in their tracks to listen,” Ryan says. “It was one of the highlights of my 4 years at Concordia. It was a powerful moment and a powerful piece of music.”
“I don’t think there was a person in our choir who didn’t have goosebumps,” says Lyndsay. “We all just stood there a moment and took it in. That memory was part of the reason that, upon graduating, they named their scholarship the Ein Feste Burg Choral Scholarship.
“Tithing has always been important for us,” Ryan says. “We both grew up in church-going families that understood the importance of being generous and pouring out gifts God has given us. As we looked at how we wanted to tithe and give back, obviously church is important for that, but Concordia was such an important part of our lives that we wanted to make it a key part of our giving. We looked at each other and said, ‘How can we not? We have to find a way to get Concordia into this. What can we do that would be special and meaningful for us and the institution?’”
At the time Lyndsay was leading the choral program at Orange Lutheran High School. Ryan worked at CSU Fullerton as assistant director for athletics relations. One day Ryan’s boss came into Ryan’s office and said words that would eventually redirect his career: “The service we’re using to broadcast our games online is going to start to charge us a couple hundred bucks a game. We can’t afford that. Is there any way we can play around with the technology and do this on our own?”
Ryan wasn’t especially good with technology, but using his Apple computer he came up with a way to broadcast audio of their games in-house, saving quite a bit of money. Right away, people told him he should market his solution.
“I wasn’t entrepreneurial at all by nature, but it was the right place at the right time,” Ryan says. “A lot of Division II and III schools and NAIA schools weren’t doing anything. I had the opportunity to get into that market when it was still pretty open.”
In their home garage he set up 17 eMacs and coupler devices which turned the high-speed Internet line into 72 phone lines, over which he streamed the games via the Internet for interested listeners.
“Meters were bouncing, lights going on and off,” says Ryan. “It was a light show in there.”
One of the early joys was becoming the official streaming partner of the NAIA and getting to stream Concordia’s national championships. On Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Ryan was handling 80 to 100 broadcasts all by himself. Now his company, Stretch Internet, streams 800 games on a Saturday.
“I never started the business with the intention of growing and running it full time,” Ryan says. “It was a side business I started to pull in extra revenue to support our family so Lyndsay could step down from her job, or I would. If you had asked me 12 years ago if this would be our primary source of revenue, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that it was.”
Lyndsay says the word-of-mouth growth “took me by surprise. It just kept growing and we kept adding schools. It was pretty exciting,” she says.
Ryan says the secret sauce is great customer support. “That has been our selling point all along,” he says. “The customer service we provided was so steady and reliable. Far and away that was the biggest factor.”
Stretch Internet now streams video and audio broadcasts of college sports games for nearly 600 schools and their fans, including Concordia University Irvine. As the business has grown, so has the Ermelings’ giving.
We’ve been able to increase the giving over time to make it more and more impactful....We hope our scholarship produces a lifelong appreciation for music and the role it plays in faith.
“We’ve been able to increase the giving over time to make it more and more impactful....We hope our scholarship produces a lifelong appreciation for music and the role it plays in faith.”
“We’ve been able to increase the giving over time to make it more and more impactful,” says Ryan. “My hope is we can continue to give even more in that regard and bless the choral program.”
Lyndsay continues in music and sang second alto for 5 years with the Phoenix Chorale, during which time the group won 2 Grammy awards. Today she is the director of contemporary worship at their Lutheran church and teaches all the choirs and theater classes at the church’s school. The Ermelings have three daughters, ages 14, 11, and 2. The oldest is a full-time student at the prestigious School of American Ballet and lives at Lincoln Center in New York City.
“We love Concordia with every fiber of our being,” says Lyndsay. “We’re hoping one of our daughters goes there in the future. We also hope our scholarship produces a lifelong appreciation for music and the role it plays in faith. For me, music connects me to my faith more than anything. We just wanted that opportunity for somebody else to have those kinds of mountaintop musical experiences, to do something they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”