When Donald Lahn was 16 years old, his father was hit by a truck and killed while crossing the street in a small Colorado town. The loss left Lahn without support at a critical time.
“I didn’t have anybody to tell me how to do things, how to go to college,” Lahn says. “I didn’t have a father to give me guidance. It was a struggle.”
Lahn paid his way to a college in his home- town of Denver and later discovered that some classmates, including ones who were not as academically gifted or motivated as he was, had scholarships that reduced their financial burden.
“It’s too bad I didn’t know,” Lahn says. “I obviously would have qualified. I had good grades.”
Lahn, who is now retired, set up a scholarship for CUI undergraduate students who had “a similar experience as I had, who didn’t have one or both parents,” he says. “That was the motivation: to provide a scholarship for somebody else to help them.”
Lahn was an early supporter of CUI and later became a trustee, serving on the investment committee which manages the university’s endowment fund.
“[The University] has grown a great deal and I like what they’re doing,” he says.
Lahn had grown up in the Lutheran church and the Walther League youth organization popular in Lutheran churches at that time. He met his wife, Wanda, while serving in the League’s leadership. Lahn had already moved to California and passed the CPA exam on his first try. He later joined Prudential Overall Supply in 1967 and worked for the company for the rest of his career, serving his last ten years as president. Prudential rents uniforms and work clothes and operates thirty industrial laundry plants mainly in the West.
“The company grew and I grew with it,” Lahn says. “I was very happy there... It was a wonderful relationship. I worked to age 68. I was having too much fun running a company.”
Lahn started his endowed scholarship with money from stock he owned in the company.
“I liked the idea of an endowment,” he says. “They’re not spending the money. It lasts forever, as long as the Lord wants it to last. Whatever the earnings are is used for the scholarship.”
In tailoring the scholarship to students affected by the loss of a parent, he recalled losing his father who worked for the railroad and was visiting potential freight clients in southern Colorado the day he died.
"I wanted to provide for somebody who had a similar type of problem. That was my personal experience and it led me to think I would like to make money available to someone else."
“My mind went back to what happened to me,” Lahn says. In the aftermath of the accident “our faith became even stronger. That’s what keeps you going during those days. The Lord took care of us. We were very blessed... I wanted to provide for somebody who had a similar type of problem. That was my personal experience and it led me to think I would like to make money available to someone else.”
The Lahns’ scholarship this year went to Vinnie Rodriguez, a freshman from Anaheim Hills who is studying business. Rodriguez’s mother died suddenly when he was nine, and his father died when he was eleven.
“When my parents passed away my sister took me under her wing and started caring for me,” Rodriguez says. “She whipped me back into shape and made me more studious. I aspire to be like her, a very caring person. She’s like my new role model. My grades went up. My emotions went from upset and depressed to having a more positive outlook on life. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows but I stay positive.”
When Rodriguez applied to Concordia he thought the costs might be too high for him. “Thanks to my sister I found this scholarship and it actually applied to me in many ways,” he says. “It’s a challenge growing up without a father. You don’t really know where to go. Your dad teaches you how to shave. Now you have to learn all these things on your own.”
Rodriguez says his strength comes from God, his friends and his family. At Concordia he has discovered he enjoys public speaking “which is a surprise. I was scared to go up there [in front of the class], no doubt, but I found out it’s my favorite.”
Lahn still runs the profit-sharing plan for his former company. His two daughters are now grown, and Lahn and his wife live in Palm Desert where he is an elder at their church.
“What I like about the scholarship is that it’ll help many students long after I’m gone,” he says. “I’m happy with it. It’s doing well. In fact I just made a contribution this year.”