top of page
  • Writer's pictureJamie Burdorf

Stepping up with other families to build a better future for education in Shen Community Schools


The three surviving Offenburger siblings back home in the summer of 2022.

The idea is so simple: Find 100 families who, over a decade, can give $10,000 each to the Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation, and you’ll raise $1 million to secure the quality of education the Shenandoah Community Schools will provide for decades to come.

As we start into the autumn of the Challenge’s third year, 39 families have said yes.

Think of it this way – it’s like we’re at the start of the fourth quarter in a Shenandoah High game against Clarinda or Red Oak. And we need to rally!

We SHS fans of an earlier era are chanting, “We go!” Fans of more recent vintage are answering with their newer cheer, “Horsepower!”

And this is clearly going to take all of us.

Let me make it plain here. We Offenburgers are doing this Family Challenge. It makes my sisters Sue Polk, Chris Werner and me proud as heck to represent our family on this. And if ragamuffins like us can make this work, then there’s a whole lot more of you out there who ought to step up, too.

“I have always been a bit on the extravagant side of things when an adventure presents itself,” said Chris Werner (SHS ’69), retired from a long career as a middle school teacher in Cedar Rapids. “My years growing up in Shenandoah provide wonderful memories – some of which I am sure my mother could have done without!

“But when I graduated, I was gifted with the ‘Lake Gidley Scholarship,’ which made it possible for me to attend Creighton University. I once asked Mrs. Lake if my over-the-top fun seeker attitude ever made her nervous. She said she never doubted me because I seemed to never waste a minute looking for my next adventure.

“Now looking back, I see this trait served me well,” Chris continued. “Over the years, I taught hundreds of students to be adventurous and enjoy life to the fullest, and filled them all in on Shenandoah and all its magic. And every year on my mother’s birthday, I write a check for my portion of our Offenburger gift to the education foundation and think of our mom Anna Offenburger, Clara Jane Lake, and Mary Gidley, and think, ‘I did it, ladies! And I’m STILL having fun!’ That’s always a feel-good moment for me, and thanks to the foundation for the opportunity.”

Nine Offenburgers have earned SHS diplomas. Our string started with our mom Anna Sims Offenburger (SHS ’24). Eventually came the seven of us kids – Bill and Bev (both ’50), Tom (’52), Dan (’54), Sue (’56), me (’65) and Chris. Later yet came nephew John Offenburger (’90).

When I think of how we have all benefitted from our education and experiences in the Shenandoah schools, I am absolutely humbled.

Of course I will serve on the education foundation’s board of directors, I said. Of course my sisters and I will cover our family’s part of the Family Challenge. Of course we still want to beat Clarinda and Red Oak, in whatever activity is on the schedule.

We all owe the Shenandoah schools and the larger community, too.

I love how the Family Challenge started.

It was launched in late 2019 by the family of Bob and Kathy Sweeney, now of Atlantic. During his long career in public education, Bob had two hitches in Shenandoah as a teacher, coach and administrator. Kathy had a long career in banking.

They said their time and experiences in Shenandoah were so good and so meaningful, they wanted to contribute in a special way. And they were joined in starting the Family Challenge by their three grown children -- Kari Sweeney Schwind, a nurse and former U.S. Air Force captain, living in Warrenton, Va., and twins Kevin Sweeney, one of the top umpires in NCAA baseball and also an employee in guest services and security for Hyatt Hotels Corp., now living in Gainesville, Va., and Kristi Sweeney, a professor in sport management at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

“It was so neat to get such quick email replies from all three of our kids about being part of the ‘investment’ in the foundation,” Bob Sweeney said back in 2019. “We sent them the idea about midnight, and all had replied by 9 a.m. the next morning.”

Of special note about the Sweeneys having started the Family Challenge: None of them – parents or children – are SHS graduates.

So here we are, starting the fourth quarter against Clarinda or Red Oak – your choice of opponents. And here’s the current line-up of our 39 Family Challenge team members:

Sweeney family: Bob & Kathy Sweeney, Kari & Michael Schwind, Kevin & Vanessa Sweeney, Kristi Sweeney.

Corby and Jean Fichter family.

John and Gayle Teget.

Pat and Julie O’Hara family.

Zac and Amy Zwickel.

Bruce and Kent Foster.

Joe and Clesteele Anderson family.

Ratfliff family: Terry & Deborah Ratliff, Ty & Kerra Ratliff, Dustin & Toni Comstock.

Rick and Patsy Cogdill family.

Tom and Pat Beavers family.

Jeremy Pritchett: Tech Support Services.

Ed and Star Ann Kloberdanz.

Judy Bengston family.

Ed May.

Bill and Jolie LeVere.

Dustin and Haley Christiansen.

Jeff and Amy Miller.

Ken and Lois De Baere.

Cheri Kenyon.

McCall family: Richard and Pamela McCall, Kathryn and Ronald Barker.

Scott and Mary Ann Keep.


Ginger Family: Scott & Sandra Ginger, Tracey & Sharon Ginger.

Joel and Marlene Bashaw.

Craig and Kathy Harris.

Dan and Jenni Hansen.

Chris and Julie Willeman.

Jean Debban and Shawn Aquino.

Offenburger family: Chuck Offenburger, Chris Werner, Sue Polk

C.E. and Carol Hornbuckle.

Bosley family: Gary and Barb Bosley, Nick and Jessica Bosley, Brianne and Ryan Capps, James and Karen Butler, June McClintock


Robert Cochrane.

Margot Gee and Jeff Subko.

Jerry Morhain.

The Family of John and Eldora Gowing: Jane Gowing, Janet England, JoAnn (Gowing) Weir, Mary Beth Gowing.

In memory of Maury & Vesta Reavis: Dr. Denis and Jean Reavis, Danette and Rex Castle

Irvin family: J.C. & Mary Irvin, Andy & Stacey Irvin, Jill Irvin

Lance and Ashlee Cornelius.

It’s time for a whole bunch more of you to check into the Family Challenge line-up.


If you’d like to join the Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation’s “Family Challenge,” you can reach out to the foundation’s President Corby Fichter at 712-621-2386 or Executive Director Jamie Burdorf at or 515-520-7641.

The author of this story, Chuck Offenburger, is a 1965 graduate of Shenandoah High School who has had a long career as an Iowa journalist. He writes now for his own website from his homes in Jefferson and Des Moines. He is a member of the board of directors of the Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation. You can email him at

221 views0 comments


bottom of page