As the coronavirus pandemic brings new challenges, Knights around the world are living out the Wartburg mission of leadership and service in new ways. Read below as we recognize those who are serving or uplifting others during this crisis. Know of another story to share? Fill out our form for yourself or another Knight at this link.

Zach Marpe '17, Knights in Action

Zach Marpe ’17
Peace Corps, Western Illinois University
“Following graduation from Wartburg, I served in Peace Corps from August 2017 to June 2018; I assisted with English instruction in Muelle de los Bueyes, a semi-rural community in eastern Nicaragua, and helped teach over 350 students in a formal secondary setting as well as over 200 community members in a voluntary class setting. This service also included cultural immersion by living with local families and receiving classes from Peace Corps staff on culture, safety, language, etc.

“After working in sales for a couple years, I felt I needed to study and serve again, so I applied for and was accepted to the Coverdell Fellowship Program at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. I am completing my Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a postbaccalaureate in community development and planning; part of that coursework includes a graduate assistantship for the Illinois Small Business Development Center.

“I am working with Genesis Gardens, a local food bank run by the WIU community in cooperation with Macomb residents, as well as local businesses, to provide recognition and ongoing support for success in the local economy. I will continue with these projects and also will work with translation services this year. The second year of my program consists of AmeriCorps service somewhere to be determined in Illinois.”

Karalynn Brunkhorst, Knights in Action 2020

Karalynn Brunkhorst ’17
MercyOne Waterloo Medical Center
Med/Surg BSN, RN

Karalynn has only been out of Nursing school (BS-Biology, RN-BSN Wartburg-Allen School of Nursing 3+1 program) for a mere two years and is already one of the senior nurses on third shift on her floor. She is training new nurses and is a “new nurse” herself. She is living the Wartburg Mission by going above and beyond working at MercyOne Waterloo Medical Center on a floor that primarily cares for patients with COVID-19. She is caring and compassionate, and as a young nurse, already has experienced more than some of us will in a lifetime, during this crisis. She is starting her second year of her master’s program, in the education/clinical track.

Her faith and family are her guiding forces through all of this — she is not afraid to drop to her knees in times of need. Her Wartburg family and friends are also her lifeline during this social distancing period. For an outgoing Knight, that has been difficult! She is loving and giving not only to her patients, but their families as well, her coworkers, and her friends. Karalynn is proud of her Wartburg education and highly recommends that 3+1 program. She lives in Denver, Iowa.

Rev. Le Anne Clausen de Montes '00, Knights in Action

Rev. Le Anne Clausen de Montes ’00
Pastor and founder of Iowa Faith Leadership Network, Mason City

The Rev. Le Anne Clausen de Montes found herself at home with four young kids during the pandemic closures. She organized more than 250 volunteers and families via Facebook to form the “Mason City Birthday Train,” a car caravan greeting for any kid who couldn’t have a birthday party during this time. The group also made drive-by visits to senior housing facilities, and for adults whose health conditions prevented gathering with friends and family.

The Birthday Train idea came from friends in a neighboring town and will be winding up at the end of June after serving 100+ families. Clausen de Montes hopes that the group might evolve in the future to support birthday celebrations for children and adults with additional challenges.

In addition, Clausen de Montes helped congregations across Iowa’s diverse religious landscape prepare for the different stages of the pandemic by producing “The Iowa Faith Leaders’ Guide to Ministry During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” through her volunteer work with the Iowa Faith Leadership Network. Clausen de Montes also helped area families find resources for help through volunteer work with North Iowa CARES, which she started to help area non-profit agencies improve communication, cooperation, and coordination of services for area residents.

Clausen de Montes started the Iowa Faith Leadership Network and North Iowa CARES a few years ago upon returning to her hometown in Mason City and will continue to build both organizations after the pandemic is over.

Mary Sojka
Wartburg Dining Services, bakery

Mary saw a hospital’s Facebook post about making masks and thought, “Why not?” She has sent them to hospitals, Dining Services full-time and student employees, Wartburg Security, and anyone who asks. She has “learned the ins and outs” of making masks and is able to create different styles and patterns – her colleagues even donate fabric and elastic when they can.

Knights in Action 2020

Tristan Gardner ’13
Master Control Operator at KCCI-TV in Des Moines
Podcast host, ‘Tristan’s Story Time’ 
“I am currently hosting a podcast called ‘Tristan’s Story Time,’ where I read children’s stories. Since children don’t find being cooped up all day any fun, I decided to use my imagination and put all of my voice over experience to good use by recording my podcasts in my home recording studio. The podcast is entertaining for the whole family to listen to,” says Tristan.Listen to “Tristan’s Story Time” at or on Facebook.

Knights in Action 2020

Shelby Meyer ’17
Funeral Director
Major Erickson Funeral Home, Mason City

Shelby plays an important role for families who have suffered loss and for those who are grieving. This is her daily life; however, the situation is exacerbated by this global pandemic. She is on the front lines and working to ensure families get the closure they need, even if it’s not the closure they envisioned. Funeral homes have been forced to shift their focus and rethink how services can be done and what’s appropriate.

“Losing a loved one is difficult, even more so now given the circumstances,” Shelby said. “Please think of your family and friends that are grieving at this time, and also the funeral directors that are working hard to fulfill the needs of the families they serve.” Read more about funeral home operations during COVID-19.

Zak Montgomery

Zak Montgomery
Associate professor of Spanish
Wartburg College

Six Wartburg Spanish majors were studying in Spain when the disease reached pandemic level. Dr. Zak Montgomery worked to ensure they were able to travel home safely and then complete the course requirements needed. Once the students had settled at home, he invited each of them for a virtual coffee hour where they could talk through their experiences about the transition.

“For many of these students, this was the culmination of their Spanish major or even their college career, and now they are spread out all over the country from Pennsylvania to Arizona,” he said. “This gave them to talk through their experiences and come together as a community.”

Zak also is using his ukulele to keep himself and the rest of the Wartburg community entertained. His recently revived YouTube channel has four new pandemic-inspired song parodies (and he even takes requests on occasion).  

Nancy Agafitei, Knights in Action

Nancy J. Agafitei ’70
Community activits, Spring, Texas
“During COVID-19, I have modified how I serve to incorporate online opportunities: I help legal permanent residents complete their online applications for U.S. citizenship. I have assisted my interfaith group in creating a video alternative to our annual in-person Thanksgiving celebration. I have hosted Zoom gatherings of retirees, book clubs and relatives to help keep people connected. I helped make arrangements with our County Public Health Department to offer free COVID-19 testing at my church.”

Lloyd Ziebarth ’52

Lloyd Ziebarth ’52
Samaritas Senior Living, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, no pastors from outside have been able to come to Samaritas for Sunday services. Lloyd has been conducting worship services on Sunday for the residents. Before the virus, he volunteered at “New To You” every morning, preparing donated electrical appliances for resale, from which the profits go for scholarships to students attending the Christian schools in Grand Rapids.

Josephene Ostenberg-Nichols '22

Josephene Ostenberg-Nichols 22

Josephene and her mini Sir Victor have been busy making breakfast bags for the Minneapolis Ronald McDonald House and sewing face masks for local restaurants. Sir Victor tried to teach Josephene how to bake, she has taken up the challenge of teaching Sir Victor how to crochet (it isn’t going well), and of course Sir Victor is fighting off wild beasts! Sir Victor is sad that he didn’t get to find adventure abroad this May Term but stayed committed to leading, serving, and expressing positivity during these hard times. Sir Victor and Josephene are excited for the summer and can’t wait to share more of their adventures on Instagram @adventureswithsirvictorP.S. To get your own little Sir Victor to take photos, email the Alumni Office at

Joy Gibson ’12
ICU Nurse responsible for COVID-19 patients
Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago

“One of the daily challenges we face in the ICU Is having to tell families they can’t visit their loved ones related to this virus,” says Joy. “FaceTime and Zoom are no substitute for human connection. It makes this illness that much harder.”Every time I enter a patient room, it takes at least five minutes to put on all the protective equipment. This includes: two face masks, shoe covers, protective gowns, hair net, face shields, and two pairs of gloves. All of this makes it hard to feel connected to my patients as all they can see is my eyes. We do our best but it is extremely challenging as we are told to limit our time in the rooms as much as possible to decrease exposure time.”

Knights in Action 2020

Ryan Steffen ’07
Lieutenant and paramedic
Marion Fire Department

Ryan is a lieutenant and paramedic for the fire department in Marion, Iowa. Since the start of the pandemic, changes have been made to decrease their exposure to the virus; now, 83% of calls are for the EMS. While he and his team take every precaution possible, they do not delay caring for community needs. Although these are challenging times, Ryan says that “the decisions we make today will make a difference tomorrow!”   

Knights in Action 2020

Gary T. Johnson ’86
Retired, former owner of consulting firm Triumfera
Retired, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

Gary volunteers at Lakeshore Paws, a local nonprofit, no-kill dog shelter, every evening. With COVID-19, the dogs need extra volunteers to care for, feed, and exercise them. Gary goes in after regular volunteer hours to help with cleaning, folding laundry and taking out the dogs that need to go out for the last time at night. He makes trips to local stores in search of dog biscuits, treats and chew toys that are needed, and orders needed supplies online. The dogs are dependent on people, so Gary helps as he can.

Knights in Action 2020

Sophia Williams-Perez ’17
Medical student
University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

As a third-year medical student in Iowa City, Sophia  would typically be in clinical rotations at this time, but amidst the current pandemic all rotations have been temporarily suspended. Although she can no longer aid directly in patient care, she has instead been volunteering with patient/staff symptom screening at UIHC and rescuing unused food and supplies with the Johnson County United Way Table-to-Table program. Additionally, she is helping spearhead national student volunteer efforts by serving as the State of Iowa Coordinator for the National Student Response Network (NSRN). With NSRN, she is responsible for contacting all nursing, PA, and MD/DO schools in Iowa to recruit volunteers as well as all hospitals and county health departments in the state in order to match volunteers with any opportunities available. With many health professional students experiencing suspended curriculum and an innate desire to serve, she helps connect students’ tasks to help ease the burden of an overwhelmed healthcare system.  

Knights in Action 2020

Taylor Guthrie ’19
Volunteer with Hopkinton Ambulance Organization
Student and EMT program teacher at NICC

Taylor is currently finishing an Associates in Paramedicine at NICC in Peosta. She and her peers have done over 300 hours both at the hospital and in the ambulances in the surrounding areas. Because of the crisis, her time has been suspended but the program is continuing online. She is currently volunteering for the third year on the Hopkinton Ambulance service and protecting family members by doing the shopping weekly. She looks forward to getting her paramedic license to further serve her community and others.  

Annaliisa Aisindi 2001
Knights in Action

Annaliisa Aisindi ’01
Ministry of Health & Social Services in Windhoek, Namibia

Annaliisa is an anesthesiologist in part of the COVID-19 response team in Windhoek, Namibia, where there have been 16 total cases, three of which are currently active, and zero deaths. Annaliisa works with patients who need intubation and ventilation as part of their intensive care admission.

Knights in Action 2020

Dr. Katherine “KJ” Janssen Klaassen ’85

Knights in Action 2020
Daniel Klaassen
Sofia Bouffard

Daniel Klaassen ’88
Financial planning
Sofia Bouffard ’20
Music therapy intern

KJ is making masks at home for people to wear in order to help stop droplet spread, discourage touching faces, and remind others to keep their distance. Daniel and Sofia have helped KJ’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. They repurposed the elastic in old fitted sheets to use in their homemade masks.

Knights in Action 2020

Penni Pier
Professor of Journalism and Communication 
Wartburg College

When the college announced it would transition to remote learning in mid-March, Dr. Penni Pier knew her students would be fine academically. She was more concerned about maintaining the relationships she had with them.

“As soon as students started moving off campus, I got a list of all the students in the department, and I would email them every three or four days. Then, the next week, I took some time with my advisees,” Pier said.

With registration behind them, Pier sent an open invitation to all journalism and communication students for a virtual coffee, which has grown into a weekday routine that now includes several students and even a professor from outside the department.

“For me, this is all a form of therapy. Spending time with students, writing letters and cards, it all helps me self-soothe and keep my mental health in balance,” she said.

Pier has sent letters of encouragement, mailed care packages, and even delivered Easter dinners to students and community members in need.

Knights in Action 2020

Jill Nobles-Botkin ’84
Oklahoma State Department of Health
Administrative Program Manager for Perinatal & Reproductive Health

“My primary role is to ensure family planning and reproductive health services are available in all health departments in the state, especially now in the context of COVID-19 restrictions. This includes writing new policies and procedures for provision of services according to current safety recommendations and prioritizing essential services for all county health departments,” says Jill.

“As part of the emergency response team I help staff the COVID-19 hotline 24/7, secure PPE for county health departments, serve on strike teams for coronavirus testing and antibody testing, and collect data for the CDC Pregnancy Module tracking pregnant women diagnosed with Coronavirus. My daughter and I have made many masks for friends, family and coworkers. I also still work labor and delivery on weekends providing direct care for labor patients.”  

Knights in Action 2020
Bike Jersey

Angela Zook ’16
The Cincinnati Insurance Co.
Talent Management Analyst

Angela recently partnered with a co-worker, Malory Rinderle, to create care packages for frontline healthcare works during the COVID-19 pandemic. The two brainstormed how to serve the community while respecting social distancing; they decided to create care packages to share with two Cincinnati hospitals. The Amazon Wish List includes small items such as tissues, chapstick, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and more. The hope is to bring a smile to the workers saving lives. You can support the initiative today by clicking here.

Knights in Action 2020

Emily Harkins Norris ’08
Master of Divinity student Wartburg Theological Seminary
Emily currently serves as the Developer Pastor for a new community of faith in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This community, The Dwelling, is a mission development of the ELCA and the North Carolina Synod that exists to create a faith community for neighbors specifically, but not exclusively, experiencing homelessness. The Dwelling’s official launch and first worship was scheduled for Easter, but as the world began to change because of Covid-19, the mission of The Dwelling and Emily’s call to her community shifted to meeting the critical wellness needs of her people.Instead of gathering for worship, Emily has shifted her energy and ministry to providing daily showers, clean clothing, toiletries, and more to those who are without shelter. On Easter, community restaurant owners helped sponsor a socially-distanced Easter breakfast that served over 100 neighbors who are experiencing ongoing food insecurity. Most recently, Emily was asked by the city of Winston-Salem to steward the leadership and community care of a hotel that is providing shelter for 60 of the city’s homeless neighbors who also are at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19 because of various health conditions. Emily is incredibly grateful for the ways that God has remained faithful to building this new church in the midst of unprecedented times and continues to be in awe of the unexpected creativity of the Spirit’s movement in this unique call to God’s church.You can learn more about The Dwelling and their ministry by visiting the website at