A Columbus man has been chosen to lead the region’s only Lutheran high school.

Ben Stellwagen arrived at Trinity Lutheran High School in 2014 as special education coordinator and a resource teacher. But he stepped up to the administrative role of interim principal in May when Dan Sievert announced he was taking a position in Nebraska.

Stellwagen was installed as Trinity’s permanent leader during a chapel service March 17 at the school, located just north of Seymour.

The high school has a Lutheran feeder system that includes three Bartholomew County feeder schools — St. Bartholomew Catholic, in addition to St. Peter’s and St. John’s White Creek Lutheran schools — and five association churches in the Columbus area. They are St. Peter’s, St. Paul Clifty, Grace Lutheran, Faith Lutheran and St. John’s White Creek.

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Many of the eighth-graders from White Creek advance to high school at Trinity, said Jan Buss, the Lutheran elementary school’s principal for 24 years.

“He is a very caring, Christ-centered man,” Buss said of Stellwagen. “He will certainly uphold what Trinity stands for, which is a Christ-centered school,” Buss said.

The Rev. John Armstrong, pastor at Grace Lutheran, said he believes Stellwagen’s leadership will help children receive a quality education from a Christian world view.

“Faith is always attractive to people who are open to understanding the world we live in,” Armstrong said. “But just as important is grounding young people in the faith they’ve been given.”

Stellwagen said there is much to keep him busy while leading a Christian-centered high school.

“I find that invigorating,” he said. “But what I’ve enjoyed the most is realizing that, just like in the classroom, being principal is about building relationships. I care deeply about the students here, and it is a great joy to share in their full scope of hard work and successes.”

Stellwagen said he received a warm and enthusiastic reception from students and faculty when he announced he would be accepting the call to serve as their long-term principal.

“The parent comments have been positive, too, and it’s a wonderful reminder that we are all partners in ministry and education,” he said. “It’s a blessing to work together.”

Growth is expected to provide the greatest challenge — and opportunity — for the school in the coming years, he said.

That’s because an increase in the number of students means more needs for staff, programs, space and funding.

Student experience

Trinity added Academic Bowl last year, which Stellwagen helped coach, and swimming this year — while continuing to look for ways to expand curriculum and extra curricular offerings.

Involvement in such activities is not only fun and personally rewarding for students, but it also makes them stand out when applying for scholarships and colleges, Stellwagen said.

“Our students are involved in an incredible variety of activities,” he said. “It makes for some sleepy-eyed students at times, but it also develops well-rounded individuals.”

When it comes to his leadership style, Stellwagen said he strives to be upbeat, has high expectations for students and staff and a broad sense of what’s possible.

As principal, he plans to continue strengthening and expanding curriculum, programming, staffing, fundraising, outreach and marketing for Trinity, he said.

“But most important is to continue delivering our mission of educating, developing and preparing Christian servants and leaders,” he said. “We will continue to do so for all the students and families entrusted to our care.”

Stellwagen said it did not take long for him to realize how much he loved the job.

“The opportunity to share Trinity’s mission beyond the classroom appealed to me, and I have spent much time meeting members of the community and Trinity supporters,” he said.

Ideas sprung from the many conversations he has had with association pastors, the school board, donors, parents, coaches, volunteers, students and people in the communities served, the principal said.

Stellwagen said he and his family — wife Laurie, and children Judah, Annabelle and Katya — have come to love the Seymour and Columbus communities.

“The timing of how I arrived at Trinity made it clear that God had a plan in leading us here, and this position is affirmation that it’s been a great fit,” he said. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this great group of people at a Christ-centered community of faith and learning.”

January Rutherford is a staff writer for The Tribune of Seymour, a sister publication of The Republic. Republic staff writer Matthew Kent contributed to this story.

Pull Quote

“God had a plan in leading us here, and this position is affirmation that it’s been a great fit.”

— Ben Stellwagen, Trinity Lutheran principal

Trinity Lutheran High School

Address: 7120 N. County Road 875 East, Seymour

History: Founded in 2000 as a Christian high school in grades 9-12. Owned and operated by the South Central Lutheran Association for Secondary Education, Inc., a group of 16 Lutheran churches that provide financial and board leadership to the school. That includes five in Bartholomew County.

Accreditation: Accredited through the state of Indiana, North Central Association and National Lutheran Schools.

Affiliations: Students who attend Trinity are affiliated with a variety of Christian denominations, including Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist and Nazarene.

Enrollment: 142 for this school year: 30 in grade 9; 31 in grade 10; 37 in grade 11; 44 in grade 12.

Academics: Basic courses required by the state, plus a variety of elective, dual-credit and advanced-placement courses. Theology classes from a Lutheran perspective are taught. Trinity Lutheran had a 100 percent graduation rate in 2016, with all 36 seniors receiving diplomas.

Tuition: Sliding fee, starting with one student for $7,450 per year; discounts available to students associated with member congregations and to families with multiple students enrolled; scholarships available.

Information: Call 812-524-8547 or toll-free at 1-866-524-8547 or visit trinitycougars.org

Sources: Trinity Lutheran High School, Indiana Department of Education

Ben Stellwagen

Age: 34

Hometown: Wheaton, Illinois.

Residence: Columbus.

Profession: Principal, Trinity Lutheran High School (permanent appointment made March 17 after serving since May 2016 as interim principal). Before coming to Trinity in 2014, he taught middle school math and physical education at St. Vincent de Paul in Bedford. He also worked as an adjunct professor and associate instructor at IU and at IUPUI

Education: Degree in history and humanities with minors in mathematics and economics from Valparaiso University; master’s degree in history from Indiana University; finishing up his doctorate degree in Russian history.

Family: Wife Laurie; children, Judah, Annabelle and Katya