Lutheran High School West News Article

Three Long-time Lutheran West Faculty Members Retire


Article text by Bethany Weiss, Faculty

Event photos by Livvy LoPiccolo '22

On Saturday, April 30th, former students, past and present colleagues, friends, and family members of Judy & Joel Gesch and Steve Fuchs gathered to celebrate their teaching careers and the impact they have made during their years at Lutheran West. Joel & Judy retired in December of 2020; Steve retired in May of 2020, and collectively they served the Lutheran West community for over 120 years. During their time and in their various roles at Lutheran West, these three educators have seen plenty of changes, taught thousands of students, and worked alongside numerous teachers and coaches. Through it all, they noted the importance of their relationships with students and colleagues and that God’s blessings endure through change.

When Joel and Judy Gesch came to Cleveland in 1978 after graduating from Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska, their plan was to stay for a few years and then return back home to Wisconsin. Joel was initially called to be a physical education teacher and Judy began teaching at Luther Memorial School. The following year, she taught and coached volleyball at Lutheran East before coming to teach at Lutheran West in the fall of 1980.

Along with physical education, Joel taught both Old and New Testament in the early years and later taught Christian Ethics for a majority of his time in the classroom. Joel worked with students on the football field as Head Coach and Assistant Coach for about 30 years collectively, coached basketball for a short while, and also coached track and JV baseball. He was the Athletic Director for 26 years, and his Athletic Director peers in the Cleveland area recognized Joel as a man of integrity who they could trust. 

Mark Watson (Class of 1986) spoke at the retirement celebration and looked back on the four things that Joel taught his team, and which Mark still remembers and practices today: to stay calm, work hard, reflect, and be thankful. “He created a family-like atmosphere with his teams and inspired people to overachieve,” said Mark. Joel served as a role model who held people accountable with discipline, but was patient and showed kindness. Joel shared that he doesn't believe he worked a day in his life—instead, it was a worthwhile calling.

Judy taught English and coached volleyball and also taught physical education classes with Joel in the beginning of their time at Lutheran West. When former students recall their time in Judy’s classroom, they remember they knew without a doubt that she genuinely cared about them. She took the time to get to know her students and everyone considered themselves one of Judy’s kids. She always showed mercy to her colleagues and to her students, showing them grace and compassion, and giving second chances when others may not have. Current Principal Mike Waugh (Class of 2002) spoke about Judy at Saturday’s event, noting that this type of mercy is reflective of how God treats and sees each of us – Judy demonstrated and practiced that every single day. 

Joel and Judy’s early plans to go back to Wisconsin did not see fruition, but God’s plan for them to enjoy a shared ministry at Lutheran West flourished. They both expressed that “there was no greater joy” than to share their calling in ministry together. It was an honor and a privilege to support and work alongside one another. 

After graduating from Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska, Steve Fuchs began his career as an educator at North Valley Lutheran School near Los Angeles. While there, he taught physical education and social studies, coached basketball and baseball, and served as the youth director of the church. In the fall of 1981, Steve took a call to Lutheran West to teach social studies. Over the years, Steve also served as an assistant men’s basketball coach, softball coach, and assistant women’s basketball coach. He was the advisor for Key Club and Epic Service Club.

When asked to describe his time at Lutheran West in six words, Steve promptly answered, “God blessed me every single day.” He explained how those blessings came in many forms including relationships with his students. A favorite aspect of his time as a teacher was “having a lot of students who were just remarkable people” and seeing their unique gifts and talents. “The kids were a particular joy to me,” Steve said. Steve has made a lasting impact on students due to his kindness and humor in the classroom. His favorite part of teaching was the classroom interaction with students such as leading discussions, debating, informing, and leading students to think in different ways.

Joel, Judy, and Steve all shared that it was a great blessing to be able to witness the trajectory of growth and change in Lutheran West firsthand. “God raised up men and women with vision to make it a place where ministry can grow,” said Joel. They all observed that the school leadership, faculty, and greater community formed impactful relationships which supported one another’s ministries. “One of the great blessings of Lutheran West was that strong bond between people, and you can’t help but be a better person and teacher by being a part of that,” Steve noted. Judy expressed her love for the faculty and staff she worked with for decades by adding, “They became our family.”

Lutheran West has certainly been blessed by Joel, Judy, and Steve’s dedication. They have mentored and inspired students and colleagues, and Lutheran West is what it is today because of them. Their integrity and kindness are admirable, and as Jim Fenske said on Saturday, “These are people worth imitating.”

Thank you, Joel, Judy, and Steve. We – the Lutheran West community throughout the past 40+ years – have been the beneficiaries of your dedication to one another, to our school, to our students, and to God.

View text-based website