By Kara Beck, Social Media/Publication Specialist, NovusWay Ministries
When Dr. James Andrew McKanna learned that funding wasn’t yet in place to build the full 40-room retreat center at Lutheranch and the Board was considering phased construction, he became very concerned. McKanna had been a NovusWay donor for several years, and he was part of the major gifts team in the Nashville area for the “Standing on the Promise” campaign for Lutheranch. Based on his own camping experience at Long Lake Lutheran Camp in Wisconsin, McKanna knew the importance of the retreat center in developing programs at Lutheranch and the benefits it would bring to Lutherans across the southeastern United States.
After discussions with Bishop H. Julian Gordy, Southeastern Synod, to determine what it would take to build the full 40-room retreat center McKanna and his wife, Vivien Casagrande, have responded by making a very generous $2.2 million commitment over a three-year period (2015-2017). This extraordinary gift prompted the NovusWay Board of Trustees to authorize the architect to finalize construction documents for the retreat center. If all goes as planned, construction on the McKanna-Sandrock Retreat Center will begin in summer 2016. The center will feature 40 double occupancy guest rooms with private bathrooms, three conference rooms, and a large meeting/dining room, scenically set overlooking Stender Lake.
Bishop Gordy had this to say about the significance of the commitment and what it will mean to the members and congregations of the Southeastern Synod, “While Dr. McKanna’s generous gift will bless the whole church, its meaning to the congregations and people of the Southeastern Synod is hard to overstate. Here is a beautiful piece of God’s handiwork that will be a setting for faith development and renewal for many generations to come. I believe it will have the kind of impact that Lutheridge and Lutherock have had for Lutherans in the South over the years. I’m particularly glad that Dr. McKanna makes this gift to honor his ancestors and hope that many of us will be inspired to do likewise. We always stand on the shoulders of those people of faith who have come before us.”
When asked about his commitment, the largest in the history of NovusWay Ministries or any of the four Lutheran camps, McKanna was very modest, “The Lord’s blessings in our lives that enable us to make a gift like this are much like grace – undeserved but inspiring our gratitude as recipients. This is one of the better things that I can do with my life, and I’m pleased to leave a legacy for future generations. I trust this gift will also prompt others to remember their own ancestors, who importantly influenced their lives by passing on the Christian faith to them.”
McKanna is proud of his German Lutheran heritage that goes back to the Wilhelm-Loehe-Missionare-Schule in Neuendettelsau on the Sandrock side of the family. In fact, several of his ancestors emigrated from Germany in the 1850s as missionary pastors to North America, including Great-Great-Grandfather Georg Grossman who founded Wartburg College and Wartburg Seminary in Iowa. Pastor Sigmund H. Sandrock, Jim’s grandfather, served numerous congregations in Wisconsin and Iowa before “retiring” as founding administrator of the Bartels Lutheran Home for Aged in Waverly, IA. The family’s camping ministry evolved in the 1960s at Long Lake Lutheran Camp in northern Wisconsin, where Jim’s mother Margaret Sandrock-McKanna served as camp nurse and uncle Pastor Sigmund G. Sandrock as director. McKanna first visited Lutheranch in June 2015 with a delegation from the Lutheran Church in Bavaria. He exclaimed, “While driving home, I felt a call to explore whether Vivien and I could move the project forward. So many others had done their part, and now it was our turn to help make the dream a reality.”
McKanna is an active member of Christ Lutheran Church in Nashville where the Rev. Morgan Gordy is pastor. He spends a significant amount of time volunteering at Christ church. On Christmas Eve 2015, several of his family visiting from out of town even participated in the choral concert prior to the midnight service. Pastor Morgan Gordy had this to say about McKanna and his participation at Christ Lutheran Church “Jim has a deep love for and commitment to the church, frequently asking about ways to put the Gospel into action, through Word proclaimed and through ministry of daily life. He and Vivien have been faithful members of Christ for many years. It is no surprise that they have chosen to gift this ministry in such a generous way.”
After a prominent career investigating growth factors in development of the brain, eye and kidney, Dr. Jim McKanna is Emeritus professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University in Nashville. His wife of 40 years, Dr. Vivien Casagrande, studies visual pathways in the brain and teaches in the Neuroscience program as Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Psychology at Vanderbilt. In 2013 she received the prestigious Vanderbilt University Chancellor’s Award “for a ground-breaking paper in Nature Neuroscience, in which a novel linkage was identified between primary visual cortex of the brain and the thalamus, which controls the ability of the visual system to focus.” Over the years, both Vivien and Jim trained many PhD and MD students, including several from Eastern Europe and China.
It is interesting to note that Vivien’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Germany/Austria just before WWII, and her father Arthur, as professor of civil engineering and soil mechanics at Harvard, was recruited in 1942 by the US Army Corps of Engineers to train nearly 400 officers to build safe, durable foundations for battle-zone airfields. Through 1980, he was responsible for design of many earthen dams and foundations for high-rise buildings throughout the free world. Vivien’s mother Erna Maas was raised in Stellingen, a small suburb of Hamburg, Germany, where the Lutheran Church was the center of all activity. Erna and Arthur were married in a Lutheran church in Cambridge, MA in 1940. Jim’s father, James Bernard was a banker and civic leader in Green Bay, WI; his mother, Margaret nee Sandrock, was an RN and served as Instructor at Bellin College of Nursing.
Jim and Vivien have two adult children, James Arthur and Paul Grayson. James graduated with a triple major in computer science, psychology and neuroscience, earned his PhD in Medical Informatics at Oregon Health Science University (Portland), and presently is a post-doctoral fellow at Northeastern (Boston). Paul is currently a student majoring in Finance at Belmont University (Nashville). Over the years, the family has enjoyed skiing, sailing, tennis and cycling, including a bicycle tour with Germans and Hungarians from Vienna south around the Plattensee up to Budapest, and another led by Bike China from Chongqing south along the Yangtze River through the Three Gorges to the new dam at Yichang. As Jim says, “In this shrinking world, personal interactions on the ground provide small but significant avenues for expressing the love of Christ.”
McKanna has been inspired by his German Lutheran heritage and the dedicated successes of his ancestors in applying Christian principles to religious and secular institutions. It is his prayer that God will use Lutheranch to raise up visionary and passionate leaders for the Lutheran Church to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the future. If you would like to make a gift and help “complete the dream” for Lutheranch, contact Keith Trout at ktrout@NovusWay.com or phone 864-313-1453.