Growing up on a dairy farm about 15 miles west of St. Nazianz, Mr. Rich Kolbe attended a two-room grade school at St. Martin’s Parish. Salvatorian Fr. Arnulf Buck served there as the pastor at the time and held weekly religion classes. Fr. Arnulf was also a faculty member at the nearby Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz. At the ripe old age of a sixth grader, Rich took note of Fr. Arnulf, feeling that he too might be called to the priesthood; he began to research various religious orders, zeroing in on one in Indiana by the time he was in eighth grade. Rich’s dad, Clem, encouraged him to attend the more local option in St. Nazianz for at least a year before making the long-distance transition and commitment. “I never brought up the idea of another religious order again,” said Rich. “I was fully immersed in all I was learning at the Salvatorian seminary.”
The seminary environment, which required daily living in a small community, forced a dynamic where students in close quarters made resolving differences paramount to survival, ultimately leading them to supporting and respectfully getting along with one another. “You never knew who you would be doing your afternoon chore with, so it was always good practice to get along with everyone,” said Rich.
The faculty’s quality, commitment, and energy made Rich want to give his best back, by excelling in subjects he knew well and working as hard as he could to learn the more challenging classes. “For example, Fr. Colin Kahl was my English teacher and coached the cross-country team,” said Rich. “I was not a runner, but in Fr. Colin’s quiet leadership quality, he encouraged me, believed in me, and presented me with opportunities which translated into my English class. I ended up inside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the spring, working on a 1,000-word essay on King Lear. I just refused to let Fr. Colin down with a mediocre essay.”
At some point during his junior year, Rich discerned that the priesthood was not his calling. However, even without the commitment to religious life, as a 1969 graduate of JFK Prep (renamed from Salvatorian Seminary during Rich’s senior year) he remained committed to his faith roots instilled at the Seminary. He married his wife, Susan, shortly after graduation from the University of Wisconsin – Madison where he earned degrees in Math and Computer Science, and he pursued his technology career working at Harley Davidson, Square D Company, and Briggs & Stratton through the years. “We built a life in Mequon, raising our children, actively supporting our Catholic schools, serving our parish in various roles,” he said. “And, I’ve always felt that my role in senior management allowed me to set the tone for office interactions, so I tried to maintain a Christian attitude in the workplace.”
The Salvatorian priests and brothers, beginning in high school, changed the trajectory of his life. “They had a huge impact on what I learned over the years: believing in myself, becoming aware of the gifts I was given, developing my leadership qualities, finding and developing the gifts of others, staying true to my faith, and working to pass those gifts forward,” he said. “The reason I’ve stayed connected to the Salvatorians is simple. Every time I have encounters with them, I leave feeling like I am in a better place.”