Rev. Dr. Brian and Laurie Friedrich may have taken a call to serve at a university in a new location, but their love and appreciation for all things Concordia Bulldogs remain near and dear to their hearts. The Bulldog passion hasn’t subsided for Brian Friedrich, who continues to keep a close eye on the happenings at Bulldog Stadium, the Walz Human Performance Complex and the surrounding athletic venues at 800 North Columbia.
No, the Friedrichs just couldn’t quit something so deeply ingrained in their lives for nearly 30 years. To be honest, Concordia University, Nebraska just can’t quit the Friedrichs either. So why not name the arena after them? Friedrich Arena it is.
Said Brian, “The first reaction was shock. We’re just humbled and so thankful for Concordia University, Nebraska. It’s an institution that has given our family, Laurie and myself, so much more than we ever gave it. To be recognized in that way is very, very humbling.”
As most know, Brian and Laurie left Seward when Brian accepted the call to become the President of Concordia University, St. Paul, beginning with the 2020 spring semester. The absence of the Friedrichs has been noticeable in Bulldog athletic venues. Brian Friedrich often went out of his way to make sure that coaches and student-athletes knew that he valued them. It seemed that he never turned down a chance to be part of a trophy presentation, a pregame devotion or even halftime dance performances (CIT 2017!).
In February 2018, Brian surprised the women’s basketball team by appearing in the postgame locker room with the GPAC championship trophy, just after the Bulldogs had clinched another conference title. It’s those little gestures of kindness and care that people remember. It’s why the decision to rename the arena as Friedrich Arena was met with unanimous approval.
At a date to be determined, the Friedrichs will return to the arena that bares their name and enjoy an in-person celebration. Perhaps then this whole thing will really sink in.
“We loved every minute of it at Concordia-Nebraska,” Brian said. “We love Bulldog Nation and we’re just so proud of all Concordia-Nebraska has done and will continue to do in the future. It’s an incredible institution because of the people that are there. The facilities are one thing, but at the end of the day, Concordia-Nebraska is all about the people, it’s all about the mission, it’s about the values and it’s about equipping students to serve and lead in God’s church and world. Jesus Christ is at the heart of everything Concordia-Nebraska does.”
It’s hard to believe it now, but the entire Walz Complex did not exist even as recently as 12 years ago. Friedrich worked closely with former President Orville Walz and many others to make the facility a reality. Friedrich knew the athletic department had outgrown its current infrastructure. In order for the entire University, not just the athletic department, to prosper into the future, a new athletic facility was an absolute must-have.
On Oct. 10, 2009 (homecoming), Brian Friedrich stood at center court in a sparkling new arena while speaking at the dedication of the Walz Complex. Friedrich had entered the arena with a real, live bulldog. A grand entrance was definitely necessary. After years of fundraising, the vision of Dr. Walz had come to fruition under the presidency of Friedrich. Little did Brian know that this arena would be tagged with his name 11 years later.
Said Brian, “It just kind of took my breath away. Thank you Lord for this incredible facility. It was such a game changer for Concordia. It set a whole new bar. For years Concordia had really been a doormat in terms of athletic facilities. We had outstanding coaches, terrific students and great academic programs, but the facilities were not there. This was just one step forward for the growth and expansion of the campus to more truly reflect the excellence and the quality of the faculty and staff here.”
Of course the Friedrichs were also present on a steamy Fourth of July 2007 when ground was first broken on the Walz Complex. In the years that followed, the Friedrichs had a front row seat when big things happened inside that arena (and they weren’t afraid to voice their displeasure with a call that went against the Bulldogs). Brian and Laurie have many memories of the building and of the old PE Center Gym, which used to house basketball, volleyball and wrestling events.
When Brian was told of the arena naming, he made a call to Dr. Walz and asked, “Are you sure?” Brian wanted to know for certain that this recognition would have the blessing of Walz, for whom the entire building is named after. When Brian Friedrich replaced Walz as president in 2004, the marketing office snapped a photo of Walz literally passing a baton to Friedrich. It was symbolic of the respect between the two men.
Said Laurie Friedrich, “It’s just very fitting. I know Brian enjoyed so much working with President Walz, especially getting this project going and casting a vision for it. We look up to both Orv and Marilyn so much. It’s an honor to be associated with them in the naming of that facility.”
When interviewed in July 2019, former President Walz deflected most of the credit for the completion of the Walz facility.
Said Walz, “I was only involved in the initial planning and the initial fundraising. I’ve been gone 15 years. Much of the planning and especially the fundraising was done by Brian and his development staff and athletic staff. Please don’t write anything about Orv did this or Orv did that because I really deserve very little credit. In fact, somewhat humorously when the board of regents decided to stick the name Walz in front of it, one of my former roommates called me and said, ‘How come they’re naming that new building after Marilyn?’”
Perhaps Brian has been on the receiving end of similar jokes regarding Friedrich Arena. All jokes aside, the Friedrichs have earned this recognition. Undoubtedly, Brian had a lot on his plate as University president, but he always made time for the Bulldogs and for the events that took place inside one of the NAIA’s most beautiful venues.
Says Laurie, “We miss everyone in Seward of course. That was nearly 30 years of our lives that we spent there.” Added Brian, “We are still big fans and we enjoy watching them and reading stories about them. We’re excited for the season ahead. Best wishes and Go Bulldogs from St. Paul, Minnesota. We’re still fans.”
And Concordia University, Nebraska still loves the Friedrichs, always and forever. It’s a relationship that will live on, no matter the physical distance. Friedrich Arena will never let us forget.
Says Brian Friedrich, “I can’t think of a space on campus I would rather have our family name associated with than with the Walz Complex. Having the Friedrich Arena within the Walz Complex is truly a marvelous blessing.”