As the opening of the Heimarck Center nears, the Nielsen family reflects on the impact Dr. Theodore Heimarck had on their lives. Since graduating from Concordia, Curt and his sons, Eric and Ben, have approximately 85 years in healthcare management.
Curtis Nielsen ’72 came to Concordia after graduating from Oak Grove Lutheran High School in Fargo. Initially a sociology/social work major, he switched to healthcare administration and later earned a Master of Science in administration from the University of Notre Dame. Curt also met his wife, education major Sandy (Gravseth) ’72, at Concordia.
“I was fortunate to be at Concordia where the new program was a few years old when I started,” Curt said.
Curt said Heimarck emphasized that the responsibility of the healthcare executive is to be a community member and to lead the healthcare institution in the direction of preventative health and an institution focused on serving the community.
“He definitely influenced my career choice and attitude about healthcare leadership and responsibility to the community,” Curt added.
Following graduation, Curt was a Good Samaritan Nursing Home administrator and then was assistant administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Brainerd. In 1977, he became the clinic administrator for Brainerd Medical Center, a multi-specialty clinic. In 2008, he retired, sort of — he’s had interim positions since then and is now an adjunct instructor at Central Lakes College, Brainerd.
Curt said students had the kind of relationship with Heimarck where they knew they could have called him for anything. And he was good at names and good at keeping in contact with people.
“On various occasions, I would run into Dr. Heimarck over the years, and his first question invariably was ‘how is Sandy doing?’ But you would go into his office, and you would never think that he was organized enough to keep track of things and keep track of people; you could hardly see him through the piles of papers on his desk,” Curt added. “I remember once going into his office to talk about a paper, and he reached over, lifted up a pile, and pulled it out. That was his filing system.”
“He was quite a remarkable guy, and I think he was ahead of his time in many respects,” Curt added. “It’s impressive to think that he had the vision for healthcare administration as an undergrad program.”
That was only the beginning of the Nielsen story. Curt’s son, Eric ’98, said that when he was 16, he started a lawn business, The Lawn Doctors, around the Brainerd Lakes area with his good friend, Michael Tuchscherer ’98. Eric learned that he enjoyed business but was also fascinated with healthcare and considered different healthcare careers.
“I don’t recall my dad specifically encouraging healthcare administration as a career path, but hearing about his job and having an understanding of what opportunities were available in healthcare administration certainly had an impact on my decision to seek a degree in healthcare administration,” Eric said.
Although he looked at a few colleges, he was drawn to Concordia for many reasons, one of which was that there weren’t a lot of colleges offering a specific undergraduate degree in healthcare administration. The strong reputation of the healthcare administration program and specifically that of Heimarck was a big factor in his decision.
“I also liked Concordia for all of the other reasons that makes Concordia great — the campus, the sense of community, and that it was a Christian liberal arts college,” he said. “I was able to be part of the choir my freshman year and played tennis all four years. The experiences I had at Concordia and being involved in other activities were just as great as the education I received.”
“I recall having a number of discussions with Dr. Heimarck, who was my advisor, in his office,” Eric said. “He would talk about career paths and internship opportunities that I should consider and studying abroad through a May Seminar program. My visual recollection of those meetings is Dr. Heimarck sitting at his desk surrounded by piles of papers and a wall full of books. I also fondly remember him as a professor. His class about human resources still sticks with me today.”
After Concordia, Eric completed an MBA with a concentration in medical group management at the University of St. Thomas and in 2011 became a Certified Medical Practice Executive through the American College of Medical Practice Executives. He’s been assistant administrator for Crossroads Medical Center, executive director for an ambulatory center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, and the last 15 years as administrator for Gateway Family Health Clinic, Ltd. (Moose Lake), an independent medical practice with three clinics and a surgery center.
“My experiences and the education I received at Concordia College provided me with a great foundation for my additional education and career in healthcare administration,” Eric added.
Eric also added the fun fact that his mother, and both his wife, Megan, and Ben’s wife, Julie, (although not Concordia grads), are all teachers.
Ben ’00 spent his freshman year at Texas Lutheran University.
“I chose TLU for a couple of reasons, but one reason was I was trying to break the mold of all of the Nielsens going to Concordia and as a stubborn independent kid I wanted to try something different,” Ben said. “Ultimately, I found myself transferring to Concordia.”
At TLU Ben started in pre-med, knowing he wanted to do something in the healthcare field. Once he transferred to Concordia, he wanted to get a business degree but felt it was too broad. Knowing his dad’s experience in the healthcare leadership field, he felt comfortable focusing on a healthcare administration degree. He later earned a master’s degree in healthcare administration at the U of M, Carlson School of Management.
“It also helped hearing from Eric about his classes and what he hoped to get into after finishing college,” he said. “Growing up, admiring and looking up to my dad and my brother, it was a pretty easy decision to follow in their footsteps.”
Although Heimarck retired before Ben came to Concordia, he had heard stories about him and the reputation of the healthcare program.
“Dr. Heimarck’s influence on the program allowed me to build a great relationship with my advisor and mentor, Professor Dan Anderson, during my time at Concordia,” he added.
After graduating, Ben spent 10 years with Allina Health where he moved from a financial analyst to a manager of cardiology and eventually to director of cardiology with Minneapolis Heart Institute. For the past 13 years, he has been working at Ridgeview (Waconia), where he is currently the chief operating officer.
“At Ridgeview, we often have the opportunity to bring in Concordia healthcare admin students during the summer, and I have enjoyed getting to know the students and being impressed with how prepared they are to get into the ‘real world,’” Ben added.
At Curt’s 20-year anniversary at Brainerd Medical Center when Eric and Ben were at Concordia, he received a telegram (back when telegrams existed) from Concordia. His first thought was “which one of them did something?” But it turned out the doctors at his clinic had established a scholarship in Curt and Sandy’s name for the healthcare program.
“It was obviously a significant enough amount to get the scholarship going, and they accomplished it without the clinic writing a check, or I would have known about it,” said Curt. “I was very humbled and obviously very honored.” Since established, 25 scholarships have been given to students of the program.
Curt and two other alumni, Kyle Hopstad ’73 and Ed Dahlberg ‘69, also recently established the Dr. Ted Heimarck Healthcare Leadership Endowed Scholarship.
Heimarck left a huge impact on both Concordia and healthcare administration, and the Nielsen family’s years in the field are prime examples of that.