Ray Zavada, the Michigan District, LCMS Assistant to the President – Development, retired July 31, 2022, leaving a legacy of two successful campaigns that greatly support ministry in the district.
Zavada, an avid sports fan, played baseball and football in high school, and football in college. He graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in Education. His first job was teaching Physical Education and coaching football and basketball. After seven years, however, school district cutbacks caused him to lose his job, prompting him to change careers. He went to work at Teen Ranch Family Services, an institution that offered foster care and adoption services, intervention services, family counseling, institutional care, residential care for teenagers, and the like. He started out as a regional director for Southeast Michigan and eventually moved up to become the CEO. From there, he went on to work at Lutheran Child and Family Services, where he was Vice President of Development.
In March of 2007, Zavada started working for the Michigan District, LCMS. When asked how the job came about, he said “The job came to me, actually.” The Michigan District President at the time, Rev. Dr. William C. Hoesman, contacted Zavada and asked him if he would be interested in a position to lead a capital campaign (which eventually was The Future is Now campaign). Zavada said at first he didn’t have a strong interest, as he was very happy serving at Lutheran Child and Family Services, but the more he and Hoesman talked, the more intrigued he became. He prayed about it and “the door kept opening and yes, it ended up with me accepting that invitation to come here to the Michigan District.”
When asked about the hardest and the best parts of the job, Zavada said they are intertwined: “The hardest thing about the job is that you’re never really off of work. You’re available when others are available. You’re available when the donors say, ‘I can see you at this time and this day’—that could be during the day, it could be in the evenings or on weekends. But at the same time, that’s my favorite part of the job—spending time with donors, because of the great friends that you develop over the years. What started out as a ‘Michigan District and a potential donor’ relationship moved to a ‘Michigan district and a donor relationship’ (no longer a potential relationship) to a ‘Ray Zavada and that person friendship.’ And it’s just evolved so beautifully over all these years that you become part of their lives in many ways, going to their kids’ graduations and attending funerals within their families, even birthday parties. So that’s certainly the part that becomes the favorite part out of the most challenging part.”
Reflecting on his career at the District, Zavada marvels at God’s work, allowing him to see the successful conclusion to the two campaigns that he led: The Future is Now and Here We Stand. Both campaigns share strikingly similar patterns: “When we did The Future is Now campaign, there was a two-year period where we entered into a significant recession. And yet people in our church body responded. They were challenged, because everybody was just watching their finances so closely. And churches were under tremendous challenge too, and yet they responded so generously to us. And then we go into the Here We Stand campaign and it’s going along great. It had a great kickoff to it—a wonderful community opening at the Breslin Center in East Lansing as we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in October of 2017—and it was going right on schedule, and then the pandemic hit. So it was like another two-year period, just like in the previous campaign, that came at a time when the timing almost couldn’t have been worse. But as it turned out, maybe the timing couldn’t have been better. God’s plan for us was different than what our plan was. And we found that, even in a time of challenge like that, people were wonderfully generous at a level that I still kind of just shake my head at and say, ‘how could that have happened?’ And as we are coming out of that period of time, that has continued and certainly allowed us to reach—and surpass—our goal of 10 million in the Here We Stand campaign.”
Thanks to that wonderful support, the district’s Innovative Missional Ministries have the funds that they need to carry out their work; we support the church in South Africa and several missionaries throughout the world; and professional church worker scholarships have grown year after year.
Zavada is grateful to his wife, Cindy, who always accompanied him to his Sunday commitments and visits to churches in the district: “Spending my last 15 years at the district has been just a wonderful period not only of my life, but certainly Cindy’s life as well. She’s been such a faithful partner, not only in our marriage, but in my ministry. I think you can count on two fingers the times that she did not travel with me for one of my Sunday commitments. And there were anywhere from 20 to 40 of those a year, depending on the year. It’s always been great to have her with me.”
Zavada is also deeply indebted to the Administrative Assistants he’s had along the years, Jenna Szpara, Sandy Mastenbrook, and Linda Ekong, as well as the whole office team. About presidents Hoesman and Maier, he says: “Being able to work with two men with such great leadership qualities as those two has just made this job so much easier, because you went to work every day, knowing you can trust what they’re doing is the right thing.”
Zavada has always been happy to respond when people have had needs for their programs. One example: “Galan Walther would always let me know what he needed to host his youth events and Lutheran Adult Gathering and asked if I could have or could find funding sources to make those much more affordable for those who attended.” He always enjoyed helping keep costs down for our guests so they could come and enjoy themselves, but his favorite project to seek funding for was definitely the A2E (Acts 2 Enterprise) Sports Camps/VBS for children in urban areas: “It’s always been a great joy to be able to help see that the funds are there for them to do what they need to do in that area of service to kids, so they can go to a camp for a week and have the opportunity to make new friends and learn about Jesus and maybe learn a little bit about a sport at the same time.”
Michigan District President Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier says, “Ray Zavada is a consummate professional and a layman that is completely dedicated to Christ in the ministry that he performed all of his life. He has served admirably in the District. What a joy it was to travel with Ray—and often with his wife Cindy too—to 24 of the Open Forums before we began the Here We Stand Campaign. Those will be lifelong memories, and I’m so thankful for how the Lord has blessed that stewardship program, allowing it to reach its $10 million-plus goal. Although Ray will be greatly missed, I could wish no one more happiness, peace, and joy, as he continues serving the Lord—just in a different way—in the years that lie ahead. May God bless Ray Zavada.”
Zavada concludes: “It’s been a good career. It’s had variety. Each job had its own level of challenge. Each one had its own level of reward. And each one, I think, prepared me for the next one. Absolutely a part of God’s plan.” His favorite Bible verse is Joshua 24:15, “‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord:’ If that is what I intend to do every day when I awake, then everything else that I do should be in accordance with God’s will for that day.”
As far as plans for retirement, Ray and Cindy just want to be able to spend more time seeing their grandchildren (two live in Wisconsin and one in Michigan) participate in their events and games, as well as visit their son and daughter-in-law in Virginia more often.
We wish Ray and Cindy a God-blessed retirement!
Photos by Elisa Schulz/Michigan District, LCMS