Community mourns beloved pastor: Jennifer Koenig ’87 celebrated across campus
On Friday, Sept. 20, the Rev. Pastor Jennifer Anderson Koenig ’87 passed away after a two-year battle with brain cancer.
In April of 2012, Koenig was diagnosed with a grade IV glioblastoma, which her CaringBridge site described as “a very aggressive brain tumor.” She took medical leave from St. Olaf and, following her diagnosis, underwent treatment including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.
Koenig’s history at St. Olaf is long and rich. After earning her dance degree at St. Olaf, Koenig attended Luther Seminary, where she earned her master of divinity degree in 1994. She served at St. Mark’s Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, and then returned to St. Olaf in 1997, where she worked as an associate pastor for more than 15 years.
According to an obituary written by Koenig’s husband, David, “Koenig worked with a variety of departments across campus, from the arts to the sciences. However, the many personal relationships that she developed with students and faculty over the years are her enduring legacy.”
Aleece DeWald ’14, Vice President of Worship on St. Olaf’s Student Congregation Council, is one such student with whom Koenig connected. DeWald said that, though she only knew Koenig for a couple of years, that relationship made a lifelong impact.
“She had this way of relating to everyone and making them feel important and beautiful, whether that would be sharing insight over a cup of coffee or brightening a fully attended chapel service or Christmas Fest with her infectious joy,” DeWald said. “Her compassion made her not only a skilled pastor, but a loving friend. I remember her genuine spirit during our happy conversations and her concern when she prayed with me during times of darkness. Her presence on campus was a blessing, and it is one that I continue to miss.”
According to her obituary, Koenig received recognition and inspired various projects from the students and colleagues she encountered. These honors include a space in Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences named in her honor and several musical pieces celebrating her legacy.
Koenig’s love for music remains embedded at St. Olaf. She was an integral contributor to and supporter of Sing For Joy, which is a weekly radio program created at St. Olaf and distributed to radio stations nationwide.
“Jennifer was the first and last voice heard on the program each week,” said Jeffrey O’Donnell, executive producer for Sing For Joy. “She introduced the program, gave credit to our sponsors. . . gave production credits and introduced Pastor Benson. Her warm and friendly voice will continue to be a part of the program for as long as we can possibly use those recordings.”
In addition to her lasting contributions to the student congregation, science and music on campus, Koenig’s legacy as a St. Olaf dancer also remains. Professor of Dance Janice Roberts will spend this academic year with 15 dancers preparing a work that Roberts has choreographed in Koenig’s honor.
“Jennifer gave so much to our community,” Roberts said. “She had many gifts she shared with us, and one of them was her dancing. I want to do a new work for our spring concert that celebrates her contributions to our community, and I hope to capture just a bit of her positive, beautiful spirit in the work.”
Koenig touched the lives of countless members of the St. Olaf community. She reached across disciplines and generations with joy, love and compassion.
Pastor Koenig’s funeral will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 10:30 a.m. in Boe Chapel. The visitation will be held on Friday, Sept. 27, from 3 to 7 p.m. in Buntrock Commons.