HSSC faculty office continues legacy of Dr. Kevin Sterk ’91

Henry Morisada Rietz ’89
    Henry Morisada Rietz ’89

May 13, 2020 — When Henry Morisada Rietz ’89 is advising students who are majoring (or thinking about majoring) in religious studies, a common question is what that degree will prepare them for after Grinnell.

Rietz’s answer is just about everything and his proof is Grinnell alumni. Dr. Kevin Sterk ’91 is one of the illustrations that the religious studies professor uses. A religious studies major, Sterk worked in the financial sector and then the medical field as a psychiatrist before he passed away in 2010 at age 40.

“Among the things that have really impressed me about Kevin was his dedication to serving people,” Rietz says. “As a liberal arts college, Grinnell of course is not a pre-professional school. Students are taking their liberal arts learning and transforming that education into lives and careers that are not necessarily on a linear path. Our alumni are role models in how a student can get from a religious studies major to what they end up doing in life, and Kevin is a great example.”

Grinnell residents Glenn and Ginger Sterk have furthered Kevin’s legacy of service by making a gift to name Rietz’s faculty office in the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC). A sign next to the door reads “In memory of Dr. Kevin W. Sterk, D.O., ’91 Religious Studies, Grinnell-Newburg Community High School and Grinnell College graduate who always exemplified the spirit of Grinnell for all he encountered.”

Kevin held education in high regard and his experience at Grinnell College served as a change agent informing his life, both personally and professionally.

“Of all the schools he attended, he was most proud of Grinnell,” Ginger Sterk says. “The College has a way of installing loyalty in its students. When anyone asked him where he went to school, he always answered Grinnell College.”

Ginger, left, and Glenn Sterk stand outside the faculty office of Henry Rietz in the HSSC. The Sterks named the office in memory of their son, Kevin, to further his legacy of service.
Ginger, left, and Glenn Sterk stand outside the faculty office of Henry Rietz in the HSSC. The Sterks named the office in memory of their son, Kevin, to further his legacy of service.

Before Kevin chose his major, the Sterks asked their pastor what a religious studies major would do for him. The response was it would make him think. At Grinnell, Kevin learned to think critically and communicate effectively.

“Grinnell instills the joy of learning,” Rietz says. “Sometimes from a career and life standpoint, students may not know exactly where they are headed or what they want to do. This is why learning how to learn becomes a critical skill developed at Grinnell. Even if students do know they want a career in a certain subject, the reality is that subject is constantly changing. Their career and life goals may be in something that does not even exist yet.”

After graduation, Kevin was employed at Principal Financial in Des Moines for several years. However, it wasn’t the best fit for him.

“Sitting behind a desk wasn’t challenging enough,” Ginger says. “He talked to Dorothy Palmer ‘62, a now-retired Grinnell adviser, about becoming a nurse. She told him ‘you are smart enough to be a medical doctor,’ so that’s what he did.”  

Kevin attended the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Des Moines University, graduating in 2000. He served his residency for one year at Broadlawns Hospital in Des Moines and then for three years at the Wichita, Kansas Psychiatric Hospital. He did one additional year of forensic psychiatry training in Cincinnati.

Following his education, he was employed as a psychiatrist in the Ohio State Prison System. He moved to Pella in 2007 and was the medical director in the geriatric psychiatric unit at the Mahaska County Hospital in Oskaloosa where his focus was in forensic and neuro psychiatry.

In Kevin’s memory, Ginger and Glenn have created several community funds. The Dr. Kevin W. Sterk Elementary Student Needs Endowment Fund, administered by the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, provides annual distributions for nutritional and physical support to students in lower elementary schools in Grinnell. Additionally, the Dr. Kevin Sterk ’91 Award provided money for community-based initiatives that benefited both Grinnell College and Grinnell High School students.

Rietz, a family friend of the Sterks, says Kevin learned from his parents the importance of service.

“They in turn are modeling a life of service with various philanthropic activities,” Rietz says. “They are serving people who are most at-risk, such as helping students in the school system, while remaining engaged in the College community. I’m deeply humbled by having Kevin’s name attached to my office.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Learn more about the religious studies program at Grinnell.

For more information about supporting the HSSC, contact Susan Kriegel, development assistant, at 866-850-1846 or kriegels@grinnell.edu.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.