Since its founding, Park University has strived to
teach its students to be leaders in service to community. To recognize
this tradition, members of the Park University Alumni Association have
chosen to recognize fellow alumni who excel in volunteer service to
their communities and to Park University by way of the Marlowe
Sherwood Memorial Service Award. The 2008 recipient is Michael
“Newie” loves to tell you he is a “New Yorker,”
spinning the words with an East Coast accent that he has long abandoned.
Newburger is an East Coast transplant, because, as he explains, he
“found his niche in 1966.” He came to Park and stayed, making Kansas
City his home.
Before graduating with a sociology degree,
Newburger was already volunteering in the Parkville community. In the
summer of 1969, Park professor Jenkin David recruited him to the Bell
Road Barn Playhouse. He endured mosquitoes and mud that summer to play
“Flute” in the Sunday night productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Newie was so bitten by the “Barn” bug that he became a member of its
board after graduation, a position he still holds. He has helped guide
the theater group through its move from Bell Road and its recovery from
the 1993 Riverside flood, as well as its relocation to Park University’s
Alumni Hall and subsequent move to its current location at Park Hill
South High School.
Another of his local community passions is the
South Platte Fire District. Newie’s long tenure with the fire department
began in September 1970 as a volunteer firefighter. Today, he is a
district commissioner, first elected in 2001. The fire department has
had such an influence on his life that when he married his wife, Susan,
he had to incorporate it into the ceremony. He surprised her with a big
yellow fire truck outside the chapel, waiting to transport the couple to
their reception. To be a volunteer fireman takes true dedication which
translates into hours of training and service at the expense of the
volunteer. Newburger’s expertise came to the attention of the Chinese
government, twice requesting that he share his knowledge with the local
fire services. In 2002 he traveled with a group of fire commissioners to
provide fire service orientation at the Kunming Fire School. He was
invited back in 2005 as a guest lecturer.
Newburger met Susan during a summer working at
Worlds of Fun as an emergency medical technician, a job he has continued
to do through the years. Susan was from St. Louis and came to Kansas
City to teach. They were married in Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel on June
7, 1980, by Dr. John Patton, the college pastor. She quickly joined
Newie in his commitment to the Kansas City community. Together they have
formed the Michael and Susan Newburger Foundation, which supports fine
arts, education and community needs.
Many of Newburger’s favorite projects grew out of
his connection to the local school district. Susan recently retired as a
journalism teacher. Newie has been a substitute teacher for almost 30
years. He volunteers with the Park Hill debate teams, often working as a
tournament judge. He is already committed to participate as a volunteer
at the national debate tournament to be held at the KCI Expo in 2010.
Their foundation annually supports the Newburger Debate Forum, a meet
designed to launch novices into the world of debate. Each year the
foundation underwrites one or two of Susan’s students to attend
Newburger’s willingness to lend a helping hand has
led to such civic involvements as a position on the board of directors
at Musical Theater Heritage, Inc., and as a volunteer fundraiser for The
Society of Friendship with China’s aid project.
Currently, Newburger serves on the Park University
Alumni Council. This is the second time he has volunteered to serve his
alma mater. He served on the council from 1987 until 1995, and answered
the call again in 2006. Alumni recognize him as the campus tour guide
from many Alumni Weekends, past and present.