Alumni Profiles    

Michael Newburger, '70
Marlowe Sherwood Memorial Service Award, 2008

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 Newburger, ’70.

“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 journalism camp.

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.