A Family Tradition: Students Share Viterbo Connection with Parents

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

If you ask Viterbo students or alumni why they chose to study at the university, chances are they’ll mention how the campus felt like home from the first visit and they felt like part of a family. For students whose parents attended Viterbo, that sense of home and family is often even greater. Four sets of students and their alumni parents shared their Viterbo connection stories with Strides magazine.


Livi Pappadopoulos and Polly Pappadopoulos ’99

Livi Pappadopoulos and Polly Pappadopoulos
Livi Pappadopoulos and Polly Pappadopoulos '99

Olivia “Livi” Pappadopoulos had plenty of reasons to choose Viterbo University. It’s been like a second home for a long time, after all.

Livi’s mother, Pauline “Polly” (Steffes) Pappadopoulos ’99 earned her bachelor’s degree in music at Viterbo and has been a fixture ever since. Even before she graduated, Polly was teaching music in the now defunct Viterbo Preparatory School of Arts, and she’s long been involved as music director for campus ministry and San Damiano Chapel. This year, Polly started her first full-time Viterbo job as assistant director of liturgical worship, ministries, and chapel programs.

Livi grew up going to church at San Damiano, and her family connection to Viterbo goes beyond Mom. Polly’s late father, Eugene Steffes, a longtime FSPA prayer partner, taught music at Viterbo from 1995–2000 after retiring from four-decades as a high school music teacher at Gale-Ettrick- Trempealeau High School. Polly’s sister, Lisa (Steffes) Grinde ’81, also earned a music degree from Viterbo.

“We’ve just always been part of the woodwork here at Viterbo,” Polly said with a laugh. “Viterbo was always just home court.”

By the time Livi was a senior at Holmen High School, she knew she wanted to get a degree in education and become a teacher, like her mother, Aunt Lisa, and both maternal grandparents (Polly’s mom, Marlene, also taught music). “Livi was just born to be a teacher. She’s been a natural teacher since she was in fifth grade. She’s amazing with kids,” Polly said. “It’s really exciting that she’s carrying on the teaching legacy in our family.”

Like many, if not most, graduating high school seniors, Livi gave major consideration to spreading her wings and going to a distant college. One thing tipped the scales in favor of Viterbo for her.


Livi Pappadopoulos, left, has won four professional logrolling world championships in a row.
Livi Pappadopoulos, left, has won four professional logrolling world championships in a row.

No, Viterbo doesn’t have a varsity logrolling team…yet… but Livi has had a passion for logrolling since she was 8 years old and she’s the top-ranked professional woman logroller in the world. She’s won four world championships in a row and has only lost one match in her professional career.

Livi could have gone to school almost anywhere and still kept up her training and competition regimen. The thing is, Livi isn’t just about competing in logrolling. She has a strong passion, too, for expanding awareness of and participation in logrolling. Studying at Viterbo means she can still run a couple local amateur logrolling tournaments she started and keep running the three youth logrolling programs she oversees.

“I also liked the idea of coming to Viterbo because I basically grew up here and was very comfortable here, of course,” Livi said.

Livi has taught logrolling to a lot of youngsters, including many with special needs. That experience was a major influence in her decision to minor in special education and pursue a master’s degree in special education after she earns her bachelor’s degree.

If (or maybe we should say “when”) Livi wins another world championship next August, she will tie the record for most consecutive wins, which would put her halfway to tying the record for most championships (10) in the women’s professional logrolling division.

The secret to Livi’s success? She chalks it up to passion and hard work—she trains at least three hours a day for eight months of the year.

Polly said Livi has become the best woman logroller in the world because of “a whole lot of grit.”

“I think that’s something that makes her special. She just has that extra little ‘I’m not going to let this go’ instinct,” Polly said. “She’s been instrumental in changing the sport, growing the sport, and upping the level of competition. Her work ethic blows me away.”

That work ethic runs in the family. Polly rarely has a down moment, between her Viterbo duties, teaching private voice, piano, and flute lessons, supporting Livi’s logrolling, and doing the thing she’s as well known for as Livi is for logrolling: singing the national anthem at all manner of area events.

“I’m known for my national anthem,” Polly said with a laugh.

Strange as it might seem, Livi is not the only highly ranked professional logroller on the Viterbo campus. Her friend and training partner, Connor Birdsong, ranked third in the world, works in Viterbo’s marketing department.


Sarah Kinstler and Dan Kinstler ’91

On her way to high school tennis practice, Sarah Kinstler turned down a service road that doubled as a popular short cut. Despite the sign warning drivers to travel at their own risk, the “glorified snowmobile trail” was often used by people wanting to cut a few minutes from their travel time.

Alumnus Dan Kinstler and his daughter, nursing student Sarah Kintsler. Dan is holding his original Viterbo College Student Nurse name tag.
Alumnus Dan Kinstler and his daughter, nursing student Sarah Kintsler. Dan is holding his original Viterbo College Student Nurse name tag.

On this particular day, however, a car had slid off the road and its front tires hung over the embankment. Precariously balanced, the car was in danger of slipping down the steep hill. Answering the driver’s shouts to help her child out of the car, Sarah was able to help both the son and mother safely exit the vehicle.

“Being able to be there for someone and help a person on their worst day gave me a great sense of fulfillment,” said Sarah, today a junior nursing major at Viterbo University. “That’s what drew me to nursing.”

She doesn’t have far to go for good advice, both about college and her chosen profession. Her father, Dan Kinstler, graduated from Viterbo in 1991 and now works as a manager of the acute psychiatric unit at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“I liked the breadth and complexity of the different roles nurses have,” Dan said. “You are intimately involved with patients, but you can also be part of the larger perspective of health care administration.”

Dan joined the U.S. Navy to pay for his college education. Originally planning to fulfill a four-year commitment, he discovered he loved the military and went on to serve 20 years at naval bases on both coasts. He earned a Master of Business Administration from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Science in Nursing from Seattle Pacific University. He said the nursing education he received at Viterbo had him very prepared for career success.

“My decision to retire from the Navy was largely driven by family,” said Dan, who is married with three children. “No one ever complained, and it was an adventure to move every two to three years. But we wanted to settle down and there was still time for me to start a second career.”

Dan took a post with the Veterans Administration in part to ease his transition to civilian life before starting at Mayo Clinic.

“There is an art to psychiatry that I find very rewarding,” he said. “It can be emotionally draining, but every nursing specialty has its challenges.”

Dan and Sarah have a good deal in common. The two enjoy board games, card games, puzzles, “jamming out in the car, and dad jokes.” In addition to nursing, they also just happen to be transfer students. Starting off at larger universities, both father and daughter found they excelled with smaller class sizes and personal relationships with faculty.

“It’s going very well at Viterbo,” Sarah said. “I’m looking forward to my advanced adult concepts class that will include trauma care. After graduation, I’d like to work in an emergency room or intensive care unit to prepare me for my goal of becoming a flight nurse. I’d like a career with that type of excitement.”

Dan said he is very proud of his daughter. “I think nursing gives us a special bond,” Sarah said.


Ellie Groth and Jane (Grattan) Mathison ’16

Ellie Groth and her mother, Jane (Grattan) Mathison ’16
Ellie Groth and her mother, Jane (Grattan) Mathison ’16.

In 2019, high school student Ellie Groth joined her mother, Jane Mathison, on the Viterbo University Alumni Association trip to Italy. Visiting places such as Rome and Assisi in fellowship with their companions was an awesome experience neither will ever forget.

“We made such good memories with wonderful people,” Jane said.

For Ellie, it was her first time traveling outside of the country. She had no plans to attend college after graduation, but the quality of the trip and the people she met piqued her interest in Viterbo.

Today, Ellie is a sophomore biology major at the university with preliminary plans to attend graduate school and work doing research in the cheese and dairy industry.

Ellie Groth and her mother, Jane (Grattan) Mathison ’16, are pictured on a Viterbo Alumni Association trip to Italy.
Ellie Groth and her mother, Jane (Grattan) Mathison ’16, are pictured on a Viterbo Alumni Association trip to Italy.

Ellie’s decision to attend Viterbo continued a family legacy that reaches to her grandmother Carol Grattan, who worked as a nursing instructor. Ellie’s uncle, John Grattan ’87, earned a Bachelor of Science from Viterbo and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, and today works for Fastenal in Winona, Minn. Her aunt, Mary Grattan ’02, earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and now works at UW-La Crosse.

“Everything is going very well,” said Ellie, who works part-time for Culligan. “I live on campus with two great roommates, and the professors are amazing. They are so personable and compassionate towards students and are always willing to help.”

Ellie and Jane can often be found together at Viterbo’s Service Saturdays. Volunteering is an extension of their strong Catholic faith and values and has been an important part of their lives for many years.

“I used to drag Ellie along when she was young,” said Jane of instilling the importance of community service and good works in her daughter. “Volunteering builds character and it’s a great way to give back to the community. As people of faith, it’s what we’re supposed to be doing. We’ve made friends through Service Saturday, and it’s a great way for me to stay connected to the college.”

Jane attended Viterbo as an adult student. She attended technical college for a while and served eight years in the National Guard, including six months on U.S. Army active duty in Panama. She was a heavy equipment operator, dump truck driver, and a supply specialist.

Later working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lock and Dam 8 in Genoa, Jane decided to earn a bachelor’s degree in the interest of career advancement opportunities. The Viterbo online program in organizational management allowed her to continue to work full time, and all of her previous college credits transferred to the university.

“Throughout my different careers, I have always raised my hand for development opportunities and volunteer work projects,” Jane said.

A few weeks after earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Viterbo, Jane was promoted to lockmaster. Today, she has the same position at Lock and Dam 7 in La Crescent, Minn., where she oversees 15 employees and is responsible for the navigation, boat traffic, and water levels at that location. Jane uses the knowledge gained at Viterbo in her daily job duties, especially managing and communicating with people from different walks of life.

In addition to volunteering, both mom and daughter enjoy going out to eat and bonding time with family spent playing games and cards, and cooking. Jane encouraged Ellie to go to college for a variety of reasons.

“We all want better for our children, and I think it’s important to get a college degree,” Jane said. “College also lets young people explore who they are and find their way while making friendships that last a lifetime. I can never say enough positive things about Viterbo. Ellie has grown by leaps and bounds, and I have been very impressed with other Viterbo students and graduates.”

“Mom was right,” Ellie laughed. “I’m super grateful, and I look forward to graduating from Viterbo.”


Allison Sackman, Emily (Jones) Sackman ’97, and Shawn Sackman ’99

The Sackman family (from left): front, Cullen and Allison; back, Shawn and Emily.
The Sackman family (from left): front, Cullen and Allison; back, Shawn and Emily.

Allison Sackman has some great insights into Viterbo’s history, considering she’s only halfway through her first year as a nutrition and dietetics major.

The Aquinas High School graduate is already getting practical experience in her field, providing weekly meal planning and preparation assistance to a 1970s Viterbo alumna who has diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Their time together has provided a window on the past.

“She’s shared a lot of stories about going to school in the ’70s,” Allison said. “She told me about how she didn’t know what she wanted to concentrate her studies on. Then Sr. Thea Bowman told her to major in English, which she did.”

Allison has a good feel for what campus life was like in the 1990s, too. That’s when her father, Shawn Sackman ’99, and mother, Emily (Jones) Sackman ’97, were Viterbo students.

Emily grew up in Prairie du Chien and spent two years studying at the University of Minnesota before deciding that being a little fish in a big pond wasn’t for her. She decided to complete her undergraduate nursing studies at Viterbo, attracted by the intimate campus and small class sizes. “It just felt like home to me,” she said.

Like Emily, Shawn also was a transfer student. A standout baseball player who grew up on a cattle ranch in eastern Montana, he started out at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa at the urging of a talent scout for the Colorado Rockies baseball team. After earning his associate degree, he came to Viterbo to play baseball and study business, attracted by the “family” atmosphere he sensed when he toured the campus.

Emily and Shawn had their meet-cute moment at a baseball team party. They struck up a conversation during which Emily shared some speculative opinions with him on a new hotshot shortstop joining the V-Hawks team. “I let her talk for five minutes before introducing myself as the new shortstop,” Shawn said with a laugh.

Emily recalled her father congratulating her when she graduated from Viterbo. “I said, ‘I’m not done yet, Dad.’”

All along, Emily had her sights set on becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner. Back then, Viterbo didn’t have the nurse practitioner doctoral program it has now, so she completed her studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and now works as a pediatric nurse practitioner at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, serving as a preceptor for Viterbo students in the graduate program.

It took going to nursing conferences across the country and seeing people’s impressed reactions when she told them she went to Viterbo for her to realize the kind of reputation her alma mater had. “The nursing program has always been very highly respected,” she said. “Everybody knows Viterbo.”

Shawn graduated with a double business major, management and marketing, and went into banking. He worked for Wells Fargo for 12 years before moving on to Merchants Bank, where he is now senior vice president/ senior lending officer.

It took a lot of dedication and hard work for him to get to this point, but Shawn also credits his Viterbo education with getting him started. “The instructors were really good. They cared about the students,” he said. “The student to teacher ratio was good, so they could dedicate more time to helping students.”

Shawn has served on a number of boards of directors for nonprofit organizations, including Horse Sense for Special Riders, Badger State Sportsmen’s Club, and the United Way. When he was asked to serve on the Viterbo University Alumni Association board, he said, “it was a pretty easy ‘yes’.”

Shawn and Emily, whose son, Cullen, is a sophomore at Aquinas High School, said they didn’t pressure Allison to pick Viterbo, but were happy with the choice, as is Allison. “I thought it would be cool to go to the same school as them,” she said.

Studying dietetics also was an easy choice for her. “I love to cook and bake and figure out ways to make recipes healthier,” said Allison, who is in the 4+1 program in which she’ll graduate with a master’s degree within five years. “And I’ve always enjoyed helping people and bettering their lives.”