Life and Legacy of
It is a rare occasion that I am genuinely shocked anymore. But learning the news a few days ago regarding the death of a friend and member of the SLU family literally stopped me in my tracks. Michael Lingerfelt has been a longtime close friend to our founder and president Dr. Jay Strack, and a personal friend of mine for nearly fifteen years. Thousands of Student Leadership University 101 students have come to enjoy and learn much from his teaching. To them he was the full-of-life, quirky communicator who designed a lot of stuff for Disney theme parks and still identified with one of the houses at Hogwarts (it was Gryffindor by the way).
If you weren’t fortunate enough to ever interact with Michael, then anything I write will come up wanting…because he truly was a larger than life kind of person. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to share with you a little bit about the Michael Lingerfelt that I had come to know, but not in the traditional way by outlining his life and a chronology of events therein. You see, the totality of person, nor the ideas that motivated their life, cannot be understood merely by looking at a calendar and list of accomplishments. Rather, these are the characteristics that jumped off the pages of his story, and are worthy of both mention and imitation:
When Dr. Jay Strack moved his family to Orlando, FL to begin a new chapter of life, which included launching SLU, they took up temporary residence in a hotel while looking for a permanent home. Shortly thereafter, the Lingerfelts opened their home to the Stracks, providing them a place to stay during a time of transition. And the theme of generosity was not limited to a one-time event. Throughout the years Michael was incredibly generous with his resources and also with his time. Dr. Jay and I discussed this morning how Michael was always willing to give his time whenever we invited him to speak to students, pastors, or a leadership gathering.
Every conversation I had with Michael always began the same way—with him asking about my wife and kids. I’ll never forget sitting in the Cincinnati airport on a layover coming from some event or going to another and receiving a phone call from Michael. I was feeling a little down because my wife Christina was at home with a broken foot trying to take care of our three kids while I was out on the road. He began the conversation in his normal fashion, and I shared with him that he could pray for Christina. A moment later he had another call come in from Time Magazine (who was doing a follow up story on the levee’s in New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy.) You see, Michael was one of the architects brought in to assess and help design a stronger system. He said to me, “Brent, I have Time Magazine calling, stay on the line while I tell them I will call them back.” I responded, “Michael, we can talk anytime man, I promise it’s all good!” With that I hung up the phone and began to wheel my suitcase towards the closest coffee shop. I didn’t take ten steps before my phone rang again; it was Michael wanting me to know he would be praying over the coming days for our family and Christina’s recovery.
I would be remiss not to mention the overwhelmingly obvious - Michael Lingerfelt was an accomplished individual. In his field of architecture, let’s just say he was one of the tallest trees in the forest. He was contracted to assess and problem solve infrastructure after numerous natural disasters including in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy. He was a design manager for Marriott Corporation, as well as Project Administrator for both Darden and Chick-fil-A in developing standards and solutions to make the restaurants more sustainable while retaining their brand. He personally trained nearly 1,400 architects and engineers, received prestigious awards, and built over 3.6 billion in hard construction. But what Michael was probably most known for was the 15 years he served as Project Director of Architecture & Engineering for Walt Disney Imagineering. His thumb prints are all over the Disney theme parks, whether being the architect on record for Animal Kingdom, updating Tomorrowland, or helping to finish Disney Springs.
Dr. Jay shared with me how, years ago, Michael attended SLU 101 with his son and daughter. Now a lot of parents send their kids to our programs, but every once in a while, there are parents who attend with their kids. Michael was the latter of the two; he was the kind of leader who wanted to be part of the experience. During one of the sessions that focused on imagination and goal setting, Michael wrote down that his goal was to speak to 100 student groups about future-tense thinking and how their dreams can become a reality. It is an amazing picture to imagine an accomplished architect, who at that moment was an imagineer for Disney, sitting in a room taking notes and being teachable. And not only that but discovering new ways he could use the gifts God had given him to serve the local church.
The last time I saw Michael was a few weeks ago while walking through Disney Springs with my wife. He ran up behind me and caught me off guard with a bear hug and a kind word. We spoke for a few moments, and I told him how excited I was that our students would be hearing from him this summer. And that was it, because now our friend is in heaven. Michael Lingerfelt will be missed by the entire SLU team and all the students and leaders he has impacted. Please keep his family, his wife and children and grandchildren, in your prayers. Please pray, to summarize Psalm 119:76, that the unfailing love of God would comfort them in this time of trouble.
While he will be greatly missed, we believe his legacy and impact will be felt for many generations. We at SLU are grateful for the opportunity to join with the Lingerfelt family by creating an SLU 101 Scholarship fund in his name as a way to honor Michael and help young people, who may otherwise not be able to attend, begin the leadership journey that Michael was so passionate about. Click here for more information.