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Oak HIlls commencement: ‘God was guiding me’

Richard Grundtner is among 33 students graduating from Oak Hills Christian College today. The 43-year-old Pine River resident has completed a double major in psychology and biblical studies and plans to pursue a career as a drug and alcohol counselor. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Richard Grundtner felt a calling.

"God was guiding me to do something different," said the former carpentry foreman.

After six years of school, Grundtner today is among 33 students graduating from Oak Hills Christian College. The 43-year-old Pine River resident has completed a double major in psychology and biblical studies.

"It was very difficult," he said, noting he drove more than 200,000 miles the past six years.

But he had help.

Grundtner, a former methamphetamine and marijuana addict, accepted Christ as he embarked on treatment and sobriety.

"I knew that something had to change, something dramatic had to change," he said. "That experience was a glimmer of hope, hope of all that I could do."

As he went through that process — he’s been sober for seven years and three months — he felt God calling him to go back to school.

"I’ve always wanted to ... help others in their own recovery," he said. "I feel like I get more out of that than I’m giving."

‘God knew what I needed’

Married with three children, now ranging in age from 12 to 20, Grundtner knew his going back to school would be difficult on his family.

"I kept putting it off, questioning whether this was really what God wanted me to do," he said.

But soon after he was laid off, the urge strengthened.

"I finally made up my mind and registered," he said. "But as I did it, I said, ‘God, if this is really what you want me to do, then you know what I need.’"

He needed a reliable vehicle, a computer and a job with a flexible work schedule.

Within two weeks of his prayer, someone through church offered him a 60,000-mile 1999 Ford Escort — "They just gave it to me" — a person in his recovery group gave him a laptop, and he landed a job as a substitute bus driver as his employers pledged to work around his class schedule.

Additionally, another family offered his family a portion of their beef every fall while he was in school.

"God knew what I needed and more," Grundtner said. "I didn’t ask for that, but I certainly needed it. Looking back, I don’t know how we’d have made it without a freezer full of meat every year."

‘pretty amazing’

Grundtner, pursuing a career in drug and alcohol counseling, also this spring completed the last of seven courses required for licensure at Bemidji State University.

He recently finished a semester-long internship through the state at its Pine River office — the same place he, himself, received treatment — as he works toward fulfilling an 880-hour practicum requirement,

"It was pretty amazing," Grundtner said of returning to the office as a counselor instead of a patient.

This summer, he will intern full-time with MN Adult & Teen Challenge in Brainerd, which offers addiction treatment and recovery services. The Brainerd office, coincidentally, operates out of the same church in which Grundtner gave himself to God.

The challenge program is considering expansion, Grundtner said, so he hopes this internship — his final licensure requirement — could result in a full-time job opportunity.

‘You build relationships’

Grundtner said he is looking forward to building his career after six years of schooling. He chose Oak Hills after seeking input on regional Christian colleges.

"It’s been great," he said. "All of them (professors and staff) have been really great and very supportive. You know everybody and the professors really get to know you. You build relationships."

Derrick Houle, who has taught psychology at Oak Hills for 10 years, said Grundtner has been a dedicated student.

"Driven. Very sincere," he said. "He cares about people, just wants to see people become whole."

Houle said he believes Grundtner will thrive in his career.

"Even after his last internship, the guy he was interning under said that if he had the power and could, he’d hire him today," Houle said. "He’ll do very well."

Grundtner said he believes his Oak Hills education, combined with his licensure requirements, will play well together as he embarks on his new career.

"Already, the drug and alcohol counseling field carries a very strong spiritual sense with it," he said. "For me personally, spirituality and Jesus Christ was a big part of (my sobriety)."

He preserves yet today a letter he received from his daughter explaining why drugs and alcohol are not for her. In it, she recalls her fears as a child and how proud she is of her parents today for being clean and sober.

"I keep that in my Bible," Grundtner said. "It still brings tears to my eyes."