Fifth in a series honoring the Courier’s 2019 8 Over 80 winners.

CEDAR FALLS — Gratitude.

The word popped into Len Froyen’s mind when he learned he’d been chosen as one of the Courier’s 8 Over 80 honorees. It’s not surprising, since Froyen is author of “Gratitude: Affirming One Another Through Stories.”

“I felt grateful for all the people who were, in some way, involved in my selection. I’ve attended the 8 Over 80 events in the past and thought it was great to see people recognized for having made meaningful impacts on other people’s lives. Everyone felt such joy, such a sense of solidarity. I felt we all belonged to each other,” said Froyen, professor emeritus of educational psychology at the University of Northern Iowa.

At 84, Froyen said one of his proudest accomplishments was something he learned as a boy. “Loyalty. I’ve always had a huge sense of loyalty. I have tried to be loyal to what I have been given, what I could do and the best way to go at it. Loyalty leads to gratitude,” he explained.

A 1957 graduate from UNI, he proved his loyalty to his former professors by joining the faculty in 1963. “They introduced me to a world I’d never known and helped me become the person I wanted to be. My ambition was to become a faculty member so I could give to other students what was given to me.”

In addition, Froyen earned his master’s degree from Michigan State University. He taught briefly in the public schools as a social studies teacher, followed by a year as guidance counselor at Independence High School. “I spent about a third of my time talking to the ‘nobodies,’ the students who were on the fringes of things that nobody seemed to care about. I’d call them by name in the hallway. I wanted to raise them up,” he recalled.

He taught at UNI for 33 years in the education and psychology department and served as head of the Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations. He also became an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church, serving as deacon at the St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center in Cedar Falls.

“I thought becoming a deacon would enhance my own spiritual life, but what started out as a selfish motive made me a better person, better able to understand man’s search for meaning, and a way to help other people arrive at their own spiritual understanding,” said Froyen, who also has volunteered for 25 years at St. Vincent de Paul.

“The more I studied, the more I realized that this was another vocabulary for constructing stories about how to live and be compassionate. People are insecure. They have a capacity for anger and negativity. I vowed to express what’s good and positive.”

His research into gratitude grew out of listening and sharing stories with other deacons as director of a formation program through the Archdiocese of Dubuque. In 2018, he also co-authored “Gateway to Forgiveness and Beyond” with Radhi Al-Mabuk, UNI professor of education.

Former colleague David Else, an associate professor at UNI and director of the Institute for Educational Leadership, describes Froyen as “truly a servant leader. He has been a mentor and role model for those preparing to be teachers as well as colleagues at the university. His kind heart and excellent listening and communications skills draw others to him.”

Froyen and his wife, Gail, of Cedar Falls, established a scholarship for students accepted into the UNI Teacher Education program, as well as supporting the Class of 1957 Heritage Endowed Fund, Panther Scholarship Club, the UNI Alumni Association and Friends of the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.

He has served on the Black Hawk Habitat for Humanity Board and received the 2009 UNI Heritage Honor Award for service. He also was recognized as the 2010 religious person of the year by the Knights of Columbus.

Froyen also is well-known and appreciated for serving nearly a decade as co-chair with Karen Mukai at the College Hill Arts Festival. “We made hospitality the centerpiece of the festival. We wanted to make it feel special, to show artists and visitors what Cedar Falls is like, how it feels to live here.”

More than a dozen nominations were submitted in support for Froyen receiving the Courier honor. Jason Thompson of Cedar Falls, praised his friend for “having sown gratitude into the people of his life — and from my perspective — he is reaping a network of people extremely grateful to know him.”

Mark A. Jastorff of Durango, Colo., left UNI a decade ago. He received a letter of best wishes from Froyen, and noted, “That letter speaks to the man. His actions speak to his heart. I can think of no other person more deserving of this honor.”

Courier Columnist Scott Cawelti said Froyen has been a “longtime force for good in our community,” while Amy Mohr believes her life has been better for having had Froyen in it. “His kindness for others is unmatched,” she said.

A humble man, Froyen said that if he could write his own legacy, it would be a simple one. “I think it should read, ‘He imagined what a good life looks like and tried to live it.’”

‘I’ve always had a huge sense of loyalty. I have tried to be loyal to what I have been given, what I could do and the best way to go at it. Loyalty leads to gratitude.’

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