Dr. Kirk Nienaber may live two states away in Nashville, Tennessee, but La Salle will always be home.
"What does La Salle mean? Home, simply," Dr. Nienaber says. "Next to the house I grew up in, 3091 North Bend Road is a second home address.
"I try to be objective, but I just love the place."
La Salle got him started. When he reached high school, he had to get more serious. There was going to be no cruising to make A's.
"I had to work," Dr. Nienaber says. "Actually study. I had to get disciplined. The teen years are often the first time we really have any adversity, if it can be called that. To this day, though, the idea of getting your work done before you play has stayed with me."
Dr. Nienaber did a lot of playing at La Salle — he holds La Salle basketball records for most assists in a career with 451 from 1980-1983 and most assists in a season with 199 during the 1982-1983 season. He also holds the football record for most career field goals with 12 amassed during the 1981 and 1982 seasons.
Still, he got his work done first and went on to graduate from La Salle in 1983 and earned degrees in math and chemistry in 1988 from Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee. Four years later, he graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1992.
Dr. Nienaber worked for nearly 15 years as a primary care/family doctor in Jackson, Tennessee; Bloomington, Indiana; and Paris, Tennessee. Then six years ago, he became a full-time hospitalist MD, only seeing patients who are admitted to the hospital.
"It's enjoyable both from a mental standpoint in figuring out what's wrong and how to help someone, but also making a connection and building a trust with a person and family as they improve," Dr. Nienaber says. "Goals come into play. What can we do now? Not 20 years ago, but now. If you have pneumonia and were able to walk through Kroger, but now you can't, what can we do to get you back to that? Can you lift your great grandkids? And so forth. It's more than just saying, 'Well, ya got pneumonia. Take this each day for two weeks.'"
Dr. Nienaber's focus on goals and getting things done began at La Salle and it has affected how he helps to raise his children.
"My 17-year-old son Zack has autism," Dr. Nienaber says. "He was about 2 when the diagnosis was made. I don't remember ever being sad. I mean, he's 17 now and he's supposed to be playing QB this year and handing the ball off to Jeremy Larkin. So I guess I could be down about 'what we want our kids to grow up to be.'"
But he's not down about it. Never has been. It's a mindset he learned at La Salle
"I remember often that before our senior season, coach Ray Heidorn had the football team all come together and write down our goals as players and as a team," Dr. Nienaber says. "That team had a goal of going 13-0 and winning the GCL and state. The second game we lost to Mount Healthy after missing a two-point conversion late that would have tied it. Immediately, we met and modified our goals. We could still win GCL. We could still make the playoffs. Later we lost to Moeller 26-14. We could still get in the playoffs, but could not win GCL. We could go 8-2 and have the best record in school history, and so forth. We never lamented what we couldn't have as the season unfolded, but set our sights on what we could do and strived for it."
That is the approach Dr. Nienaber has taken with Zack and all his children.
"What can Zack do? OK, let's work toward that and modify our goals as we go," Dr. Nienaber says. "If he can't do something, don't sweat it. He's not going to break the all-time assists record at La Salle. But this fall he's going to run a half marathon with me. And he's got a summer job with Goodwill. He hated noises and crowds, but now he goes to Nashville Predators hockey games and screams his lungs out.
"Little victories like that. Appreciate them."
Dr. Kirk Nienaber '83 at a Glance
Resides: Nashville, Tennessee
Family: Wife Kristy, sons Josh and Zack, daughter Sarabeth, step-sons John Ross and Jake, granddaughter Anneliese; Brothers Mike '73, Ed '75 and Chris.
Career: Hospitalist MD
University and major: Bethel College '88, math and chemistry; University of Cincinnati College of Medicine '92
Social media: Twitter — @KirkNienaber
Best La Salle memories ...
"Way too many to count. But getting sent to Mr. Kruger's office was probably the most helpful. I never wanted to disappoint that man again. Still don't. A few years ago, I saw him at an alumni golf outing and we spoke for a few minutes — and HE thanked ME for my support of La Salle. I was like, 'are you kidding me?' Thank YOU!"
Best experiences as a student-athlete ...
"Senior year football then basketball. I was a kicker. One morning during two-a-days, Coach Heidorn says, 'see me after the meeting.' Oh crap, was I late? What did I do wrong? He asks me if I want to play scout team wide receiver. Sure. Why not? That Friday, we scrimmaged at Middletown. At the end the second team with a junior at QB drives down the field and scores. The second-team QB was named AJ something or other. The next week on Monday I'm starting at receiver. We went 8-2. AJ had nothing to do with it. Just kidding, of course. Oh, and I have to mention coach Heidorn making us all sing the alma mater each day after lunch at two-a-days. We couldn't sing worth a damn and I think that was the point. We all did something together that none of us was good at. It was genius team building."