2019 Annunciation Award Recipients: Karla And Robert Essner

There was never a doubt in Karla and Robert Essner’s minds that their kids would go to Notre Dame Regional High School.

“It was just head and shoulders above any other choice for so many reasons: academics, spirituality, and environment,” said Karla. “It really is a community, a family. They enforced what we were trying to teach at home.”

Robert graduated from Notre Dame in 1973, and Karla has been working as an administrative assistant at the school since 2007. Their kids, Nathan, Bonnie, and Lee graduated from Notre Dame in 1999, 2000, and 2004, respectively.

In 1999, when Bonnie was a senior, a certain newly appointed principal approached Karla with the idea of a “senior tree” tradition. She was an active volunteer at the time with in the Pawprints newsletter, a publication sent to Notre Dame parents, that was in its early stages.

“It was a Brother David calling,” said Karla. “It was a way to create a lovely memory for seniors, and a way to bring the class together at Christmas time.”

Two decades later, the Senior Tree Tradition is going strong.

Robert has served on the Notre Dame Foundation Board since 1986, long before their kids were enrolled. As a C.P.A., Robert has provided the foundation with sound financial advice.

“I knew they would be going there in the future, and I wanted to build it up,” said Robert. “I thought it was a good mission, and I had the skill set.”

He currently serves as the Treasurer of the NDHS Education Fund Foundation Board of Trustees.

Over the years, the couple has been active at the high school wherever they could be of help, including Booster Club and bingo.

When it came to establishing a new school building, they both served as major gift solicitors during the first capital campaign. During the second capital campaign, Karla served alongside Dennis Vollink and Danny Essner as co-chair. Recently, Karla served as editor of the redeveloped alumni magazine.

Outside of Notre Dame, they are extremely active at their home parish of St. Augustine in Kelso. They’re both Eucharistic ministers and serve as facilitators for the FOCCUS marriage preparation program. Robert serves as a lector and is a member of the parish finance committee. Karla has been a member of the parish council and school board, worked on St.

Augustine’s confirmation program for nearly 20 years, and has served on St. Anne’s Sodality in multiple capacities.

Although sustaining Notre Dame for their own children was an important factor in their service, they always had future generations on their mind.

“The teenage years are formative years,” said Robert. “If you start them in the right direction, you’re improving society.”

Receiving an Annunciation Award was an honor the Essners did not expect. Karla suspects “It all goes back to that darn monk!”