HOW IT ALL STARTED:
The idea for Soul Teachers came out of a blog Steven Denlinger launched in October 2017 as part of his author publishing platform. His original goal was to build interest in the memoir he was preparing to publish — How To Tie A Tie — about his departure from his Conservative Mennonite community.
While writing the blog, Denlinger discovered that — over the years of writing he had done both for and about the memoir — what he most loved most was sparking meaningful conversations with other people.
He was especially inspired by Philip Yancey’s book of essays, Soul Survivor, in which Yancey explores the life stories of 13 mentors, some through interviews and some through their writings. It dawned on Denlinger that in his blog, he could tell stories about his own mentors and teachers, people who’d guided him through his most challenging life lessons.
But Denlinger quickly realized these could include other artists, writers, and educational leaders who had challenged his thinking — face-to-face, on the phone, or internally while reading.
He decided to call the blog Soul Teachers.
IDENTIFYING THE PODCAST’S MISSION:
The concept quickly grew from there. In conversations with Ami Wagner — his close friend and artistic partner — Denlinger began to realize what he really wanted to launch was a podcast. The two began to research podcasts. They were drawn towards On Being, Snap Judgment, and Fresh Air.
In November 2017, during a conversation with a close teaching colleague, Andy Callender — who had once taught at a previous school where Steven had taught, The Archer School — and other media leaders to whom Denlinger pitched the idea, he began to see there might be genuine enthusiasm for this type of meaningful dialogue within a podcast.
The podcast was officially founded as an LLC on December 30, 2017 when Wagner and Callender joined Denlinger in an exploratory retreat on Vashon Island. In a series of brainstorming exercises led by Wagner, they began shaping their mission.
They decided Soul Teachers would explore through interviews the life stories of people who have powerfully influenced their communities for the good. The final question each interviewee would be asked was simple: “What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?”
Across a year of online planning meetings that always began with storytelling, these three partners struggled to discover how their podcast would be unique from other podcasts out there. Eventually, their values and primary mission emerged.
We believe everyone creates a quilt of stories to help survive life. We believe a tolerant community allows space to transform. We believe transformation occurs when we listen to other people’s stories.
Thus, in the team’s podcasts and blogs, we pursue conversations that reach deep into the soul. We encourage our visitors to tell us their stories — and thus help us share in transformation.
Our mission — both as a blog and as a podcast — is to create an opportunity for Soul Teachers to share their transformative experiences.
LAUNCHING THE PODCAST
On January 1, 2019, Soul Teachers will launch a weekly podcast of 30 minutes — which will be posted on our Soul Teachers website and broadcast on local FM radio stations. The team intends to record some interviews live.
As the podcast and blog continue to reach a wider audience, Denlinger will begin taking speaking engagements focused on his memoir, the writing of memoir, and how memoir can transform people’s lives. As the team grows, it will also offer classes on writing memoir — both in live workshops and an online video format. Eventually, a series of Soul Teacher books will be published, based on the podcasts and blogs.
People are at the heart of what Soul Teachers does. Thus, the Founders plan to create a Soul Teachers Board of Directors, as well as an Advisory Council. As Denlinger plans his first book tour, he will also reach out to supporters, recruiting Launch Captains who will plan each Soul Teachers live event.
Soul Teachers celebrates our committed production team and guest producers: Eric Bishop (Senior Researcher), Andy Callender (Founder, CFO), James Culbertson (Audio Producer), Steven L. Denlinger (Founder, CEO, Author, Podcast Host), Kara Donovan (Senior Editor, Blogger), Brandon Fairbanks (Audio Engineer), Mary Jo Fohner (Copy Editor), Elizabeth Nussen (Guest Blogger), Jeffrey Overstreet (Guest Blogger), Ami Wagner (Founder, COO, Story Editor, Podcast Director).
We are currently looking for an Office Manager.
If you have an idea for a Soul Teacher, please email our Operations Manager, Ami Wagner, at AmiWagner@thesoulteachers.com.
Steven L. Denlinger
Founder, CEO, Author
Steven is a memoirist, journalist, and screenwriter whose stories center around themes of community, repression, and redemption.
His first memoir, How To To Tie A Tie, is a coming-of-age story that follows his departure from a sheltered Amish-Mennonite community in small-town Ohio and subsequent journey through the electrifying worlds of London, Hollywood, Los Angeles and now Seattle — all of which he has written about on HuffPost. He created Soul Teachers as a way to explore material for his second book.
Currently, Steven teaches high school courses in memoir, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and journalism. He lives with his wife Laura Navarre and their two cats Lannister and York on a rural island in the Puget Sound.
Founder, COO, Story Editor
Ami loves spending her days teaching the dead language of Latin to a lively set of teenagers at a Christian college prep school in the Midwest.
She is thrilled to be working on another production with Steven. The sound of the TARDIS, a lightsaber, or the golden snitch makes her nerd/geek heart go pitter-patter.
Ami makes her home in Ohio with her snuggle-cat, Lola.
Founder, CFO, Business Manager
Andy has spent most of his professional career as a high school mathematics teacher, serving both public and private schools in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California.
Andy’s additional background in finance, ministry, and entrepreneurship make him a unique fit for his position on the Soul Teachers team.
When he’s not busy planning calculus lessons, he enjoys playing guitar, competitive board games, and riding his bike around the Puget Sound. Andy enjoys a simple life in Tacoma, WA, with his personal assistant, Alexa, and robot vacuum.
J. Eric Bishop, Ph.D.
Eric served as a teacher of the English Language Arts at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School for 37 years.
Eric earned his B.A. in English Education from Eastern Mennonite University and his M.A. in Education with an English concentration from Arcadia University. In 2005, he earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in English Education from Kent State University. The title of his dissertation is The Quiet in the Land: Core-to-Core Culture Confrontation in a Democratic English Classroom.
Eric has taught numerous courses at the university level. He is also a free-lance writer. Eric and his wife, Linda, live in Souderton, PA.
Kara Fohner is a journalist at a daily newspaper in the foothills of Western North Carolina.
In February of 2018, Kara was honored with four awards from the North Carolina Press Association: two first-place awards in feature writing and beat news reporting, a second-place award in feature writing and a third-place award in serious columns. In 2017, Kara was honored with first-place awards both in serious column writing and in beat reporting.
She graduated from Brevard College in 2015 with a B.A. in English.
Kara is originally from Ohio, where she spent much of her childhood in a conservative Mennonite community. She now lives in a small, rural town in North Carolina with her husband, Jesse Donovan.
When she’s not editing, writing or investigating stories, Kara is most often found at her local public library, or practicing for her next hula hooping performance.
Mary Jo Fohner
Mary Jo is a grammar nerd who can’t help but mentally correct other people’s grammar and punctuation. A lifelong friend of Steven’s, she kept sending him unsolicited edits for his blogs until he hired her as the team’s Copy Editor.
A native of Stark County, Ohio, Mary Jo earned her BA in biology from Malone University. She taught math and science for 13 years to middle and upper-grade students at Hartville Christian School.
Currently Mary Jo is a busy stay-at-home mom living in Charlotte, NC, with her husband John and their three youngest 20-somethings, David, Josh, and Hannah. Her oldest daughter Kara Fohner is the team’s Senior Editor.
A lifelong animal lover, Mary Jo’s passions include flowers, birding, hiking, photography, and classical music. She and John are also passionate about child adoption; their two youngest children are from South Korea.