Active ’69 Alumna Honored with State Award

Matty 21In her 37 year career as a coach and teacher at Shawano High School in eastern Wisconsin, Janis “Matty” Mathison ’69 made physical education into all that it could be. Like her mentors at Augsburg, she took her role in her students’ lives to heart. She knew she could make a difference. She’s promoted health with vigor, enthusiasm, and integration in daily life in the years since she has retired.

“You make your own bed,” Mathison says, “and I really like the bed that I made.”

She had always been active in community life, but retiring gave her the opportunity to become more involved. “I find when I do something it’s pretty all-encompassing,” she says, and her involvement has been widespread and made a difference not only on individuals, but also on her community in Shawano County, Wisconsin.

matty 6 On Oct. 13, Mathison will be honored by the American Planning Association’s Wisconsin Chapter as its Citizen of the Year for the work she’s been doing in her whole life, particularly for her leadership since retiring. Her devotion to creating a healthy community comes organically, and her involvement has been widespread—from improving parks experiences, to promoting an anti-binge drinking campaign, planning safe routes to school, from a regional bicycle ride and helping to create a bicycle-and pedestrian-friendly master plan for the county. One of her nominators for the award, planner Ann Freiwald, calls Mathison a terrific instigator and motivator who leads local residents and works with planners to promote healthy living and active lifestyles in Shawano County.

Mathison serves as an Executive Board Member with Shawano Pathways, a community nonprofit tasked with planning for and facilitating the development, implementation and maintenance of a greenway and trails network within Shawano County. This year marks the third year of Bike the Barn Quilts, a supported bike tour of Shawano County that she led the effort to host.

Embracing All Abilities

When Mathison was in high school, there were no competitive sports for girls, but she stayed active in a host of intramural activities, including basketball, broomball, volleyball, and gymnastics. She was not just a natural athlete, but a teacher as well. Growing up in a town of 110 residents, as one of 11 children, Mathison remembers using a backyard playhouse as a play schoolhouse, and she was always the teacher.

Matty 20As a physical education teacher, gym with Mathison was as likely to involve a ropes course, compass work, or a climbing wall. She designed curriculum in health and physical education to involve and challenge all students, regardless of ability or how much they liked competition or sports. Continue reading

Because You Believed in Me

Anne Thompson Heller with her family at Augsburg College graduation

Anne Thompson Heller with her family at Augsburg College graduation

Before Anne Thompson Heller ’08 began her studies at Augsburg, she hadn’t even visited the College. But she knew Augsburg was where she needed to be, because of the StepUP® Program on campus. Honestly, she says, she’s not sure she would have been able to go to college when she did without the support of StepUP, Augsburg’s residential recovery program.

Now, while completing a doctoral program at the University of Connecticut, Thompson Heller helps other young people in recovery to achieve academically and thrive. With two master’s degrees (one in educational leadership, higher education, and student affairs; the other in marriage and family therapy), she works tirelessly to support youth recovery. Though she hadn’t intended to pursue multiple advanced degrees, she did so when she discovered an undeniable passion for helping others facing addiction issues, just as she had been helped in her StepUP experience.

When she moved back to Connecticut, she served CTYF (Connecticut Turning to Youth and Families) as a board member, and eventually as its vice president, advocating for youth services with several state and other influential agencies, and attempting to raise awareness of the problem. Her involvement with CTYF led to her current work on the board of directors for Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery (CCAR).

In 2010, after speaking at the National Education Recovery Summit, Thompson Heller was invited to join the board of the Association of Recovery Schools (a “phenomenal” organization, she says), where she led the advocacy committee and worked to enhance youth leadership in recovery schools. In that role, she was able to support the development of YPR (Young People in Recovery), a national advocacy organization, as one of the organization’s founding members. YPR now has chapters across the country, which emanated from several national conferences that sought to address addiction recovery and related issues such as leadership training and organizational development. Continue reading

Jill and Robert Thomas Make $1 Million Challenge Grant for StepUP

Thomas familyJill and Robert Thomas of Tulsa, Oklahoma, are on a mission to erase the stigma associated with addiction and recovery—and it starts at Augsburg. They’ve made a $1 million challenge grant for Augsburg’s nationally recognized StepUP® Program, which helps students champion lives of recovery, achieve academic success, and thrive in a community of accountability and support. “The StepUP program is the Gold Star standard for collegiate recovery,” says Jill.

The couple is leading the drive to raise $10 million in endowment for the program and challenging others to “step up” to the plate to meet the urgent need for effective collegiate recovery programs.

Philanthropy + Advocacy = Change

Jill and Robert (who is co-owner of Tulsa-based Senior Star) envision StepUP emerging as the program of choice for students in recovery and the employer of choice for top professionals in the field. They want to lift up StepUP as a model of excellence and see it replicated on campuses across the nation. They hope to see misperceptions about addiction and recovery shattered by the success of adults with addiction in their past. It all adds up to profound change. “First we have to start talking more openly about addiction and recovery, and then we have to start supporting it financially,” says Robert.

“We believe that our efforts can help organizations make a difference and move the needle in some very important things for people,” explains Robert, who served on the Alzheimer’s Association National Board and received the Maureen Reagan Award for outstanding Alzheimer’s Advocacy in 2010. Both he and Jill are leaders in Alzheimer’s advocacy and involved in several community organizations, including the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Area United Way.

They are parents of daughters Allie Thomas ’14 and Olivia Jordan, who currently serves as Miss USA.

Desperation, Love, and Hope

Jill and Robert learned about StepUP the hard way, through daughter Allie’s struggle with chemical dependency and her eventual recovery. “The despair and the fear of all it was all encompassing,” says Robert of that time in their lives.

Allie was living out of state when she hit the proverbial rock bottom.

“My dad swooped in and we came home to Tulsa,” says Allie. I had a series of stints in treatment centers, then stints of relapse. I was really unwell. It’s is so sad to think back on the person that I was.” Continue reading

Brewtel Means Big Things for Finnegans

Jacquie-headshotAuggie superstar and 2014 Spirit of Augsburg award recipient Jacquie Berglund ’87 is excited about the newest plans unveiled for the downtown Minneapolis block that is the proposed headquarters for the general contractor Kraus-Anderson. The Finnegans owner says news of the “Brewtel,” a hotel and Finnegans brewery concept will be a game-changer for Finnegans if approved. The beer company, which donates 100% of its proceeds to fighting hunger through donations to local and regional food shelves, would create a three-story brewhouse, event space, and a “Finnovation Lab” that would function as a business incubator for social entrepreneur start-ups. Read more about the news in the Star Tribune. Finnegans celebrated 15 years in business on Sept. 1, 2015. Next to the Newman’s Own brand, Finnegans is the second longest-running company in the country that donates 100% of its profits. Finnegans has given more than $500,000 to anti-hunger efforts since 2000.

Berglund will also serve as co-chair of Homecoming 2015 with Devean George ’99, and is excited to be back on campus to see Auggies from all classes.

Homecoming Convocation Honors Exceptional Auggies

Homecoming is the time to honor alumni and friends of the College who have contributed to Augsburg or who have made significant accomplishments since their graduation. This year at Homecoming Convocation at 10 a.m. in Hoversten Chapel, we honor Dan Anderson ’65, Grace Herr ’57, and Harvey Peterson ’52 with the Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of significant achievement in vocation, for outstanding contribution to church and community, and for a life that exemplifies the ideals and mission of Augsburg College. Physics professor Mark Engebretson and longtime manager of the Centennial Singers Mike Walgren ’64 will receive the Spirit of Augsburg Award, which honors alumni and friends of the College who have given exceptional service that contributes substantially to the well being of Augsburg by furthering its purposes and programs. Keme Hawkins ’05 will receive the First Decade Award, which is presented to Augsburg graduates of the past 10 years who have made significant progress in their professional achievements and contributions to the community, and in so doing exemplify the mission of the College. Continue reading

StepUP® Program Gala Recognizes Jill and Robert Thomas

Gala Web Banner_2Two leaders in the addiction recovery community will be recognized for their commitment and generosity to Augsburg College’s StepUP® program for students in addiction recovery.

Jill and Robert Thomas, residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will receive the Toby Piper LaBelle Award at the Augsburg College StepUP Program Gala on October 24.

Thomas familyStepUP program alumni and families are invited to a special program, brunch, and open house to begin the Day of Gratitude at 9:30 a.m.

Alumni, parents, and friends are invited to an evening of inspiration, entertainment, and fellowship at the StepUP Program Gala celebration in Si Melby Hall on the Augsburg College campus at 5:30 p.m.

Married more than 30 years, Jill and Robert Thomas are the proud parents of two daughters: Allie, age 28, and a 2014 graduate of Augsburg College and the StepUP program, and Olivia Jordan, age 26, currently serving as Miss USA 2015.

Robert Thomas co-owns Senior Star, a company that owns and operates senior living retirement communities throughout the Midwest. Jill and Robert are both graduates of the University of Tulsa, Robert with a BS degree in 1974, and Jill with a BS degree in 1977 and a JD degree in 1986.

They have both been actively involved in Alzheimer’s advocacy through the Alzheimer’s Association. Robert has served on the National Board and been the recipient of the Maureen Reagan award for outstanding Alzheimer’s advocacy in 2010. They are actively involved in several community organizations including the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma, Alzheimer’s Association, and the Tulsa Area United Way, to name a few.

The Thomas family has given significant time and resources to the College’s program, which is a leader and award-winning model for residential addiction recovery communities at campuses across the nation.

The Toby Piper LaBelle Award is given to a person or family that has consistently supported young people in recovery. It is named in honor of the first recipient, Toby Piper LaBelle ’96, for his insight and ability to advocate for the needs of recovering college students on a college campus. LaBelle was a lead advocate for students in recovery while he was a student at Augsburg College.

To attend the Gala, and to celebrate the contributions of the Thomas family, please register at

Urban Scrubs Campers Explore STEM & Health Fields

Augsburg hosted Urban Scrubs Camp for the sixth consecutive year this July. Scrubs Camp invites high school students interested in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and medical fields to immerse themselves in an experience-based program that exposes students to many fields, including dentistry, psychology, engineering, nursing, and more. During the week-long day camp, students participate in hands-on sessions, tour medical facilities, experience a variety of healthcare activities, and are exposed to numerous career options. It’s a fun way to learn about health-related careers, meet others, and get a sneak peek of life as an Auggie.

This year, Augsburg hosted 76 students and several alumni engaged as volunteers. Alumna Mary Ann Kinney MAN ’04, DNP ’11, a registered nurse at Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary‘s Hospital in Rochester, served as a keynote speaker and discussed her work in community building. Kinney has had extensive immersions through her graduate studies at Augsburg in Mexico and Guatemala and with homeless populations in Minneapolis and Rochester. She served as delegate to the first International Conference on Women’s Health in Beijing, China.

Urban Scrubs

Urban Scrubs campers at work in the Boston Scientific engineering workshop.

This camp provides a unique experience for metro-area students who otherwise might not have access to healthcare education. Last year, 70% of participants were students of color and 20% of campers were local to the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Scrubs Camp is made possible by generous support from corporations, foundations, and community members. For the third year, Boston Scientific employees volunteered at Scrubs Camp. Steve Oommen facilitated two engineering workshops for campers.