Life Can Be Funny

PHOTO: Jake Stangel, Times of London

PHOTO: Jake Stangel, Times of London

For 12 years, David Raether ’78 wrote for TV comedy sitcoms, including 111 episodes of Roseanne. He absolutely loved it. It was invigorating being in “the Room” with other writers, brutally and honestly dissecting each other’s work to make sure the script was as good as it could be. Did it work? Did it follow what set it up? Did it push the story forward? Was it funny? You could write a completely brilliant draft of a script, he says—one that everyone agrees reads great—and then see it completely rewritten by the group over the week of production. If you find that upsetting or galling, says Raether, don’t go into comedy writing!

As much as he loved the work, however, the time commitment was enormous, and his family life suffered. Many nights, he would work till 3 a.m., which meant that he rarely enjoyed any family time beyond weekends. Something had to give, so he took a couple of years off to help pull the family back together—an effort that met with some success. Then, when he tried to return to TV work in 2007, he found a different landscape. Many sitcoms had been replaced by reality shows, and he had trouble finding a job, even though he had expanded his search beyond writing and editing.

Thus began what Raether calls an “incredible experience” that has shaped him in many ways. He sold off cars and other valuables to make ends meet, but sending out 2,541 resumes and applications was to no avail. Eventually, he found himself homeless. He lost his house, his career ended, his savings vanished, and his family (wife and eight kids) broke apart. The fall was tremendous. In a recent TEDxAmherst Talk, Raether talked about what it felt like not knowing where (or when) he would find the next meal, or where he would sleep that night. But in the process, he says, he discovered that he was far more resourceful and resilient than he had ever dreamed. He also learned that it is not shameful to be poor. Devastating, vulnerable, difficult, and painful, yes—but not shameful. Continue reading

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 give something back, and make life easier for someone else. 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, making school start times later, planning 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. The ride attracts more than 200 participants.

Embracing All Abilities

When Mathison was growing up, she was not just a natural athlete, but a teacher as well. As the oldest of 9 children, Mathison remembers using a backyard playhouse as a play schoolhouse, and she was always the teacher.  Her parents instilled in her an ethic that may have been the best advice she’d ever received: “share, care, and play fair.”

Matty 20As a physical education teacher, gym with Mathison was as likely to involve spelunking, cross country skiing, rock climbing, and canoeing or kayaking. 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

Coaching with Conviction: From Auggie Pride Comes a Passion for Teaching

Bottom (L-R): Andy Johnson, Mark Joesph; Top (L-R): Royce Winford, Jordan Berg, Derrin Lamker, David Tilton, Jack Osberg

Bottom (L-R): Andy Johnson, Mark Joesph; Top (L-R): Royce Winford, Jordan Berg, Derrin Lamker, David Tilton, Jack Osberg

Derrin Lamker ’97 remembers that he wanted to be a coach from his first year in college. As head coach at Osseo High School for the last 10 years, he says he had good training coming from a great team like Augsburg.

At Augsburg, he played football, basketball, and baseball. During his football career, he was the MIAC Most Valuable Player and led the Auggies to an MIAC title in 1997, the same year he received Kodak All-American Honors.

At Osseo, Lamker has surrounded himself with a coaching staff that includes several stellar Auggies and teachers. They mesh well and show up every day for the same reason—to develop contributing members of society. Their hope is that no matter where the players go, or where football takes them after high school, they will be successful. The Orioles are now ranked second in the metro area, and have started the season with a 2-0 record. Lamker says what is remarkable about the team is the people.

Six Auggies join Lamker in coaching the teams. They include his former college football coach and mentor, Jack Osberg ’62. Osberg says it is a great joy to coach with Lamker. “I’m doing what I love to do,” says Osberg, who was head football coach at Augsburg from 1991-2004, and then stayed on to work with head coach Frank Haege. He didn’t stay away from football very long before he continued to get his “fall fix” in coaching once again at Osseo High School.

“It’s real people at Augsburg. That’s what you get,” says Lamker. The Auggies joining him on the coaching staff include Andy Johnson ’04, Royce Winford ’09, Mark Joseph ’01, David Tilton ’12, and Jordan Berg ’09. For the past five seasons, they were joined by Tony Nelson ’84 and Doug Bailey ’90, who stepped down from coaching this year. Together, they have built a program that puts its priorities in order, much like they saw at Augsburg, both on and off the field. Continue reading

Crafted for the Journey: ’89 Grad Gives Boats Their Start

clamp-for-angle2A liberal arts education that began decades ago in Weekend College led Dennis Davidson ’89 to a life of discovery that landed him at the headwaters of the Mississippi River today, where he watched 16 Augsburg students head off on the River Semester in canoes that were built in his shop. The flotilla of canoes accompanying the students for the first 9 miles of their nearly 2,000 mile journey were paddled south in large, wood-strip canoes that Davidson built himself.

As the owner and primary boat-builder of NorthWest Canoe, Davidson sells most of his large, voyageur-style canoes to groups like Wilderness Inquiry, a River Semester program partner, which provided the canoes that students will take down the full length of the Mississippi, concluding their interdisciplinary semester in New Orleans this December. (See more about the River Semester here.)

The canoes can take up to 10 paddlers or 1,800 pounds apiece, and are intended to increase opportunities and make canoeing accessible to all ages and groups, including families with special needs.

Davidson makes big cedar-strip canoes, and will sell you everything you need to make a canoe yourself—many of the plans are free. He also stocks just about every part you might need to make a canoe repair or replacement. “If it sticks to the canoe, there’s a good chance I’m going to carry it,” he says.

The Right Degree

Augsburg’s program for working adults, now called Adult Undergraduate, allowed Davidson, then a married father of two, to finish his degree.

“It was a real life-shaping experience,” he says. With two toddlers at home, and deep and varied interests, including photography, the Weekend College program made college accessible for Davidson, who was working full-time.

canoe-builder-2Completing his degree in marketing and communications allowed him to pursue a career in sales and marketing that took him into both the paper and software industries, before he came to work for Bell Canoe, then based in Princeton, Minn. Looking back, Davidson realizes that a lot of ambient learning happened there, talking with the people that designed the canoes, watching the production and knowing the product line in depth. “You couldn’t be there and not learn, because it was a small business,” he says. Continue reading

An Auggie Finds His Calling

Jay Matchett

Photo credit: Zoya Greene.

For Jay Matchett ’08, ’13 MAL in his current job, all the pieces have come together. His long-held interests in politics, sociology, and human rights have coalesced into a vocation that couldn’t feel more right. Since he took on the directorship of Our Neighbors’ Place, a multipronged social service agency in his hometown of River Falls, Wisconsin, he feels he can convincingly say: “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

Our Neighbors’ Place is an organization Matchett watched grow from its infancy to serve a great need in for people who found themselves homeless or in need of transitional housing.

“It’s been exciting, exhilarating,” he says, of his four months as director, serving his community and engaging the complex issues surrounding poverty and homelessness.

Drawn to Justice

His attraction to social justice was born early and instinctively. A lifelong passion to do something about the cause of poverty began as a child. On a trip to Tucson, he saw an older person pushing a shopping cart alone on the sidewalk. He couldn’t understand why that would ever happen. He never forgot it.

His mother was a teacher, and he would volunteer in her classroom. There, he saw that not all kids were equipped for school—they were hungry or didn’t have boots in the winter.

As a young person he knew intuitively, “This is not right.”

Then, in middle school, as part of his preparation for Confirmation, he spent a night and served a meal at a homeless shelter. Even in that short time at the shelter, he saw that they had more in common than differences. “They like the Packers; they’re just like us,” he remembers thinking. “That just changed my world.”

And the idea started to germinate: How can I make things better for folks? In college, he was drawn to sociology and political science because he wanted to change things. Continue reading

Finding Home All Over the World

Sima cropWubitu Ayana Sima ’89, ’15 MBA might never have predicted she would end up as the proprietor of a classic British tea room, but she never expected to spend more than a decade in Geneva, Switzerland, working abroad for the United Nations and the World Health Organization either.

At 54, the dual-degreed Auggie has always been a woman who likes a challenge. She’s happy when she’s busy, and as the owner of Lady Elegant’s Tea Shoppe in the leafy St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, and a part-time MBA student at Augsburg, the mother of three is already thinking about her next adventure.

Serving Tranquility
Lady Elegant’s, which she purchased from the previous owner, is actually two businesses—a tea shop and a tranquil tea room that is perfect for conversation and popular for groups of all sizes by appointment. Ayana Sima does the baking for the formal teas, including croissants and scones with clotted cream. The adjoining tea shop sells more than 80 varieties of tea. Her husband, Admasu Simeso, helps manage the restaurant, from the paperwork to the online shop.

She manages four part-time employees, and everyone works Saturdays, because it is their busiest time.

Each place in the tea room is set with a distinct tea cup. She’s collected cups from all over—they come from the United Kingdom, China, and Japan—and washes each one by hand. They break easily, she warns, especially in the transition from a group service in the morning to a group in the afternoon.

“I’m a coffee drinker,” she confesses. Growing up in Ethiopia, she would pick coffee out of the backyard at her mother’s house and they’d roast it themselves. She learned to enjoy tea while working in Switzerland, and has grown to know the delicate chemistry of time, tea leaves, and temperature of boiling water.
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