Perhaps this title conjures up confrontational images from the evening news—or memories of last year’s election. But for Stephanie (Lein) Walseth ’00 and Sam Walseth ’00, politics and drama are their lifeblood, and they co-exist amicably in their household.
Both Stephanie, whose theater experience in the Twin Cities is extensive, and Sam, who is president of a lobbying firm near the state capitol, are pursuing careers that are fulfilling and energizing to them. However, balancing the demands of their work schedules with their home life gets somewhat tricky these days. Two reasons for that are Graham (4-1/2) and Madeline (21 months), who can keep them scrambling.
But Sam says that being a daddy means everything to him—and that being a parent changes one in so many ways. “It’s the most awesome and difficult job” he’s ever had, and he particularly enjoys wrestling with them. As a lobbyist for clients who are mostly public-sector, nonprofit organizations in the areas of public education, youth development, and human services, Sam is on call 24/7 when the legislature is in session. With that reality, having friends and family who are willing to help with the kids in a pinch is a blessing. The jury is still out on whether he will have time to return to his guitar lessons, or whether Stephanie will get a chance to complete the kids’ scrapbooks.
How does one become a lobbyist? Sam’s involvement in student government at Augsburg led to his candidacy for an internship in his senior year. That internship, in turn, led him to the state capitol and, he says, he “hasn’t been able to get away since.” As president of Capitol Hill Associates, he takes satisfaction in succeeding on behalf of his clients, especially when he feels good public policy has actually been made. One of his most memorable days at the capitol involved securing major levy authority for rural school districts to take care of deferred maintenance issues. “This doesn’t sound very sexy,” he says, “but it closed a huge funding inequity and really helped rural school budgets.”
For Stephanie, there was no mystery about career choice; she knew as a little girl that theater would be her vocational path. She loved it then and still does. She is continually impressed with the multitude of ways one can be involved in the performing arts, and she has not been timid about pursuing numerous avenues. Her Augsburg experience was, she says, “pivotal” to her artistic philosophy and career, and she went on to complete an MA and PhD in Theatre Historiography at the University of Minnesota.
With professional theater experience that includes acting, directing, dramaturgy, playwriting, and stage management, as well as arts administration, and educational work within academia and theater companies, Stephanie now finds herself at an interesting crossroads. The career possibilities that are most compelling include some combination of freelance artistic work, full-time work in the nonprofit sector, and positions within higher education. Whichever direction she veers, her work and life will likely focus in some way on social justice, a topic that has always been a passion for her.
Sam and Stephanie have stayed in touch with many Auggie classmates, including Erica Huls ’01, who snapped the family photos that accompany this story. Stephanie grew up around Augsburg since her mother, Cindy Peterson, served for 35 years on the staff (American Indian Student Services, and Scholastic Connections), retiring just last August. In her theater work on the Augsburg faculty (she has taught as an adjunct in the department since 2011), Stephanie has especially enjoyed becoming a colleague of the professors who taught her, such as Darcey Engen ‘88 and Michael Burden ’85.
Further solidifying the “Augsburg connection,” the Full Circle Theater Company, which Stephanie co-founded with four other Twin Cities theater professionals in 2013, has brought together her Augsburg prof/advisor, Martha Johnson (co-artistic director), and Johnson’s husband, Rick Shiomi (other co-artistic director), who was also the artistic director of Mu Performing Arts and Stephanie’s boss when she was managing director for that company. For Stephanie, the name of the company—Full Circle Theater—reflects not only the intent to address the multiracial, multicultural, multi-generational realities of contemporary America in all of its nuanced complexity, but also Stephanie’s own full circle in “coming home” to work with friends Martha and Rick. The company has created an opportunity for her to return to her roots as a practicing artist, and to expand the circle to include even more theater-makers, artists, and audiences.
Sam and Stephanie first met each other in the chapel on the first day of their freshman orientation. Years later, they were married by Pastor Sonja Hagander in the very same space, and both Graham and Madeline were baptized by Pastor Sonja there as well. Augsburg definitely feels like home to them!