Newlyweds Honor the Memories of their First Spouses by Naming Faculty Offices in the CSBR

Augsburg alumni Evelyn Sonnack Halverson and William H. Halverson just returned from their honeymoon to Norway and England. Sitting beside each other on a couch, holding hands, they finish each other’s sentences as if they have known each other for decades. And they have.

Evie’s first husband, Paul G. Sonnack Jr., and Bill Halverson were Augsburg College faculty colleagues, overlapping there from 1959 to 1967. The two couples were good friends, so close in fact that the Sonnacks were baptismal sponsors for Kay, one of the Halversons’ five daughters.

Recently Evie and Bill each decided to make naming gifts, in memory of their first spouses, for faculty offices in Augsburg’s new Center for Science, Business, and Religion.

Life insurance gift makes Paul G. Sonnack Jr. faculty office possible

“After Paul died in 1992,” Evie says, “I set up a life insurance policy to benefit the schools where he taught─Augsburg College and Luther Seminary. I wanted to do something in his memory, and at Augsburg I created the Paul G. Jr. and Evelyn Sonnack Scholarship Fund. Recently I decided to cash in the insurance policy and give the money to the schools right away.” Part of her gift will expand the scholarship fund, and $25,000 will name a faculty office for Paul.

Donna McLean, Director of Development Initiatives at Augsburg, suggested to Evie that she consider naming a faculty office after Paul. “I thought it was a splendid idea,” Evie says. “This opened up a new idea completely for how my gift could be used. The faculty office is another way to reinforce the memory of Paul at Augsburg in perpetuity.”

Paul and Evie met as students. They both sang in the Augsburg Choir, where Evie was a soprano soloist. After graduating, Evie taught school while Paul attended Augsburg Theological Seminary. Then they were married. “In those days,” she points out, “you couldn’t be married while going to seminary.” He was then ordained and served Lutheran Free Church congregations in Moose Lake, Minn.

Paul began teaching at Augsburg in 1949, after graduate study at the University of Chicago. Later he was professor and dean of Augsburg Seminary. From 1967 to his retirement in 1989, he was Professor of Church History at Luther Theological Seminary.

Remembering a beloved professor

When you read part of the Rev. Judith Mattison’s poem about him, Our Teacher, you immediately sense the impact Prof. Sonnack had on students:

With a burst of energy he would meet us at the door,

opinionated

with a twinkle in his eye,

loyal to the Gospel

to truth, to justice

and he would Teach!

as if our lives depended on it

and they did.

Evie’s life too was deeply embedded in the College. She worked at Augsburg in various capacities including secretary to the academic dean. She later served Luther Seminary as Director of Housing.

The Sonnacks had two children, a daughter Mary who died at age 15 months, and a son John, who is married and has one son.

Evie was deeply touched to learn that another family, giving anonymously, also named a faculty office in honor of Paul G. Sonnack Jr.

Important symbols on Bill and Evie’s wedding day

Bill says that as happy as he and Evie are in their new marriage, they loved their first spouses very deeply and have not forgotten them. To symbolize this truth on their wedding day, Evie wore diamond earrings Paul had given her on their 40th wedding anniversary, and Bill wore a birthstone ring that his first wife Marolyn had given him on his 50th birthday. They placed two red roses on the altar in memory of Paul and of Marolyn.

Bill also met his first spouse in the Augsburg College Choir. Though he went to Augsburg for four years, Marolyn Sortland came just for her senior year. She earlier had gone to Concordia College, and then worked as a teacher while earning money to complete her college degree. In the meantime, her parents moved from Fargo to Minneapolis, and her brothers had enrolled at Augsburg, so she came too.

Marolyn devoted herself to family and community

Bill and Marolyn married shortly after graduating. Marolyn taught school for a year and then focused on her family which eventually included five daughters, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “She was a superb mother and grandmother,” Bill says.

Marolyn was the primary caregiver for their daughter Kay, who just before her 18th birthday had a severe stroke that left her without the ability to talk or move any voluntary muscles. Marolyn cared for Kay for 35 years, until her death in 2006. As a victim of Locked-In Syndrome, Kay was unable to communicate with others.

A volunteer leader, Marolyn served as president of the Ohio State University Women’s Club, as education chair for the League of Women Voters in Columbus, and as a board and committee member for several arts organizations.

Bill personifies the liberal arts through his careers

After college graduation, Bill taught high school English and music in Sherburn, Minn., and later received both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. He then joined the Augsburg College faculty to teach philosophy. In 1967, Bill became associate dean in the Office of Academic Affairs at Ohio State University.

Bill retired in 1987, and then pursued a quite different career translating books and other materials primarily focused on Norwegian music. He has translated most of Edvard Grieg’s song texts and co-translated with Leland Sateren two books─Edvard Grieg: The Man and the Artist, and A History of Norwegian Music.

“I have always valued and treasured my Norwegian background,” Bill says. “I learned to appreciate classical music as an Augsburg student, and took a special interest in Grieg because he was Norwegian.”

In connection with the release of the Augsburg Choir Legacy Recordings in 2010, Bill penned a monograph titled The Sateren Legacy, a brief account of the life and work of Augsburg’s legendary former choir director.

Looking for and finding a way to honor Marolyn

After living in Ohio for 40 years, Bill and Marolyn returned to Minnesota in 2007, the year after Kay died. Marolyn died in 2012 of Parkinson’s Disease.

“Since her death last year, I have been thinking about ways to honor Marolyn’s memory,” Bill says. “When Donna McLean came to visit Evie about naming a faculty office for Paul, I realized that this would be a suitable way to memorialize Marolyn also.”

Bill and Marolyn previously gave a gift to Augsburg College to create the Kay Halverson Scholarship Fund. “We had saved money for each of our daughters to go to college,” Bill says. “When Kay had a stroke at an early age, we knew that she could not go to college. We wanted to use the money then to help others access a college education.”

They were honored by the College with the Spirit of Augsburg Award in 2001.

Bill says that Augsburg College “meant a great deal to Marolyn and me. Now it is important to me to find ways to preserve her name in perpetuity. Evie and I both are delighted with this way to show how much we loved our first spouses and to make sure that their memories live beyond our lifetimes.”

Bill and Evie honor the past while embracing the future.