Augsburg College has been part of life for Clayton McNeff ’91 further back than he can remember. He has walked the college halls since he was old enough to walk. His mother, Marie Olive McNeff, taught for almost three decades in the Education Department and later was vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college.
His spouse Denise Sideen McNeff ’94 also has lifelong memories of Augsburg. “I grew up going to games and spaghetti dinners on campus with my dad, Wes Sideen ’58, who served on the Alumni Board for years. My uncle, Neil Sideen ’65, is an Auggie too.”
The two generations of the McNeff family—Clayton and Denise along with Clayton’s parents, Larry and Marie—gave $650,000 to sponsor a chemistry suite in the Center for Science, Business, and Religion. Clayton says the gift is not purely financial. “Mom gave her whole self to Augsburg College. She worked with people to allow them to reach their potential. That lives on with Augsburg College, and it is something we honor.” His mother died last year.
CSBR will help different departments collaborate
on solving the world’s problems
Clayton, who majored in chemistry at Augsburg, received a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Minnesota. He predicts far-reaching results from bringing science, business, and religion together. “Augsburg always has had great faculty. Extraordinary interactions between faculty and students have led to great accomplishments like graduates winning the Nobel Prize and Rhodes Scholarship. The CSBR will bring these conversations into a top-notch physical space.”
Large universities tend to isolate research within discreet departments. “The strength of Augsburg is that as a small liberal arts college we can encourage interdisciplinary work. We can break the walls down between silos and solve bigger problems. The CSBR will actively bring disciplines together and help engender conversation that our society deeply needs to solve the world’s problems.”
Striving to protect the very future of the human race
Clayton’s business, Ever Cat Fuels, has a mission to preserve the future of the human race through the development of clean-burning biodiesel fuel. One of Clayton’s colleagues in the work is an Auggie and Rhodes Scholar. While still an undergraduate, Brian Krohn ’09 did research aimed at producing biodiesel in a cleaner, more environmentally friendly way. McNeff, upon hearing of Krohn’s initial research, invited him to work with veteran scientists on developing the process for market.
5 cents a gallon adds up fast
Ever Cat Fuels was launched in 2008. A production facility in Isanti, Minn., produces 3 million gallons a year of this clean-burning fuel. Even as Ever Cat Fuels was founded, the McNeffs envisioned Augsburg benefitting from the company’s success. “We pledged to give a nickel to Augsburg College for every gallon we sold over our first four years,” Clayton says.
Clayton’s father Larry is a biochemist with an entrepreneurial bent. Larry founded SarTec Corp., working on the uses of algae and sarsasaponin, a yucca plant component that promotes health and growth in animals. After receiving his Ph.D., Clayton joined his father in business at SarTec and later launched Ever Cat Fuels.
Meeting over a chem lab experiment
Clayton and Denise met when Clayton subbed as a proctor in her General Chemistry Lab. Little did the professor know she was igniting a relationship that would lead to marriage.
Denise majored in history and education with a minor in religion. She has been a public, charter and private school teacher. Currently, she oversees the education of their three children who study online through the Minnesota Virtual Academy. From her perspective as an educator, she says: “The CSBR will be wonderful. It will provide technological aspects that Augsburg needs, and the building’s aesthetics will help students learn.”
“It has been gratifying for our family to see progress toward creating the CSBR,” Clayton says. “My mom and dad instilled the values in me that it is important to support the things related to what you are doing and what you care about. We care deeply about helping Augsburg succeed for the sake of the larger world.”