It was a coffee shop connection that led Shelby Andress ’56 to meet Alaa Baqer ’13, but the impact of that initial meeting goes far beyond Einstein’s. That first hello led to a friendship that continues today. Although these two amazing women met by chance, their connection is much stronger than mere happenstance. When the story of their meeting was first shared at the faculty-hosted CSBR Summit on September 11, 2014, the emotion generated by this story was palpable. It is thanks to Augsburg College that we can connect across cultures, generations, and disciplines around a common goal: small for our students and big for the world. Watch the video.
You might say that Mert Johnson ’59 was born to attend Augsburg. He was named after Mert Strommen ’42, who later served as national youth director of the Lutheran Free Church, founded the Youth and Family Institute at Augsburg, and served as campus pastor. Our Savior’s Lutheran Church located in Milroy, Minn., very near the Johnson Family farm, was where Mert Strommen’s father served as pastor.
Today, Mert Johnson is a generous benefactor of Augsburg College and the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR). “I think the plan for the CSBR is very well conceived,” says Mert. “I’m very pleased that they are merging religion with business and science.”
Mert remembers how his father, a staunch Christian, used to harvest his first acre for God and give the proceeds to church every year. Church, school, band, choir, farming, and sports were all part of Mert’s early years. Basketball was his game, and Mankato State University offered him a full-ride scholarship. Instead, he decided to become an Auggie because the College shared his own values. He went on to earn four letters in basketball, playing with Team Captain Lute Olson ’56, who became a college basketball coaching legend.
Long Days and Short Nights at Augsburg
Without the benefit of scholarships, Mert worked his way through college. During the school year he worked up to 60 hours a week at Smiley’s Point, the soda fountain down the street from campus. “Back in those days, I made a $1 or $1.10 an hour,” says Mert. He remembers talking with some of the many GIs who were in school at the time and with the campus pastor, who would walk down to Smiley’s for a cup of coffee. “I did most of my studying between 4 and 8 a.m.,” says Mert. He made sure to schedule classes for first-thing in the morning so he could get to basketball practice on time and get the most out of every day. “I just didn’t require a lot of sleep,” says Mert of the secret to his success. Augsburg football coach Edor Nelson ’38 was Mert’s advisor and helped him get a summer job at Land O’Lakes doing deliveries and special projects. Continue reading
If Karolynn Lestrud ’68 ever had any doubt that her $100,000 pledge for the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR) would benefit a worthy and necessary cause, it was erased when she toured the Augsburg campus last spring.
“The science professors took us to the labs, and there is no question that the physical plant is woefully inadequate. People are stacked in there, almost on top of each other, to do their work,” she recalled. One of the professors showed her a piece of scientific equipment that the school had been thrilled to obtain.
“’But we have nowhere to put it,’ the faculty member told me. She was going on sabbatical and suspected that her office would be used to house the machine while she was gone. When she returns, then what? You reach a point—and we’ve all been there—when your first apartment is just too small, so you buy a house. Then your house becomes too small and you need a bigger one. At Augsburg, it’s way past time for a bigger house.”
Freshman rituals lead to friendship
Much has changed since Lestrud, who was recruited by a passionate advocate visiting her home town of Menomonie, Wisconsin, first arrived on campus. Enduring the freshman rituals of those days, wearing beanies and cleaning funky old apartments for upper classmen, helped her bond with fellow students who became lifelong friends. An English, French, and secondary education major, she lived in dorms and the French house, Chez Nous, and has fond memories of her experience.
“I got assigned to work for Norma Noonan, a political science teacher who was incredibly bright and tough as nails. What a role model. She was amazing,” Lestrud said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but Augsburg was a very safe place to become really independent. A lot of people were looking out for you, but not in the way that your parents or people in your hometown did. It was such a nurturing environment, and faculty members were so supportive and encouraging.”
A culture of support
She sees the same culture in today’s science department, where the touring professors showed her the substantive projects students are now taking on. “I was astonished at the level of work those kids were doing, working with scientists in the field as well as professors at the school. They have their names on articles in major scientific journals. For those pursuing science careers, that kind of real world experience is an enormous leg up.” Continue reading
Last month I enjoyed visiting with a number of alumni here in Ohio to discuss their involvement with the capital campaign and build the new Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR). Each person with whom I met agreed, Augsburg must keep moving forward; this new building will serve as the heart and soul for the campus.
Several themes emerged during our conversations.
- Generosity: each person spoke of the generosity of the people they knew during their time at Augsburg—their fellow students, the faculty, and those whose financial gifts made it possible for them to attend Augsburg. The generosity of others created a space for them to receive a marvelous education. They reflected on their opportunity to return this generosity today—in the form of their financial support for the college and for the CSBR campaign Class Challenge.
- Enthusiasm: in spite of time and distance, people shared their enthusiasm for the lifetime relationships formed at Augsburg, friendships that provide a foundation for a satisfying life and for continued engagement with Auggies everywhere. Their enthusiasm continues to grow as they hear stories of today’s students and their accomplishments.
- Commitment: When I played soccer for Augsburg, our commitment was to excellence and teamwork, and it proved a winning combination. I’m excited to report that nearly 60 Auggies have committed to serving as table hosts for the next Campaign Summit coming up in January. My former soccer teammate Rob LaFleur ’80 will co-host a table with me. We’ll bring together guests who will hear the story behind this magnificent building and the marvelous work that will take place inside it. There is a true team effort to bring this campaign to a successful completion and assure we will break ground soon.
As we celebrate this season of hope and joy, I invite you to read the stories of generosity and commitment shared here. Then I invite you to consider your place at the table.
What do each of these themes mean to you? In what ways do you want to share your generosity, enthusiasm, and commitment with Augsburg?
I continue to treasure my time at Augsburg, and carry it each day into my work and life. Please join me by making your commitment to the Class Challenge and to the future of Augsburg. I look forward to hearing from you.
Chris Ascher ’81
In 2012, Mark Gjerde ’65, attended a presentation about the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR) hosted by Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow. That evening, Mark, a third-generation Auggie, went home and told his wife Jan (Lunas) ’68, “Something special is happening at Augsburg!” Now Mark and Jan are part of that something special with the CSBR.
Remembering a Servant Leader
Their gift to the building honors Mark’s father, the late Dr. Luthard O. Gjerde ’33, ’36. “Dad brought a strong faith to Augsburg, which was molded into servant leadership in the Lutheran Church,” explains Mark. His father served as pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Rugby, ND, for 10 years. His compassion for helping hurting people led him to a career in social services for the next 30 years. He retired as executive director of Lutheran Social Services Minnesota in 1976. Luthard served on the Augsburg Board of Regents from 1963 to 1968 and received the Augsburg Distinguished Alumni Award in 1968. He also received a Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Gustavus Adolphus College. “Dad’s accomplishments were impressive,” says Mark, “but the character of my father who believed and committed his life to serving and loving all people as Christ loved us is an inspiration to all who knew him.” At the time of his death, the family established The Luthard O. Gjerde Scholarship for Augsburg students in pre-med, pre-seminary or other careers in social work.
Interdisciplinary Study Makes Good Business Sense
Mark, who worked for 3M for 38 years, has long understood the benefits of tying science and business together—those connections are the lifeblood of 3M, which has combined scientific innovation with global business acumen to become a multinational conglomerate. “It became an imperative at many levels of the 3M organization to understand business as well as technical disciplines.”
Augsburg has a unique opportunity to tie religion to science and business. Augsburg was founded on Christian beliefs and remains a Christian college, which welcomes all students regardless of their faith. The diversity in the student body provides an environment for students to understand and respect other cultures and religions, which is essential in today’s changing world. “Jan and I feel blessed to honor my father with a gift to the CSBR,” says Mark. Continue reading
If you were on campus in the mid-1960s and wanted to know where the good parties were, you could always ask Earl Sethre ’68. Earl worked his way through college at Larson’s Finer Foods, the grocery store at the corner of Riverside and 22nd that was frequented by Auggies. “They would cash their checks from their parents to buy groceries,” he remembers. “One of the benefits of the job was that I got to know everyone on campus.”
Campus has changed a lot since then: Oren Gateway Center is now located on the site of Larson’s, and the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR) represents Augsburg’s commitment to the future of experiential education and academic excellence. Now an Augsburg Regent, Earl and his wife Lis (Jorgensen) ’70 recognize the need for Augsburg to stay competitive and offer exceptional educational facilities and opportunities for its students. “Since we both graduated from Augsburg, it’s been an easy decision to support the CSBR,” says Earl. He and Lis also generously support scholarships and have named Augsburg as the beneficiary of their life insurance annuity. “We feel in some ways an obligation, but also a strong desire to give back to a place that was so meaningful in our young lives.” Continue reading
Talk about a team effort.
This 35th Advent Vespers, celebrated last weekend at Central Lutheran Church in the heart of Minneapolis, required the discipline, dedication and commitment of so many, from four conductors (Douglas Diamond, Nancy Grundahl, Peter Hendrickson ’76, and Mark Sedio ’76) to the many performers, liturgists, hospitality volunteers, and musicians from multiple choirs and orchestra.
Auggies performed another brilliant program designed to remind us of the hope, goodness, and light of the world. It gives each one of us time to consider and appreciate the power of transformative acts, of miracles. Actions that measurably contribute to a better world.
Each month I share with you my abiding passion for encouraging each one of you to see yourselves as part of the continuing transformation of Augsburg. I invite each of you to join us
- by connecting your past experience of an Augsburg education
- with your present action on behalf of Augsburg
- thus activating your dreams for a better future.
I invite you to celebrate your roots in Augsburg and to come home to those roots by making a commitment to Augsburg’s future.
Ask Steve Anderson how he became so involved with Augsburg, and he’s a little mystified. He knows it started in 2007, when his son Steve Anderson, Jr. ’12 started as a freshman. “I had driven by Augsburg on the highway for years,” he remembers, “but I didn’t really know much about it.” With his son at Augsburg, Steve started to learn more about the College and got to know the leadership and faculty. He liked what he saw, so when the time came he accepted an invitation from Mike Good ’71, to join the Campaign Steering Committee for the Center for Science, Business, and Religion. “Mike shared his story and his journey, from being an Augsburg wrestler to his career,” remembers Steve of his first meeting with Mike. “I remember his exuberance for the school and his commitment to giving back to the Augsburg community.” Steve and his wife Stephanie soon made their own generous pledge of $100,000 for the CSBR, on top of other gifts to the College. “It has been a lot easier to give money away than it has been to ask people for money,” laughs Steve.
Steve knows all about how important a positive attitude like Mike’s can be when faced with naysayers. “I was fortunate at an early age to score very poorly on standardized tests,” he remembers. When he was in seventh grade the school guidance counselor called Steve and his parents in to discuss his future. She thought they should realign their expectations of his academic capability. “Early on, that experience instilled in me an attitude that I wasn’t going to let boundaries affect the decisions I made or pathways I took.” He went on to be part of the National Honor Society in high school and, at age 27, founded Anderson Agency, Inc. Today, with $45 million in annual sales, the company represents manufacturers of custom plastics and metal components for medical device and industrial markets.
Meetings of STEM-Minded Faculty and Business People
Since discovering Augsburg in 2007, Steve has spent a lot of time in Augsburg’s science building, bringing clients from medical device companies like Medtronic to talk with faculty about their companies’ STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workforce needs. “It’s been an interesting journey, watching the business community merge with department heads to talk about [the STEM curriculum] … It’s invigorating when we come together to talk about the same subject,” says Steve. “The more meetings we have, the more I understand the College’s commitment to educational excellence in the STEM disciplines, and the more interested I become in participating on a little bit larger scope.” Continue reading
Generosity is an important spiritual value for Augsburg Regent Rolf Jacobson, his wife Amy Dewald, and their two children, Ingrid (age 15), and Gunnar (age 10). “We attempt to be generous in the way we live, not just in the way we give,” explains Rolf, who is also a former assistant professor of religion at Augsburg College. “Our family’s value of generosity is part of how we try to respond to God’s calling.”
One way they express their faith and values is by financially supporting the Augsburg Fund and the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR). Amy is operations manager—quality and tech consulting for Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust—and Wells Fargo matches qualifying employee donations to educational institutions. “Wells Fargo wants to be a good corporate citizen of the Twin Cities, and we are very delighted that they are matching our gift dollar for dollar,” says Rolf.