Major gifts from the Classes of 1959, 1964, 1967, 1976, and 1980 close out 2014, and 1976 and 1980 each jump up a category.
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
Gary Johnson ’74 has good reason to be reflective.
The Tampa-based company he has worked for, developed, and now owns has become a global leader. His family is thriving. And he is happily surprised that one of his two sons now works side-by-side with him as he plans the next phase of the company’s leadership.
It’s a great time to remember where it all started—back in Minnesota on the campus of Augsburg College.
Growing up in New Brighton and attending Mounds View High School, he was always active in the Lutheran church. His parents wanted him to attend a Lutheran college. As his father said, “Go to a small school and you will make friends for life.”
He visited Gustavus and Augsburg, and quickly decided that Augsburg felt right to him because of its location in the city and the people he met on his visit.
Drawn in by mathematics, he took classes in accounting and business. Right away he found a group of friends and, by his sophomore year, he was living in one of the campus houses with 11 others.
“We were especially lucky when we drew cards and got into the Beta Kappa house. I made my lifetime friends there. We still get together to travel quite frequently.”
Having met his wife, Melody, in high school, they were married in the summer of his junior year and started making plans together. He found his first job with Advance Machine right after graduation, and four years later joined Unipress as its controller. An English group bought the manufacturer of laundry and dry cleaning presses in 1978, and Gary worked as their first American employee. In 1982, he helped close up the Minneapolis facility and sell off the property while moving the company to Tampa “to start the company over.”
“We created a new business model for the industry in 1982 and that proved to be solid and successful over time.”
During the next 10 years of hard work and transitions, he became a shareholder of Unipress and, “three leveraged buyouts later, became its owner.” Continue reading
Greetings fellow Auggies!
I am excited to speak with you all through the power of social media on behalf of the college we love.
Serving as a Regent for Augsburg and on the team leading the Class Challenge initiative has given me a chance to come full circle on my Augsburg experience. It gives me the opportunity to give back and invite others to join a great community of generosity that fuels our shared future. Our Class Challenge vision of engaging every alumni class to fund the new signature building, the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR) will transform the college and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
Arrival and Discovery
Coming to Augsburg from the small town of Fairmont, MN, my dream was to attend a small Christian college in the city. The differentiator was my campus visit. I just knew that Augsburg was the right place for me to get involved and expand my learning. Although academics were my main focus, I became very involved in campus activities.
I ran cross country and joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where I met my husband Mark ’79. Joining student government I eventually became president of my senior class. I worked all four years in the library and found joy staffing the game room on Sunday nights. All the fun boys were there, and it balanced my academic life and work beyond the library.
Listening for Augsburg
But when I think about an early Augsburg experience that has shaped my personal pathway, it was my service as an admissions tour guide. When you walk in the shoes of a person looking to come to college, it can give you greater empathy. I met so many interesting young people exploring their own futures. I learned active listening. Helping them find their way helped me and shaped my path combining my analytical skills with my interest in psychology and counseling.
Today my work is to listen with care and help people with their goals that include giving back through philanthropy. Because I so value my college experience, Mark and I have made our ongoing commitment to the Augsburg Fund and to the campaign for the Center for Science, Business, and Religion. Continue reading