Call them stepping stones or building blocks—Deb Wagman’s foundation for life began at Augsburg University.
“Augsburg gave me the foundation to build on, for what I have today,” Deb says. “I owe them so much for helping me get started.”
Perhaps “paying it forward,” as Deb says, more aptly describes how she and her husband, Doug, think of their planned gift to Augsburg. With a gift in their will, also known as a bequest, the couple has not only returned that sense of gratitude, but they also are helping pave the way for tomorrow’s educational leaders through the Deborah K. and Douglas R. Wagman Education Scholarship.
“It was an inspiration to witness how excited the Wagmans were to create a scholarship to help train future educators,” says Ann Ulring, director of leadership gifts.
Graduating in 1978 as an elementary education major with a minor in library science, Deb worked in the teaching profession for 34 years; 25 of those were as a media specialist at an elementary school in Chaska, Minnesota. She saw firsthand the need for good, dedicated teachers.
“I definitely believe in education. Education is power,” she says.
As Deb sees it, the couple’s scholarship can bolster future educators and provide the stepping stones of success by easing students’ financial concerns. That way they can focus on learning the profession.
“If I can help someone at Augsburg and continue to grow the profession,” says Deb, “that’s my legacy.”
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius
The StepUP Gala was a night to celebrate how the StepUP Program at Augsburg University has helped students champion lives of recovery, achieve academic success, and thrive in a community of accountability and support.
With the strength and support of the StepUP community, we rose to meet this goal. This year’s Gala generated over $425,000 for the program in one evening. The event was thoughtfully planned by the StepUP Board and the Gala committee including co-chairs Cindy Piper and Douglass Sill.
Highlights of the Gala included:
Nearly 350 guests in attendance
Emcee Leah McLean, from KSTP 5 Eyewitness News
Neil King ’18, Alumni Speaker
Alexa Anderson ’19, Student Speaker
Toby Piper LaBelle Award recipients Jon and Julz Schwingler
A special appearance by Senator Amy Klobuchar
We hope to continue to build on this generous momentum from the Gala. If you wish to make a gift to support the StepUP program, visit StepUP Giving and indicate Gala gift in the comments field.
Thank you to all who joined us for the “We Rise” StepUP Gala. We firmly believe that a student should not have to choose between recovery and a college education. Your support will help make that possible today, and for years to come.
Sometimes a match made in heaven requires a connection here on earth. Such is the case with Linda Giacomo, whose generous gifts to the Augsburg Women Engaged (AWE) Scholarship fund are the outcome of a chance meeting.
Giacomo, 67, is a retired clinical psychologist who speaks freely of her two passions: helping women get educated and helping them get elected to political office. When she met Catherine Reid Day, an Augsburg friend, donor, and strategic marketing consultant through her company, Storyslices, at a political event last May, the two talked about the interests they shared. What ensued was as unlikely—yet as likely—a serendipitous result as anyone could imagine.
In so many ways, Giacomo and Augsburg are a matched set. An Italian-American who hails from Port Chester, New York, Giacomo knew in her teens that she wanted to work with children, perhaps in elementary education. But a comment by her younger brother—“Stop talking to me like you’re a psychologist!”—led her to study psychology at SUNY-Buffalo, then earn a Ph.D. in child clinical and adult psychology at Michigan State University.
“It was fascinating,” she says. “It combined everything I’m interested in: people—what makes them tick, why they feel and do things, being intellectually challenged, and helping others. It was a perfect fit.”
After post-doctorate work in Philadelphia and other positions that proved too research-heavy, she moved to Minneapolis for a clinical position at Children’s Hospital, then went into full-time private practice five years later. After retiring, and with much appreciation for the area’s affordable real estate, bike paths, parks, and “just enough” theater, art, and music, she has stayed. So has her propensity for research.
After learning more about Augsburg, she did her homework. “I have had patients who went there, but I knew very little about it,” she says. “Having gone from having no money to probably being considered fairly wealthy, I was looking for an estate beneficiary. I have no loyalty to any particular institution, but I do have a great commitment to representation, especially of women in the faculty and administration.”
She studied Augsburg’s numbers—need, diversity, solvency, service—and visited campus to meet its leaders. What she found was common ground. Like so many Auggies, she was the first in her family to attend college, earning merit scholarships but still needing a decade to pay off student loans. She empathizes with immigrant struggles, recalling impoverished grandparents who left southern Italy to become naturalized U.S. citizens, and parents who could not afford their children’s college tuition despite her father’s three jobs and her mother’s one. She also inherited a legacy of service, after watching her family take in neighborhood children and offer help to anyone in need.
“There are people who say they care, but care is just a word if you don’t act,” says Giacomo. “In my practice, my one concern was to make sure I didn’t leave behind the people who had no money. I never turned a patient away for lack of funds. About a third of my patients paid whatever they could afford.”
Giacomo reviewed statistics revealing that college graduates’ increased earning potential could move them up two socio-economic classes. “Education is transformative in a way that gives you so much power and choice. People should not be denied that opportunity because they have no money,” she says. A prior visit to a small, struggling college in South Carolina “touched my heart, but it also woke me up. My family knows I love them and will help if they ever need money, but they are educated and affluent enough to help their children easily afford college or repay loans. I want to help people who have nobody.”
Noting that women earn 26% less than men but carry two-thirds of the nation’s college debt, Giacomo has placed them first, designating a $30,000 outright gift to the AWE Scholarship as well as her $1.5 million estate gift. In her current role as “village elder,” and when she is not busy tap-dancing and practicing Italian, she will share her significant wisdom with the AWE Philanthropy Council, which she has joined.
“I found it deeply satisfying to be able to provide emotional help and support to so many patients, who could then face their pain and make better, happier lives for themselves. What they could achieve was profoundly moving,” she says. “Now I am able to provide financial support as well. To not be generous, to not share what you have with those in need, is heartbreaking. In making these gifts to Augsburg, my heart is full.”
When the class reunion committee first met last May, the Class of 1968 Endowed Scholarship was not on the agenda, nor did anyone mention any sort of fundraising. But the idea had already sprouted in the mind of committee co-chair Bruce Benson, and by the time he reached home after the meeting, it was firmly planted. The retired St. Olaf College pastor knew that other institutions benefited from alumni reunion gifts, so why not Augsburg? Dare he test a gift proposal among his peers?
“If I hadn’t been on the committee, I don’t know if I would have proposed it,” he says, “but I thought, ‘let’s just see what happens.’” He emailed the committee members, respectfully acknowledging their other charitable commitments, making no assumptions about class members’ financial means or inclinations, yet exploring possibilities. Would they be able and willing to contribute? Would they resent being asked? Might such a project fizzle out before reaching its final goal?
His pitch was forthright. “In 50 years I’ve developed other commitments and loyalties,” he wrote, “but Augsburg is where I got an undergraduate education that helped me live a meaningful life and contribute to the world around me. Additionally, I am rather proud of what Augsburg has become since we were students. I’d like to support that.” One could do that on one’s own, of course, but “a class gift sounds like more fun.”
The response was unanimous: yes!
“It seemed like a great idea. A lot of us got scholarships,” says Miriam Cox Peterson, who thought a goal of $50,000, the minimum required for an endowed scholarship, would be nice, but $68,000 sounded even better. “Why not try? Kids going to Augsburg now are certainly paying more than we did. We were given that opportunity, and we want other people to have it, too.”
Back in 1968, she pointed out, her guaranteed tuition ranged from $1,000 her first year to $900 her last, and her summer jobs covered the $500 for room and board. Those jobs—destroying old files in a sub-basement, sliding carbon paper between insurance policy copies—were anything but glamorous, thus convincing her that a college education was essential to a happy future. She has remained grateful to Augsburg ever since, and she will contribute $10,000 to the cause.
Benson wrote to the entire class, identifying with how hard it might be to choose among competing responsibilities but also reminding them that they had entered the era of minimum IRA distributions and might be seeking a way to make a difference. So far they have donated more than $75,000 for the scholarship, which will be available to any student in need.
“Clearly, I’m gratified. The response is very satisfying but not surprising,” Benson says. The Class of 1968, which graduated during a momentous year of assassinations and Vietnam War protests, was characterized by others as “different,” more engaged, active, and risk-taking than most. “Fifty years out, we all have an honest sense of how influential our education was. Whatever we didn’t like has faded away, and we realize this is a good thing. I’m also rather proud of what Augsburg has become since we were there,” he says.
“I’m very impressed with what they’re doing. They’re incredibly inclusive, and service to the world around us is ingrained in them, just as it was ingrained in us,” Peterson adds.
Five decades ago, Augsburg seemed trapped by its confinement in the city, with no place to grow and all the action shifting to the suburbs, Benson explains. Since then, however, it “has embraced its role as a city school and has become a good neighbor and resource. This gift will help the Class of 1968 say both ‘thank you’ and ‘bravo’ to Augsburg.
To hear Karen Johnson ’66 speak about her longtime Augsburg friend, Joyce Pfaff ’65, it’s easy to understand what led her to make a commitment to start an endowment fund in Joyce’s honor. Her admiration for Joyce runs deep. While Joyce and Karen met as students at Augsburg, the story of how Karen found her way to Augsburg serves as an example in fiscal discipline and vision.
“I am an only child. My mother lived through the depression and she wanted me to go to the U of M. When I was in first grade she opened a bank account for me and set aside one quarter a week. I was not to spend one penny of that money.”
Karen goes on,” By the time I got to high school we had saved $800, the same as Augsburg’s tuition at the time. I was not excited about the prospect of attending the U. In fact, it scared me right out of my tree! I visited Augsburg and felt welcome there. My mother wondered why I would spend all that money on my first year of college. But she realized it was my choice.”
That was the year Karen met Joyce at Augsburg.
Creating Memories Together at Augsburg
“We both lived at home as tuition money was tight and it was a good option. Darryl Carter from Columbia Heights also lived at home. Darryl and his old Chevy would make the Northeast Minneapolis rounds to pick up Joyce, myself and four others every day. We paid him a minimal amount of maybe $1 a week for that ride. It seemed like his car was held together with nothing but wire and duct tape. We pushed it out of snow drifts during many winter storms,” she laughed. “We were really bunched into that car, but it got us through.”
“We met our physical education instructor Mrs. LaVonne Peterson (Mrs. Pete), who was Joyce’s first mentor. She was our fun teacher. She inspired in all her students the attitude that movement and activity were not only fun and important now, but also for life. She was herself, an inspiration.”
“Modern dancing was not allowed at Augsburg in those days so we had square dances and all school group activities designed by Mrs. Pete and organized by students in the physical education department. She was the only female physical education professor at Augsburg in the 60s and the women had only one sport, basketball. They were called Auggiettes or Little Auggies. What the heck is that?”
Karen studied Elementary Education with a minor in Physical Education. Joyce majored in Physical Education. After they graduated Joyce returned to Augsburg where Judy Olson, another of their classmates, was already teaching. According to Karen, the college was looking for a gymnastics instructor. Joyce was it. Little did they know how that hire would work out.
“Joyce didn’t really have any gymnastics experience but she put a team together. It was the first sport she coached. They were terrible, but they all learned a lot and had a good experience. And Joyce made sure they got their due.”
The Dawn of Title IX
This was before the advent of the federal law declaring that women must have equal access to sports. Joyce Pfaff pioneered the meaning of that law before it was enacted.
According to Karen, “If the men’s teams got money to go on a bus, the women had to find the money to get themselves to their competitions. Joyce was all for physical education equality. Whether an athlete or not, her mission was to make sure that women at Augsburg had all the opportunities to participate and better themselves.”
Then along came Title IX. And Karen reports, “Joyce ran with it!”
One of the stories she tells in Joyce’s efforts to equalize athletics for women is a story of running.
“She would invite the Dean to run with her. She’d run with him until he was breathing hard and she thought he was ready for serious talk or he was out of time. Then she would ask him for money or improvements for women’s programs. It often worked.”
For Joyce, physical education was both physical and mental. She advocated that everyone was a student first, then an athlete, and everyone should reward his or her body with exercise.
“She never wavered from her mission and vision that athletics or activity are for everyone. She made a big dent on the men. Over the years she had many encounters with the men’s programs and scheduling. Her positive and sometimes courageous attitude helped build the women’s athletic program of today. She never gave up!”
Giving in Joyce’s Honor
The idea to make a gift to Augsburg to honor Joyce came recently.
In Karen’s words, “Initially, I thought I would keep my estate planning idea to myself. But then I learned about Great Returns -the effort to increase Augsburg’s endowment and I thought, I can help do that! So I met with a committee of Joyce supporters, plus Donna McLean (of the Augsburg Advancement team) and Jeff Swenson ’79 (Athletic Director) and made it official. I’m giving a portion of my estate to help fund the Joyce Pfaff ’65 Endowment fund!”
The goal for the fund is to add $500,000 to the endowment.
Karen summed it up, “Joyce has dedicated her life’s work to all the women of Augsburg to improve their lives through physical education and movement. Her passion for the importance of lifetime activity and women’s sports can live on through this endowment. The goal of the fund will help convey to all students and faculty the importance of healthy exercise and to include it in their lifelong activity. The endowment gives us a chance to recognize Joyce’s efforts and encourage more people to follow her example.”
“It takes a long time to create success and business is no exception,” says Dean Sundquist ’81, an Augsburg Regent and chairman and CEO of Mate Precision Tooling. “I’m investing in the long view and success of Augsburg.”
As a businessman and entrepreneur, Dean Sundquist ’81 and his wife Amy have made several major investments in Augsburg. Their most recent commitment will add to the Augsburg endowment as a leadership gift to Great Returns: Augsburg’s Sesquicentennial Campaign. Great Returns will support Augsburg’s mission by securing gifts to strategic priorities including endowments, distinctive faculty, and key programs. The Sundquists’ gift will endow the third professorship for Augsburg in the largest department at the University.
“The things I was looking for when I went to college are still relevant to the reasons I invest in Augsburg. I wanted a smaller school in the city. Minneapolis is a good city for business. Being so close to downtown offered me access along with a close community feeling on campus. That continues to be a competitive edge for Augsburg.”
In addition, Dean appreciates the importance of great teaching and faculty.
“As a student I majored in and loved business. Yet the most influential professor for me was a political scientist, Myles Stenshoel. He taught constitutional law which drew me in. He taught me how to write, to love history, and to understand and embrace freedom. Those lessons stayed with me through graduate school and in my life as a businessman.”
Investing in Business
While working at Mate Precision Tooling in the time between Augsburg and the University of Minnesota, Dean was asked to research a product that Mate found hard to get. “Then we realized we could make it ourselves just as well. So we started Command Tooling Systems to do that. I sold that company in 1997.”
“At first the business was just me, and then it grew. We kept our focus on a customer and market orientation. We’ve been able to maintain stable growth and that keeps me interested. I love the whole discipline of business.”
Investing in the department of Business Administration is a dream of Dean’s.
“Business Administration is the largest department with the most majors on campus. Business is a positive and good for society. I’m investing in promoting the power of capitalism. I want the faculty who hold this position to be pro-capitalism, pro-business, and pro-freedom.”
According to Monica Devers, Dean of Professional Studies, “An Augsburg education is based on excellence in the liberal arts and professional studies. This generous gift from Dean Sundquist to create an endowed professorship will play a significant role in recruiting and retaining the very best faculty to our Business Administration department at Augsburg.”
“Augsburg University has a long tradition of highly engaged teachers and scholars. Recruitment of the best faculty supports and enhances our academic excellence and that, in turn, attracts students to our institution. This endowed professorship will elevate the visibility of the faculty and the unique aspects of our undergraduate and graduate business programs.”
As a Regent Dean keeps his attention on building a great future for Augsburg.
“I see the Augsburg leadership team rising to the challenges of higher education. President Paul Pribbenow keeps learning new ways to work. He has done really well to stay aggressive and to invest in going to the next step. The fundamentals are in place. I have a lot of faith in the way Augsburg is moving forward. They do a lot with the resources they have. I say to others, Take Note! Augsburg has worked hard to position itself. They are on the edge in a good way. There’s no coasting at Augsburg and I like that. I say, let’s keep the momentum going and keep our foot on the gas!”
One of Dean’s hopes in making this major gift to Augsburg is that it will encourage others to make similar and even more significant gifts.
“Other places have gotten really big gifts to their endowments—gifts of $25 million or more. I want Augsburg to receive more transformative gifts because an Augsburg education is a transformative one.”
Department chair Dr. Jeanne Boeh declared, “Dean is a superior role model for our students as they begin their vocations with a career in business. We thank him for the hard work and vision which has enabled this very much appreciated gift.”
Karen (Miller) Durant ’81 grew up just 4 miles from Augsburg.
“My parents met at a Swedish Lutheran Church that I then attended with my entire extended family. I was four when I started playing the piano and then became a church organist at the age of 12. My parents did not attend college. That makes me a first generation college graduate. I paid my own way through school with the money I made as an organist and from working two additional part-time jobs.”
The discipline and work ethic that allowed her to pay her way through to an Augsburg degree informs every aspect of Karen’s life. She recently retired from a distinguished career in business, most recently as Vice President and Controller of Tennant Company.
”Given the way I got to Augsburg, you may have assumed I majored in Music, but I majored in Accounting with a minor in Economics. There are more similarities between music and accounting than you may think. There is a lot of counting involved in both, but less obvious is the balance one must find between creative expression and rules. Great musical masterpieces are written in a certain key and have a certain time signature. In my career as a financial executive I became known for my creativity and technical knowledge.”
Karen brings this distinctive expertise to her work as chair of the Audit Committee and vice chair of the Finance Committee of the Board of Regents. It’s in these roles that she’s come to understand the intricacies of finance within higher education.
“When I joined the Board of Regents in the fall of 2011 I got to see what happens behind the scenes. I worked on the audit and finance committees and went through the financials in great detail. It’s really a bird’s eye view. Sometimes we have to make tough choices. Getting the CSBR campaign completed has done so much for our momentum.”
“I want to see that momentum continue to grow.”
That’s one reason she decided to participate in building the endowment of Augsburg by making an unrestricted cash leadership gift to Great Returns: Augsburg’s Sesquicentennial Campaign. Great Returns will support Augsburg’s mission by securing gifts to strategic priorities including endowments, distinctive faculty, and key programs.
“My career in finance coupled with my deep knowledge of the university is how I came to learn the importance of unrestricted cash giving. This type of gift provides the highest level of financial flexibility because it not only grows the endowment, it also benefits Augsburg’s overall financial position. I’m completely comfortable and confident that the University will use the money in the most effective way for years to come.”
One reason Karen is so enthused about the future of the University is because of the core values that brought her to Augsburg in the first place.
“When I first arrived on campus, I came knowing through my Lutheran faith that all are welcome. The whole campus has always expressed our Lutheran identity and that all are welcome. Augsburg has evolved and changed to meet the needs of diverse populations. By successfully finding that balance of individual identity and all are welcome, Augsburg continues to be a healthy and relevant institution. It’s something very special.”
In making this gift to Great Returns, Karen is matching the level of commitment she made to the Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion campaign.
“I have the utmost faith and confidence in Augsburg University and I trust they will manage all unrestricted endowments in the most effective way for all the years to come. Augsburg is one of the best investments in higher education today. It is a great investment in the future.”
Karen Durant is a financial executive and has been an Augsburg Regent since 2011.
No college student ever completes their education without assistance—assistance that is tangible, real, visible, and often unseen. Most students make it through their educational experience with financial support—and scholarship support can make all the difference in a student’s experience. More than 23 Augsburg students have received scholarship support through the Reverend John Hjelmeland Scholarship endowment and know this first hand.
Aware of the essential need for scholarship support for students, the Hjelmeland family created an endowed scholarship fund in 1986 to honor its patriarch, Reverend John Hjelmeland.
Reverend John Hjelmeland was the first of the Hjelmeland family to arrive in Minnesota. He left Norway to follow the call of the Lutheran Free Church and the promise of the Augsburg seal: Through Truth to Freedom. He became a student at what was then known as Augsburg Theological Seminary from which he was graduated in 1911. As a Lutheran minister, John went on to serve congregations in the Midwest and West. His influence infused the whole family with a love of the Lutheran traditions of service and stewardship.
John’s son, Sigvald Hjelmeland, was the next family member to graduate from Augsburg, class of ’41. In 1952, he was invited by then president Bernhard Christensen to return to Augsburg and raise money for the building of a library. Through his efforts and the generosity of many donors, Augsburg exceeded its goals for the library fund drive in 1955. Sig played a role in establishing the first development office at Augsburg. Over the next 30 years he worked to raise funds for the college. Major campaigns he led included the completion of the George Sverdrup Library, Christensen Center, Urness Hall, and Foss Center. He retired in 1982 and remained engaged with the college. He was awarded the Spirit of Augsburg Award in 2003. He died at age 90 having lived a full life in the spirit of the call.
Many other family members have attended and graduated from Augsburg including Sig and his wife Helen’s daughter, Laurene Hjelmeland Clarke ’64; son John ’70 and his wife Lynn Benson Hjelmeland ’69; and granddaughter, Jennifer Hjelmeland ’00.
The scholarship fund was established with two kinds of students in mind. It gives awards to immigrant students who continue the long tradition and value of the college to serve the immigrant; it also funds students from legacy families like theirs.
The family continues to add to the scholarship endowment and expand the impact and legacy of the first Hjelmeland who came to America so long ago to combine faith and freedom through an Augsburg education.
For more information on scholarships and ways to give to Great Returns: Augsburg’s Sesquicentennial Campaign, contact Heather Riddle, Vice President for Advancement, at 612-330-1177 or email@example.com
“I was the first person on both sides of the family not to go to Augsburg,” said Phil Formo with a smile. “My mother met my father in chemistry class there. She was in nursing and needed help with it, and he was good in chemistry. They also both sang in the first Augsburg choir concert that ever took place, after the men’s chorus and the women’s chorus merged.”
Phil’s parents, Jerome and Winifred, both class of 1937, were extremely dedicated to Augsburg and stayed deeply involved in all things Auggie throughout their lifetimes. Jerome served as a Regent in the late 60s, was active as a Regent Emeritus, and also was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983.
Phil reports it was an easy choice to designate proceeds from his parents’ estate in 2009 to establish the Jerome and Winifred Formo Scholarship for music majors or those with a strong interest in choral music directing. More than eight students have benefited from this endowed fund, but it was not the first Formo scholarship. That distinction belongs to the David J. Formo Scholarship, which was established in 1979 and is awarded annually to a junior or senior student who has successfully overcome adversity to achieve academic and extracurricular excellence.
Phil reports it made great sense to make gifts to support endowed scholarships at Augsburg. His parents demonstrated the power generosity as a way to remember their son and Phil’s brother and carry on his legacy.
“Seeing the way our giving has led to a better future for so many students inspires us to do more. It’s great to meet the scholarship recipients and hear their stories. We’re thrilled each time we hear the influence the scholarship has had on their lives and their ability to attend Augsburg. It’s very satisfying.”
For a short video that tells more about the Formo scholarships and others, watch here:
Contact Heather Riddle, Vice President for Advancement, at 612-330-1177 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on scholarships and ways to give to Great Returns: Augsburg’s Sesquicentennial Campaign.
Dr. Carol LaHurd and Dr. Ryan LaHurd—a couple whom many Auggies will remember with gratitude and respect
—have recently made an endowed gift to Augsburg through a bequest for the MAL (Master of Arts in Leadership) program. Both LaHurds have spent most of their lives in higher education, and Ryan LaHurd served as Augsburg’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College from 1985 to 1994. He was, in fact, instrumental in creating the MAL program.
Having served in various higher education settings throughout their professional lives, the LaHurds made this commitment because they feel that Augsburg University “stands out as an institution that truly lives out its mission”…preparing future leaders who are committed to the good of all people, dealing with the challenges (and benefits) of the urban environment, and making higher education truly accessible to people of many different backgrounds and abilities.
These are values by which the LaHurds have been guided as well, and therefore readily embrace. In their view, many institutions have stated a goal of a diverse student body, but Augsburg has actually built and nurtured a system of support to make success possible for students—a long-term effort that was expensive in energy and money, and one that remains a strong and impressive commitment.
Ryan LaHurd—whose professional life in higher education has also included positions at Allentown College, Thiel College, and Lenoir-Rhyne University (where he served as president)—later served as executive director of the Near East Foundation, a private, nonprofit development agency in New York. Between 1981 and 1993, he was afforded rich international experiences through three Fulbright Senior Fellowships—teaching American literature and culture at the University of Damascus, Syria; studying higher education in the Federal Republic of Germany; and teaching American literature and conducting research at the University of Sana’a, Yemen.
Most recently, at the James S. Kemper Foundation, Ryan LaHurd oversaw a comprehensive talent identification and leadership development program (which included scholarships, coaching, internships, and mentoring), designed to shape well-rounded future business leaders, particularly for the insurance industry. This work represented a bit of a shift in his career, and since retiring as the Foundation’s president in May 2016, he has been considering the idea of writing a book or article to help college students bridge their education to the world of work, drawing parallels with his own learnings and experiences in building a bridge from his years in academia to his work at the Kemper Foundation.
A conversation with Ryan LaHurd will likely lead at some point to his two professional passions—church-related higher education, and involvement with international issues, especially the Middle East. One particularly gratifying experience stands out in his memory, when the two intersected. During his time at Augsburg, he was invited to do an interview on the local public radio station, and explain the history of conflict in the Middle East stemming from World War I. The interview led to numerous educational presentations, including a large anti-war rally on the University of Minnesota campus. As an Arab American, Ryan found the ensuing conversations very meaningful, not only in terms of melding his career as a teacher with his experience in and study of the Middle East, but also of helping others gain a greater understanding of the role Great Britain and France played in laying foundations for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and moving beyond the perception that the problems stem from Arabs’ being a conflict-prone people.
Though the LaHurds have found a slightly different pace in retirement, their days are full, especially as they provide care two days a week for their almost-three-year-old grandson (and soon, also, his new baby sister). Ryan says he finds great joy, excitement, and personal growth in being able to experience his grandson’s view of things—and this has helped him understand why Jesus said we need to become like little children. Recently, he completed an article called “The Spirituality of Grandparenting,” which he hopes to have published.
Since the LaHurds moved to Chicago in 2006, Carol LaHurd taught religion at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) for ten years. Since then, she has adjusted her commitments to align with the demands of doing half-time child care. She continues to be a volunteer educational outreach consultant for LSTC’s Center of Christian-Muslim Relations for Peace and Justice. Between 2006 and 2011, she coordinated efforts by staff in various ELCA units to achieve the three main goals of the Middle East peace strategy adopted by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2005—accompaniment, awareness, and advocacy.
These days, she is mainly writing and speaking about how we Americans can better understand Islam and Muslims, and more positively engage religious others. She has written a year-long Bible study for ELCA’s Gather magazine, and serves as a member of ELCA’s Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Muslim Relations and the Inter-Religious Task Force to draft “A Declaration of Our Inter-Religious Commitment: A Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” She also served as lead editor and one of the authors for the 2016 book, Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves: A Lutheran Calling in a Multi-Religious World.
As she reflects on changing and evolving attitudes among students at LSTC, as well as in her earlier teaching experiences at Fordham University, Wake Forest University, and the University of St. Thomas, she says she sees hopeful signs in the increasing student interest in, and passion for, relating Christian theology and ethics to social justice issues—as well as for engaging people of other religious traditions, first as students and then as church leaders. She takes heart that people of faith are “speaking out and taking joint action on social justice issues that connect directly to shared religious commitments, such as welcoming the stranger, caring for the earth, and seeking constructive relationships among those of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.”
Though we live in rather pessimistic times, the LaHurds say they see the most hopeful signs on a smaller scale, notably in the work of nongovernmental groups and religious organizations, and in their commitment to bring people together across religious and ethnic lines, helping them to build solid economies and peaceful communities.