Regent Karen Durant ’81 Invests in the Power of Unrestricted Giving

Karen Durant at the Hagfors groundbreaking ceremony.
Karen Durant at the Hagfors Center groundbreaking ceremony.

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.

A Legacy Augsburg Family Creates a Lasting Gift: The Reverend John Hjelmeland Scholarship Fund Continues to Grow

Hjelmeland family in the mid 1920s with Rev. John Hjelmeland pictured far right
Hjelmeland family in the mid 1920s with Rev. John Hjelmeland pictured far right.

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.

Hjelmeland family in 2018
Hjelmeland family in 2018.

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

Investing in students: Building a lasting legacy

“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  for more information on scholarships and ways to give to Great Returns: Augsburg’s Sesquicentennial Campaign.

LaHurds Make Bequest to MAL Program

A photo of the LaHurds and their grandchildren.
The LaHurds with their grandchildren in Palm Desert in June 2017. (L-R Adila, Amar, Mateo, and Tecún. Missing is Anaya, born Dec 5, 2017.)

Dr. Carol LaHurd and Dr. Ryan LaHurd—a couple whom many Auggies will remember with gratitude and respect

A photo of Carol and Ryan LaHurd
Carol and Ryan LaHurd in Wales, U.K.

—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.

–by Cheryl Crockett ‘89

Trinity Lutheran Scholarship honors George Sverdrup Michaelsen ’31

Kristine (Michaelsen) Wickens ’73 says Trinity Lutheran Congregation and Augsburg University have been inseparable for a long time. She should know: Her family tree includes two Augsburg presidents, great grandfather Georg Sverdrup (1876-1907) and his son, George Sverdrup (1911-1937), and five generations of Trinity members and leaders. In 1993, Trinity celebrated its 125th anniversary by creating the Trinity Lutheran Scholarship at Augsburg. The endowed scholarship also remembers life-long Trinity member George Sverdrup Michaelsen ’31, Kristine’s father. Michaelsen, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota, was president of Trinity, chairman of the board of Lutheran Deaconess Hospital, and chair of the Augsburg Board of Regents. The scholarship fund was later augmented with an estate gift from Michaelsen’s sisters, Katherine and Else Michaelsen ’31.

Serving immigrants since 1868

The Trinity–Augsburg connection goes back to 1868, when Norwegian and Danish immigrants formed Trinity Lutheran. The congregation soon built a small wooden church at the corner of 12th Avenue and 3rd Street South, where US Bank Stadium now stands. Trinity leaders encouraged Augsburg Seminary to move from Wisconsin to the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in 1872, and their collaboration led to the creation of Lutheran Deaconess Hospital in 1888. The trio of institutions became indispensible to the immigrant community, and by the 1890s Trinity had over 1,200 members. In 1897, Trinity earned the nickname, “The Mother of the Free Church,” when Trinity, Augsburg and a handful of other congregations formed the Lutheran Free Church, a group of independent congregations committed to congregational autonomy and personal Christianity.

“Homeless congregation” finds a place at Augsburg

In 1966, Trinity’s 1000-seat building on 20th Avenue was demolished to make way for I-94 construction. “Rather than disbanding, the congregation accepted offers from Riverside Presbyterian Church and then Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church for worship and office space,” explains Wickens. “There was a tremendous commitment to Cedar-Riverside, just as Augsburg has always been committed to its inner-city location and community.” Augsburg began providing Trinity with worship space in the 1990s. The two institutions and other partners host community suppers at Trinity’s common space, and Augsburg students volunteer at Trinity’s drop-in tutoring program for K-12 students from the neighborhood, many of whom are Muslim immigrants.

Campus Connections

The lives of the Sverdrup and Michaelsen families have been intertwined with Augsburg and Trinity for five generations. “The campus was so familiar to me,” remembers Kristine, who grew up six blocks from campus. “Everything we did had some kind of Augsburg or Trinity connection.” She remembers visiting her grandmother, Else Sverdrup Michaelsen (Georg’s daughter) who, after the death of her husband Michael Michaelsen ’xx continued to live on campus until her own death in 1965. Today, Kristine and two of her siblings, Jennifer (Michaelsen) Windingstad ’67 and George Michaelsen II, remain members of Trinity. Another sister, Mary (Michaelsen) Garmer ’69 and her husband Reverend Gregory Garmer ’68 live in Duluth. Peter Windingstad studied at Augsburg before transferring to the University of Wisconsin. Many members of the family are donors to Augsburg.

Looking back on the two institutions’ shared history, Kristine sees theirs as a story of immigration; from the Scandinavians of the 19th century to the East African and other immigrants living in the Cedar-Riverside area today, and all those in between. “My family were immigrants,” she says. “It’s essential that we welcome new people, include them in our lives and help them get established.”


A Deep Augsburg Connection

Jon Thorpe’s connections with Augsburg run deep and across many generations. So it’s not surprising that in thinking about the gift of art he and his wife, Dr. Suzette Peltier M.D., made to the Art and Identity initiative for the Hagfors Center, they decided to do something that honored the Thorpe family’s deep rivers of ancestry.

“My father, Rev. Gordon Thorpe ’52, and mother, Gloria (Parizek) Thorpe ’53, met at Augsburg.Jon Thorpe
“My grandfather on my father’s side, Antone Julius Thorpe, was born in 1895 and was very Norwegian, born to immigrants. His education never went beyond 8th grade, but somehow both of his children attended Augsburg (Gordon Thorpe ’52 (Jon’s father) and Glenn Thorpe ’56(Jon’s uncle)). Antone was a man of modest means, a dairy farmer living in central Wisconsin. But he understood the importance of an education.

“I have a very early memory of our family gifting to Augsburg through a gift of property. I was around seven years old when I heard the story.

“In 1960 Antone purchased a piece of lake property to enjoy in his retirement. It was a large enough property to create some additional lake lots to sell, but he also wanted to support the mission of Augsburg. A friend of his, Miss Elvie, walked the lakefront and chose two lake lots for her cabin, which Antone first gifted to Augsburg, then Miss Elvie purchased her lots from Augsburg. If there is a will to give, there is a way – he didn’t have much cash, but he had property.”

Jon reports that upon his death, his grandfather, Antone, left a modest endowment to his church to fund scholarships to Lutheran colleges for children of Bethany Lutheran, a rural church just east of Wausau which was founded by his father, and Jon’s great-grandfather, Karl Thorpe.

“Over time the endowment has grown. Because such a small church congregation did not have the resources to be the best stewards of the investment, Augsburg generously took on management of this endowment, and it is still managed by Augsburg to this day to fund scholarships for Bethany students to attend any institutions related to the Lutheran Free Church tradition.”

Jon commented, “I know that my father Gordon and my uncle Glenn Thorpe then created an additional Thorpe Family Scholarship endowment specific to Augsburg to be used at Augsburg’s discretion.”

On the day Jon spoke about his passion for art and Augsburg and his family’s recent gift, he noted the significance of the date.

“It’s an auspicious day. Today is All Saints Day! Yesterday was All Hallows Eve, along with Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther ostensibly nailed his manifesto to the church doors. And tomorrow will be All Souls Day. Together all three days form the triduum of “Allhallowtide”. In many Hispanic cultures, this is also Dia De Los Muertos, the three days when many Hispanic cultures honor the dead. I see these three days as holding great significance relative to the art work we funded for the Psychology Department.”

“I see these three days as reflecting the power of transformation, renewal, and reformation. I see Augsburg as a Lutheran institution that has embraced these themes to include many cultures in its purpose and focus.”

When Jon and Suzette saw the artwork by artist Tina Tavera they were excited; it speaks to themes present in the study of the human mind, of our individual psychology, while also connecting culturally to the notion of celebrating our ancestry. Jon was serving on the Augsburg Art and Identity task force to determine both the ways art would infuse and inform the new building, and the range of artists whose work would be added, through sponsorships, to the building.

As the artist says, “My woodblock illustrations are meant to document narratives often told for centuries orally, and without visual representation as time passes, some may otherwise be lost.”

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions focused on understanding, explaining and predicting human behavior, emotions and mental processes. The six woodblock prints represent universal concepts in psychology with an emphasis on those areas within Augsburg: clinical/counseling, social, biopsychology, developmental, cognitive, law and forensic. (link to artist statement and images?)

“We can choose to remember where we’ve come from and who has come before us. One of our relatives, the late Dr. Neil Thorpe, taught science here at Augsburg when my sister, Dr. Amy Jo Thorpe Swenson studied here in the 1970’s. She met her husband Rick Swenson here at Augsburg. My late mother Gloria met my father here. Recently, it was also the 60th anniversary of my father Rev. Gordon Thorpe’s ordination from Augsburg Seminary, and we hosted a class reunion here on campus in the very room these seminarians studied in all those years ago.

“My father was thrilled when our son, Rennesoy Peltier Thorpe, decided to attend Augsburg.

Suzette and I are so excited we could make this gift of art to celebrate and honor his 2017 graduation with a bio-psych major.”

Making our gift in his honor let’s us make explicit how excited we are to be a multi-generational family of Auggies.

A Strong Belief in Education

Eric BEric Browning Larsen in Tuscanyrowning-Larsen ’75 believes in education. That belief is strong, persistent, and broad, compelling him to champion learning that takes root in college but continues to grow through travel, career challenges, and creative pursuits. Already a contributor to the Mary E. Larsen International Studies Scholarship and the Murphy Square Literary Award, Browning-Larsen has designated estate gifts to benefit both causes.

Mary E. Larsen is Browning-Larsen’s mother, a feisty 92-year-old who still lives on her own in Park Rapids, the small town where Browning-Larsen was born and raised. Widowed when her husband died in his early ‘30s, she worked for more than 30 years in customer service at Minnesota Power, then retired to her lake home, where she continued to do the yard work and maintenance well into her 80s. Although she did not go to college, she imbued her son with global curiosity, perhaps through their subscription to National Geographic and her opinionated, and continuing, monitoring of current events around the world.

Browning-Larsen chose Augsburg for simple reasons. “I wanted to go to the big city. And my father was a Lutheran,” he says, noting with a chuckle that his mother was a Methodist, but he didn’t hold that against her. As a freshman, he embraced numerous activities, serving in the student senate, becoming editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and editor of the Murphy Square Journal, and participating in politics and the anti-war movement. His busy extracurricular schedule left little time for travel, but that soon changed.

His business ambition led him to combine a master’s degree in industrial relations from the University of Minnesota with a law degree from then William Mitchell (now Mitchell Hamline) School of Law. After his first year of law school, he participated in an international study program at Oxford University.

“I enjoyed it so much I went back the following summer, to Exeter. One of my scholarship goals is to encourage people to study abroad, which is an education in and of itself. Fortunately, I had that opportunity early on,” he says. “Travel is a wonderful educational experience. You hear other languages, you meet people from different cultural backgrounds, and you learn what works well in other countries. I have been traveling nonstop ever since.”

Browning-Larsen’s corporate career in human resources included stints at The Toro Company, Graco, and Comserv in Minneapolis and Eddie Bauer in Seattle. He was vice president of international operations for Flow International, which took him to Europe one month and Asia the next. In his late 30s, he left the corporate world to start his own Asia-focused management consulting firm, which he headed for eight years. He also launched several Great Clips for Hair beauty salon franchises in the Pacific Northwest during this period, and somehow found time to write a book, Lucky at Love: Stories and Essays from Asia, which perhaps inspired some of his scholarship generosity.

“I want to encourage people who are doing creative writing, and the Murphy Square Literary Award is a way of providing some recognition for them,” Browning-Larsen says. “I also see higher education as a chance to level the playing field for people. Not everyone was born a Trump.”

After the 9/11 attacks, when the economy forced an end to his gig with a wireless software start-up company, he became a foreign service specialist with the State Department and was posted to Bosnia, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Iraq, and Italy. Currently serving in Rome as the senior human resources officer for U.S. embassies, Browning-Larsen hopes to do more writing when he retires next January. He is also looking forward to hiking, gardening, political activism, and, yes, more international travel. Call it continuing education, a passion he aims to pass along through his scholarships.

“I benefitted from the education I received at Augsburg, and I have a sense of obligation, a need to give back. My objective is also to provide more than I received,” he says. “Over time, I hope that other people will benefit as well.”

The Dr. Grace Dyrud Scholarship

Some Augsburg University scholarships are endowed to honor a favorite professor. Some endowments come from happy transfer students who became generous graduates. Others represent a legacy that bridges generations of Auggies. And some, like the Dr. Grace Dyrud scholarship, are all of the above.

Lars Dyrud ’97 virtually grew up on the Augsburg campus, taking violin lessons and hanging out in his mother’s office after school. Until she retired in 2015, his mother, Dr. Grace Dyrud, was a psychology professor and department chair. Widely respected by her colleagues, she was known for her research on gambling and attitude toward the environment, her early support of feminism, and her deep commitment to her students. She taught at Augsburg for more than five decades, and her reverence for the institution was not lost on her children.

“All five of my brothers and sisters graduated from Augsburg. I think it was required by law,” jokes Lars, who also notes that Dyruds could well take up an entire page in the alumni directory. Other alumni include his father, an uncle or two, even great uncles—about 30 all together, he estimates. But Lars chose Augsburg for more than legacy reasons.

“I had wanted to be an astLars, Mocha Dyrudronaut, but my corrective lenses kept me out of the program. So I decided to study space science instead,” he says. He became a student and fan of Professor Mark Engebretson, director of Augsburg’s Center for Atmospheric and Space Sciences. After earning his BA in physics, a Fulbright scholarship in space physics at the University of Oslo, and a Ph.D. in astronomy from Boston University, Lars embarked on a challenging career in science. He holds two patents and is currently senior vice president of machine learning for EagleView, an aerial imagery and data analytics company.

Of course Lars met his wife at Augsburg, too. Mocha Dyrud ’97 transferred to Augsburg after her first years at the University of Minnesota, where such classes as introduction to psychology, with 1200 students, left her wanting a smaller academic environment where she could better connect with faculty and peers. She encountered Lars during her first semester, in their introduction to theology class. “We definitely noticed each other. I could tell by his comments that he was interesting and smart, but I was too scared to say more than a few words to him. He felt the same way,” she says. Lars remembers first noticing her as “the beautiful girl whose homework the professor kept reading aloud as an example of ‘perfect.’”

With a little help from friends, the two finally got together. Professor Engebretson later co-officiated at their wedding. Lars points out that his father, the other co-officiant’s father, and the father of his best man knew each other at Augsburg. “It’s all interwoven,” he says.

Like Grace, Mocha is a psychology professor, now at Northern Virginia Community College. She notes that the scholarship, initiated by Grace’s former student, Neil Paulson ’77, is designated for a female psychology student. “Grace really gave the majority of her teaching career to Augsburg. Endowing the scholarship seemed like a perfect way to honor that, while also helping students financially,” she says.

“We are particularly excited about the new Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion and the pre-eminence this institution has developed. Augsburg has the best science, math, and physics program in the region,” adds Lars. The Hagfors Center will house the psychology department.

Lars and Mocha live in Virginia with their two children, Finn, 13, and Eli, 10, who enjoy visits from their grandmother. Since retiring, Grace has been busy traveling, pursuing her passions for art and music, and dropping in to see the far-flung Dyrud grandchildren. And who knows? Some of them just may become that next generation of Auggies.



Regents Fund a Welcoming Entry to New Building

President Pribbenow addressing the Regents on a Hagfors Center tour
President Pribbenow addressing the Regents on a Hagfors Center tour.

In the regular course of doing its work, members of the Augsburg Board of Regents hear many presentations: presentations that help them shape their decisions about budget, strategic plans, academic priorities, and community engagement. One such presentation caught the imagination of Regent Diane Jacobson.

“We’d been focused on the designs and construction of the Hagfors Center and how it would proceed since the funding for the building was secured. Everyone on the board had been so generous already. Then we heard from the Art and Identity Task Force and its initiative to infuse art in the building. I found it a very thoughtful project, designed to add a special dimension to the disciplines in the building. (art and identity link)

“A few of us thought, it would be wonderful if, as a board, we could do something in the arts for the building. We thought the idea of a welcoming floor was so wonderful.”

The welcoming floor described by Diane is a design proposed by artists Stanley Sears and Andrea Myklebust. Made of terrazzo, the floor’s design elements include references to cycles of the economy, organic chemistry, living water, a heartbeat, and music in harmony. (watch Stan Sears explain terrazzo and how it is made: link)

Diane and the other Regents noted their appreciation of the task force’s efforts to choose artists whose work illuminated the goals and ideals of the building, the intersection of disciplines, and Augsburg’s connection to the community.

“The building insists on being a marriage of disciplines. Not disciplines others would naturally put together. To be welcoming people as a Lutheran university, that is what we should be doing! The Art and Identity Initiative raises up the relationship between disciples, something that invites the entire community into the building to celebrate it together.”

It was very important for the Regents as a whole to embed key principles and values the building brings to the institution.

“As regents we are deeply thankful for the generosity that has led us to the opening of this building and all it represents. We chose a passage from the Bible for the plaque that will recognize the contributors to the floor. We want to communicate the idea of walking in beauty as one path to community.”

The passage chosen is from Psalms. “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth…” (Psalm 86:11)

Diane Jacobson has served as a Regent for two years and chairs its Academic Affairs Committee. She is a friend of the University, rather than an alumna, and brings to the Regents her experiences serving as a professor of Old Testament for Luther Seminary and as the leader of the Book of Faith Initiative for the ELCA.

She is energized by the Augsburg and its direction.

“There’s a way in which Augsburg is coming into its own as a significant academic community, both here and across the country. It’s making deep commitment to science and the arts, to multiculturalism, to an open community. The building is designed to function that way—from the way it relates to the gardens and to the community. I am excited by the way we keep our identity as a Lutheran University with it also being a welcoming place. I find that exciting!”

Art Meets Science in Hagfors Center

Steve and Sandra BataldenSteve ’67 B.A. and Sandy Batalden say they were attracted to the “Art and Identity” project when they saw the “stunning” work of Amy Rice. Rice’s series, Six Minnesota Wildflowers to Meet and Know, was commissioned by Augsburg University for the Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion. “We immediately liked her work,” explains Sandy, who shares with Rice an appreciation for letterpress printing, which is featured in the works. “Not only is she using original materials in her paintings, but the unusual botanical subject matter seems to fit perfectly in a building intended for the life sciences.” In a recent donor statement, the Bataldens wrote that “beyond botanical accuracy, Amy’s drawings transport us into an entirely new realm as leaves and flowers become frames for musical scores or other chosen text woven into each piece. What a creative, beautiful expression for the university of the twenty-first century!”

Art and Identity

In her artist’s statement, Rice explains that she began her process by hand-drawing and hand-cutting stencils of rare Minnesota plants. “The plants are ‘painted’ in with a variety of antique and vintage paper: maps and plat books of Minnesota counties (I only used maps from counties where the plants are actually found), Norwegian-language liturgy from the 1870s, sheet music, handwritten letters from early Minnesotans, homework, biology textbooks and early Augsburg ephemera.” She notes that her interest in native plants connects to her Christian faith tradition. “It is the sacred trust we have been given to be stewards of our Earth. My Grandpa Ed, a seventh generation Midwestern farmer, knew the names of every plant on his large farm. He didn’t own them; he was responsible for them.” That, she wrote, was one way he modeled faith in action.

Beauty and Inspiration

Steve notes that the timeliness of the “Art and Identity” project captured his own and Sandy’s imagination. “We are living in a deeply troublesome and dangerous Trump era when, especially here in the Arizona southwest, walls are political symbols meant to divide sharply and impose barriers. What a wonderful idea for Hagfors Center to refashion walls as settings for beauty and inspiration!”
Augsburg commissioned Six Minnesota Wildflowers and works by other artists to express its core identity, grounded in durable faith, inclusion, and experiential learning. “Great universities manage to nurture creative artistic production alongside scientific discovery,” say the Bataldens, who have spent their careers in higher education. Steve is professor emeritus of Russian history and founding director of the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies at Arizona State University. Sandy is a retired university librarian, bibliographer, and scholarly book editor.