Bruce Olson ’71 Pays it Forward with Olson Peterson Wiggins Scholarship

Bruce Olson '71, his brother Brad Olson '73, and scholarship recipient Nick Thompson
Bruce Olson ’71 (center), his brother Brad Olson ’73 (left), and scholarship recipient Nick Thompson (right).

When Bruce Olson ’71 was a youngster in Brooklyn Center, he was not sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. He was sure of a couple of things, though. Active in the Lutheran church, he knew he wanted to attend a Lutheran college, and he preferred being in the city, where ‘60s activism meant things were happening. He also knew that his rural extended family would support him fully, although they could provide little more than love and encouragement.

“I came from a family of modest means. I needed a lot of help,” says Olson. He was grateful to receive an Augsburg legacy scholarship but wished he could have met his benefactors. “I wondered about the history of it, but I never really knew,” he recalls.

The financial cushion served him well. He participated in student government and played all four years on the golf team, which won both conference and state championships. He changed majors four times, abandoning religion after nearly flunking his first theology class, contemplating a future as a high school math teacher, succumbing to the inverse multiple-choice question challenges in his sociology exams, and, finally, plugging a gap one semester with an accounting class.

“I loved it,” he says.

Accounting became his major and business his forte. Right out of college, he worked for a small mobile home finance company, then Josten’s, then a series of successful entrepreneurial ventures in various fields, from insurance and computer services to light manufacturing and retail. He retired at 45 and moved to Florida to play golf, including with such luminaries as Arnie Palmer, but 10 years of retirement sufficed. Now a Kansas City resident, he is back at it, officially the owner and president of the HRS Group.

“I love the challenge of taking a new idea or a new product and making it work,” he says.

Olson also loves the idea of establishing the Olson Peterson Wiggins Scholarship. It is named for his family, including his grandfather Olson, who owned the five-and-dime back in Afton, Iowa; his grandfather Peterson, the town mechanic and truck and tractor repair whiz in Tracy, Minnesota, where he was born; and his near and dear great uncle Walt Wiggins, Walnut Grove’s town barber, who offered shaves and haircuts there along the banks of Plum Creek. And it will grant $25,000 to someone like him.

Olson was delighted to meet the first recipient, Nick Thompson, when the initial $5,000 installment was awarded. “He’s real nice, an athlete who plays baseball and a reasonably good student who aspires to become a physical therapist. But who knows? I told him I hoped he would be lucky enough to hold onto that dream but reminded him that it would be crazy to guarantee it.”

Olson hopes, too, that Thompson will enjoy the same Augsburg benefits he found: a good education, both academic and social, and important lessons about how to conduct one’s life. He also points to Augsburg’s growth and progress, demonstrated in part by the much-expanded economics and business department in the impressive Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion.

“It’s a pay-it-forward sort of story,” Olson says. “I was lucky to come from a great family, get a good education, and have some success in life. Now I’m finding a way to honor my family by honoring somebody else in the same situation.”

StepUP Gala Raises More Than $425,000

StepUP Students and Alumni

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

 

Toby Labelle Award WinnersThe 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
  • Klobuchar and PribbenowA 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.

“Care is just a word if you don’t act”: Linda Giacomo Invests in Augsburg Women

Linda Giacomo with President PribbenowSometimes 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.”

The Class of 1968 Says ‘Thank You’ to Augsburg Through Their Endowed Scholarship of $75,000 and Growing

The Class of 1968When 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.

Exercising Friendship and Funding Movement: Endowed Fund Established to Honor Joyce Pfaff ’65

Kathie Erbes, Joyce Pfaff, and Karen Johnson
Kathie Erbes ’70, Joyce Pfaff ’65, and Karen Johnson ’66

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.”

Success Leads to Success: Announcing the Sundquist Endowed Professorship in Business Administration for Augsburg University

Dean Sundquist with Greta McClain
Dean Sundquist with Hagfors Center artist Greta McClain in January 2018.

“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.”

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.”

Karen DurantThat’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 riddle@augsburg.edu

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.