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.

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.

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.”

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.

A gift that healed a deep wound

Merton Strommen’s fourth-floor apartment offers a glimpse of his long life. In a corner of the living room is a Steinway, an impulse buy from decades back that the 98-year-old still plays daily. Artifacts from Norway commingle with books. Framed landscapes mix with family portraits on the walls. Clearly, he’s lived a life of music, travel, scholarship, family, and faith. Yet unless you ask about the large painting of the handsome young blond man gazing out over the mountains, you might miss that his life has included tragedy.

The painting is of David, the youngest of Strommen’s five sons, who in 1985 was struck by lightning while leading a youth group in the Colorado Rockies. David’s death catapulted Strommen and his wife, Irene, into a grief that included a strong desire that something meaningful come out of their loss.

They wanted to further the work that their son, a seminarian with a passion for youth, had been pursuing when he died. As both husband and wife had attended Augsburg and sent their five sons there as well, they decided to support training in youth and family ministry at Augsburg. As Merton Strommen put it in Five Cries of Grief, a book he co-wrote with Irene, he could envision “a thousand young men and women taking Dave’s place in a congregation’s youth and family ministry.”

Fundraising began with the 1985 Twin Cities Marathon, as David’s brothers and friends solicited pledges and ran in his place. In 1986, with support from family and friends, the Strommens established the David Huglen Strommen Endowment to support program and faculty development, and scholarships. The fund later grew dramatically with a large gift from Thrivent Financial (then called Lutheran Brotherhood). Today, the endowment is valued at more than $800,000.

A scholarly approach

The fact that youth ministry exists as a field of study and a career option is in large part the work of the elder Strommen, who in the 1940s when he was a young seminarian and pastor noted how little was being done in the church for teenagers. “There were pastors who believed that God’s intent was that young people would come to faith primarily by preaching alone,” he says. “I thought, My gosh, this isn’t responding to where kids are at.” Strommen’s idea was to allow youth to ask questions about the faith, build relationships with adults and each other, and have fun.

Although Strommen decided to pursue graduate study at the University of Minnesota in educational psychology, his interest in youth ministry didn’t wane. In fact, he decided to make it the focus of his scholarship. His dissertation, a national study of 192 congregations, explored fundamental questions that had never been answered: What did young people need? What did they want?  What did pastors and lay adults think youth needed? His study yielded an important finding. Adults had little understanding of where their youth needed help. Moreover, youth weren’t taking away from the church the most fundamental truths about God’s grace and forgiveness.

There was much more to learn. Strommen founded the Search Institute in 1958, which pioneered the use of social science research to understand young people. Over the years, he was involved in large-scale studies, many of which laid the foundation for youth and family ministry approaches used congregations in major denominations and in seminary and college training, including that offered by Augsburg.

The ongoing impact

For two decades, Augsburg offered a Bachelor of Arts degree in Youth and Family Ministry. And students like 2016-17 Strommen scholarship recipient Leah McDougall graduated with a major in Youth and Family Ministry. Beginning in 2017, students interested in youth and family ministry enroll in the new Theology of Public Ministry major and opt for a youth studies minor. “Students who sign up for such a curriculum receive essentially the same education and experience offered under the older Youth and Family Ministry program,” says Hans Wiersma, a religion professor long involved with the programs.

Wiersma says an important part of each student’s course of study is “discerning the nature of God’s call for their lives.” Some, he says, go directly from Augsburg to a congregation. Some do service through organizations such as Lutheran Volunteer Corps or go to seminary, and some work in public schools or youth service organizations.

At nearly 100 years of age, Strommen remains keenly interested in youth ministry. He’s concerned that not enough are learning that faith is life-changing. “What disappoints me is that there hasn’t been a focus in so many congregations on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he says. And he’d just love, if he could, to do one more national study, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the peer ministry approach.

He’s pleased with what he’s accomplished. “When I start talking [about my life], I get excited, I get awed,” he says. He knows that he has made a tremendous impact on the field of youth ministry. For indeed, a thousand young people are now taking David’s place.

 

By Carmen Peota.

Art to inspire: Karolynn Lestrud

Personal and public. Creative and practical. Forward-thinking and backward-knowing. By sponsoring “Both/and,” a custom glass art treatment for the skyway that links the library to the Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, Karolynn Lestrud ’68 supports artist Teri Kwant’s effort to bridge disparate disciplines both figuratively and literally.Karolynn Lestrud on the skyway in Hagfors.

Kwant’s art will illustrate the transitional space by etching pairs of words from different disciplines into the glass of the skyway. Think: define divinity, probe force, radiate support, love density. When Lestrud, an English major who did graduate work in linguistics and considers word play a part of her life, first saw the proposal, she thought, “Fantastic! But then I started puzzling over the pairs that didn’t make sense—and thought aha! She got me! She made me ponder,” says Lestrud. “I hope students will react the same way, with their curiosity piqued as they stroll through. I wonder if they will write about their experiences, walking through this walkway of words.”

Words on the skyway windows will also make the glass visible to birds, so they don’t “smack themselves silly on the glass. I thought this was a brilliant solution to a real concern, and a very thought-provoking piece as well,” she adds.

Lestrud lauds the selection process, too. A resident of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, she volunteers for and supports various art groups, including those charged with choosing art for public spaces. “It’s such an interesting process, because you have people who know nothing about art but ‘know what they like.’ It’s hard to set up guidelines when you hear commentary like that,” she points out. “Many people want to go for something very representational, very safe, and in many cases, very uninteresting. But that didn’t happen on this committee.”

She served on Augsburg’s Art and Identity committee, which began discussing art when the Hagfors Center was “still a dream on paper,” working with architects to identify where artwork should go, what size it should be, and how it should be lit. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, people wait until the structure is inhabited before they start embellishing it,” she explains. “We seem to have an innate yearning to embellish our surroundings. The earliest people did cave drawings. The Victorians had every surface covered with doodads. So we’re following a very natural impulse, and I think it’s wonderful that Augsburg made the commitment to do this in a well-thought-out and big way.”

Once locations were selected and artist proposals solicited, committee members met with artists individually to field questions and fuel the creative mission through a deeper understanding of the building in particular and Augsburg in general. “That was also interesting and not always something that happens in the broader world,” Lestrud says. She was delighted to chat with Kwant, a public artist, director of RSP Dreambox, and frequent lecturer on experience design, environments, and communications for the U. of Minnesota School of Design and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Kwant will also create one-of-a-kind glassed-topped tables that are available for sponsorship.

Lestrud contrasts the Hagfors Center with the boxy, cement block structure of the old science hall. “When you walked in, all you wanted to do was get out again,” she remembers. “The art going into this new building will make it the kind of place that will inspire students, give them a mental break, and, I believe, encourage them to linger.”