“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius
The StepUP Gala was a night to celebrate how the StepUP Program at Augsburg University has helped students champion lives of recovery, achieve academic success, and thrive in a community of accountability and support.
With the strength and support of the StepUP community, we rose to meet this goal. This year’s Gala generated over $425,000 for the program in one evening. The event was thoughtfully planned by the StepUP Board and the Gala committee including co-chairs Cindy Piper and Douglass Sill.
Highlights of the Gala included:
Nearly 350 guests in attendance
Emcee Leah McLean, from KSTP 5 Eyewitness News
Neil King ’18, Alumni Speaker
Alexa Anderson ’19, Student Speaker
Toby Piper LaBelle Award recipients Jon and Julz Schwingler
A special appearance by Senator Amy Klobuchar
We hope to continue to build on this generous momentum from the Gala. If you wish to make a gift to support the StepUP program, visit StepUP Giving and indicate Gala gift in the comments field.
Thank you to all who joined us for the “We Rise” StepUP Gala. We firmly believe that a student should not have to choose between recovery and a college education. Your support will help make that possible today, and for years to come.
Sometimes a match made in heaven requires a connection here on earth. Such is the case with Linda Giacomo, whose generous gifts to the Augsburg Women Engaged (AWE) Scholarship fund are the outcome of a chance meeting.
Giacomo, 67, is a retired clinical psychologist who speaks freely of her two passions: helping women get educated and helping them get elected to political office. When she met Catherine Reid Day, an Augsburg friend, donor, and strategic marketing consultant through her company, Storyslices, at a political event last May, the two talked about the interests they shared. What ensued was as unlikely—yet as likely—a serendipitous result as anyone could imagine.
In so many ways, Giacomo and Augsburg are a matched set. An Italian-American who hails from Port Chester, New York, Giacomo knew in her teens that she wanted to work with children, perhaps in elementary education. But a comment by her younger brother—“Stop talking to me like you’re a psychologist!”—led her to study psychology at SUNY-Buffalo, then earn a Ph.D. in child clinical and adult psychology at Michigan State University.
“It was fascinating,” she says. “It combined everything I’m interested in: people—what makes them tick, why they feel and do things, being intellectually challenged, and helping others. It was a perfect fit.”
After post-doctorate work in Philadelphia and other positions that proved too research-heavy, she moved to Minneapolis for a clinical position at Children’s Hospital, then went into full-time private practice five years later. After retiring, and with much appreciation for the area’s affordable real estate, bike paths, parks, and “just enough” theater, art, and music, she has stayed. So has her propensity for research.
After learning more about Augsburg, she did her homework. “I have had patients who went there, but I knew very little about it,” she says. “Having gone from having no money to probably being considered fairly wealthy, I was looking for an estate beneficiary. I have no loyalty to any particular institution, but I do have a great commitment to representation, especially of women in the faculty and administration.”
She studied Augsburg’s numbers—need, diversity, solvency, service—and visited campus to meet its leaders. What she found was common ground. Like so many Auggies, she was the first in her family to attend college, earning merit scholarships but still needing a decade to pay off student loans. She empathizes with immigrant struggles, recalling impoverished grandparents who left southern Italy to become naturalized U.S. citizens, and parents who could not afford their children’s college tuition despite her father’s three jobs and her mother’s one. She also inherited a legacy of service, after watching her family take in neighborhood children and offer help to anyone in need.
“There are people who say they care, but care is just a word if you don’t act,” says Giacomo. “In my practice, my one concern was to make sure I didn’t leave behind the people who had no money. I never turned a patient away for lack of funds. About a third of my patients paid whatever they could afford.”
Giacomo reviewed statistics revealing that college graduates’ increased earning potential could move them up two socio-economic classes. “Education is transformative in a way that gives you so much power and choice. People should not be denied that opportunity because they have no money,” she says. A prior visit to a small, struggling college in South Carolina “touched my heart, but it also woke me up. My family knows I love them and will help if they ever need money, but they are educated and affluent enough to help their children easily afford college or repay loans. I want to help people who have nobody.”
Noting that women earn 26% less than men but carry two-thirds of the nation’s college debt, Giacomo has placed them first, designating a $30,000 outright gift to the AWE Scholarship as well as her $1.5 million estate gift. In her current role as “village elder,” and when she is not busy tap-dancing and practicing Italian, she will share her significant wisdom with the AWE Philanthropy Council, which she has joined.
“I found it deeply satisfying to be able to provide emotional help and support to so many patients, who could then face their pain and make better, happier lives for themselves. What they could achieve was profoundly moving,” she says. “Now I am able to provide financial support as well. To not be generous, to not share what you have with those in need, is heartbreaking. In making these gifts to Augsburg, my heart is full.”
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.
Dr. Carol LaHurd and Dr. Ryan LaHurd—a couple whom many Auggies will remember with gratitude and respect
—have recently made an endowed gift to Augsburg through a bequest for the MAL (Master of Arts in Leadership) program. Both LaHurds have spent most of their lives in higher education, and Ryan LaHurd served as Augsburg’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College from 1985 to 1994. He was, in fact, instrumental in creating the MAL program.
Having served in various higher education settings throughout their professional lives, the LaHurds made this commitment because they feel that Augsburg University “stands out as an institution that truly lives out its mission”…preparing future leaders who are committed to the good of all people, dealing with the challenges (and benefits) of the urban environment, and making higher education truly accessible to people of many different backgrounds and abilities.
These are values by which the LaHurds have been guided as well, and therefore readily embrace. In their view, many institutions have stated a goal of a diverse student body, but Augsburg has actually built and nurtured a system of support to make success possible for students—a long-term effort that was expensive in energy and money, and one that remains a strong and impressive commitment.
Ryan LaHurd—whose professional life in higher education has also included positions at Allentown College, Thiel College, and Lenoir-Rhyne University (where he served as president)—later served as executive director of the Near East Foundation, a private, nonprofit development agency in New York. Between 1981 and 1993, he was afforded rich international experiences through three Fulbright Senior Fellowships—teaching American literature and culture at the University of Damascus, Syria; studying higher education in the Federal Republic of Germany; and teaching American literature and conducting research at the University of Sana’a, Yemen.
Most recently, at the James S. Kemper Foundation, Ryan LaHurd oversaw a comprehensive talent identification and leadership development program (which included scholarships, coaching, internships, and mentoring), designed to shape well-rounded future business leaders, particularly for the insurance industry. This work represented a bit of a shift in his career, and since retiring as the Foundation’s president in May 2016, he has been considering the idea of writing a book or article to help college students bridge their education to the world of work, drawing parallels with his own learnings and experiences in building a bridge from his years in academia to his work at the Kemper Foundation.
A conversation with Ryan LaHurd will likely lead at some point to his two professional passions—church-related higher education, and involvement with international issues, especially the Middle East. One particularly gratifying experience stands out in his memory, when the two intersected. During his time at Augsburg, he was invited to do an interview on the local public radio station, and explain the history of conflict in the Middle East stemming from World War I. The interview led to numerous educational presentations, including a large anti-war rally on the University of Minnesota campus. As an Arab American, Ryan found the ensuing conversations very meaningful, not only in terms of melding his career as a teacher with his experience in and study of the Middle East, but also of helping others gain a greater understanding of the role Great Britain and France played in laying foundations for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and moving beyond the perception that the problems stem from Arabs’ being a conflict-prone people.
Though the LaHurds have found a slightly different pace in retirement, their days are full, especially as they provide care two days a week for their almost-three-year-old grandson (and soon, also, his new baby sister). Ryan says he finds great joy, excitement, and personal growth in being able to experience his grandson’s view of things—and this has helped him understand why Jesus said we need to become like little children. Recently, he completed an article called “The Spirituality of Grandparenting,” which he hopes to have published.
Since the LaHurds moved to Chicago in 2006, Carol LaHurd taught religion at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) for ten years. Since then, she has adjusted her commitments to align with the demands of doing half-time child care. She continues to be a volunteer educational outreach consultant for LSTC’s Center of Christian-Muslim Relations for Peace and Justice. Between 2006 and 2011, she coordinated efforts by staff in various ELCA units to achieve the three main goals of the Middle East peace strategy adopted by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2005—accompaniment, awareness, and advocacy.
These days, she is mainly writing and speaking about how we Americans can better understand Islam and Muslims, and more positively engage religious others. She has written a year-long Bible study for ELCA’s Gather magazine, and serves as a member of ELCA’s Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Muslim Relations and the Inter-Religious Task Force to draft “A Declaration of Our Inter-Religious Commitment: A Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” She also served as lead editor and one of the authors for the 2016 book, Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves: A Lutheran Calling in a Multi-Religious World.
As she reflects on changing and evolving attitudes among students at LSTC, as well as in her earlier teaching experiences at Fordham University, Wake Forest University, and the University of St. Thomas, she says she sees hopeful signs in the increasing student interest in, and passion for, relating Christian theology and ethics to social justice issues—as well as for engaging people of other religious traditions, first as students and then as church leaders. She takes heart that people of faith are “speaking out and taking joint action on social justice issues that connect directly to shared religious commitments, such as welcoming the stranger, caring for the earth, and seeking constructive relationships among those of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.”
Though we live in rather pessimistic times, the LaHurds say they see the most hopeful signs on a smaller scale, notably in the work of nongovernmental groups and religious organizations, and in their commitment to bring people together across religious and ethnic lines, helping them to build solid economies and peaceful communities.
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 astronaut, 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.
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!”
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