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.

Chilstrom Scholarship Inspires Lives of Courage

Bishop Herb Chilstrom’s journey from poor, small-town boy to first presiding bishop of the ELCA began with a spiritual awakening at age 14. By the time Bishop Chilstrom ’54 reached college age his goal to become an ordained minister was clear, but the source of funds to pay for college was less certain. “There weren’t many scholarships at the time I attended Augsburg,” he remembers. Knowing that his parents wouldn’t be able to give him more than a five dollar bill every once in a while, he chose to attend the Lutheran college located in the heart of the job-rich Twin Cities: Augsburg. There, he knew, he’d be able to find a job – or two or three jobs (at the same time), as it turned out. That experience and a desire to help today’s students led the bishop and his wife, the Reverend E. Corinne Chilstrom, to establish the Corinne and Herbert Chilstrom Scholarship for students interested in social work or the ordained ministry. If you give a student some kind of financial support, he says, “It means you’re doing well, and we want to help you.”

A social conscience emerges

When Bishop Chilstrom arrived at Augsburg he began to realize that both his spiritual journey and his view of the world had been too narrow-minded. “I had too many pat answers,” he remembers. Augsburg professors like Joel Torstenson, sociology, challenged him to open windows to the world. “I wasn’t wealthy, but I realized I had the privilege of simply being white, and that opened doors that weren’t open for others. Joel impressed on us that we have a profound responsibility to those who did not have the advantages we had.” At Augsburg, says Bishop Chilstrom, he learned about Christianity’s call to fight injustice and how to live a courageous life. He began to develop the radical social conscience for which he later became known.

Those who do not learn from history …

“To be an effective pastor you really have to study the Bible and theology and church history, but you also have to have a much broader perspective,” says Bishop Chilstrom. “Sociology really broadened my world, and I fell in love with history, thanks to Professor Carl Chrislock.” He recalls Anne Pedersen, “the best English teacher in the world,” who opened his mind to literature and instilled respect for the English language. He was amazed by President Bernhard Christensen’s intellect. “It was awesome to hear him reach into the depths of his mind and spirit and pull poetry and prose and Biblical understanding together.” He remembers sitting in chapel and thinking, “He’s the kind of person I would like to be.”

Augsburg also provided opportunities to stretch his leadership wings. He became president of the campus youth group his sophomore year, and as student body president his junior year, he led the student campaign to raise funds for Memorial Library. He went on to earn degrees from Augustana Theologial Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary and his doctorate from New York University. He became a parish minister, professor and church leader, serving as the first bishop of the fledgling ELCA from 1987 to 1995.

Tither turned philanthropist

“After I had an enlightening experience as a teenager, one of the first things I discovered is that people who believe put their faith on the line by giving,” says Chilstrom. While still in high school he began tithing 10 percent. “I gave at least 10 percent all through my life,” he explains. “Now Corinne and I are able to give much more than that, and it’s a lot of fun.”

A commitment to future opportunities

Paul and LaVonne (both ’63) Batalden’s commitment to endow Augsburg University faculty with future opportunities has deep roots—three generations deep, in fact—and a spiritual foundation grounded in lives well-lived.

Paul’s grandfather, a fisherman who grew up just off the west coast of Norway and lost a brother at sea, decided in 1871 to move to Minnesota and take up farming. His name was Christian Olson, a name so common that his mail often wound up in the wrong hands, prompting him to change it to Batalden, after the island where he grew up. That first Batalden, an active supporter of education and child development, took special note of Augsburg Seminarium, which Norwegian Lutherans had founded in Marshall, Wisconsin, in 1869 and moved to Minneapolis in 1872. His youngest son, Abner Batalden, enrolled there and, despite some interruptions, earned a history degree in 1935.

Abner, Paul’s father, was also committed to education and understood the struggle it involved. “He was going to school during the Depression, when Augsburg was having trouble staying open. The students, many of whom were the first generation to attend college, were living hand-to-mouth, working and paying tuition. Augsburg was living on those tuitions,” says Paul.

Abner started the student employment service at Augsburg, worked at the publishing house, managed the bookstore, and, after a few years away, returned to take a position in the development office. He helped raise funds for the first science building, now being replaced by the Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion; Paul remembers going to the dedication as a child. It was Abner’s idea to establish, in 1980, a convocation and lecture series known as the Batalden Symposium on Applied Ethics.

“Applied ethics covers every discipline, every walk of life. It was the way he lived his life,” says Paul. “Ethics scholars say that ethics is the application of morals to everyday life. In his mind, the life he lived was grounded in moral values, which for him were Christian. It was so fundamental, and he saw it in many lines of work.”

“Ethics were looked upon as a philosophical endeavor, but he saw it as much broader,” adds LaVonne, who married Paul three weeks after graduation. The two had met in a freshman English class and shared a love for science. After a globe-spanning career in pediatrics and public health that expanded their knowledge of other cultures, Paul remains active as professor emeritus at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Geisel School of Medicine, and LaVonne retired recently as associate professor of natural sciences at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. They still travel widely but now live in St. Paul, close to their family.

Although they had initially wanted to endow an ethics chair, they realized that building upon Abner’s foundation would serve more people. Along with Paul’s brother, Stephan Batalden ’67 and his wife Sandra, they have endowed what is now the Batalden Faculty Scholar Program in Applied Ethics, which covers the seminar series and also offers two years of release time to faculty members, who often pass along stipends to students involved in their projects. Recipients come from various fields, so far including nursing, sociology, religion, and environmental studies.

“It’s perfect. Paul’s father had a vision for the future, and we have brought it into the 21st century,” says LaVonne. “What pleases us is that it maintains the idea of service grounded in theology and ethics, and we have broadened that.”

Paul, who served on Augsburg’s Board of Regents from 1979 to 1990, cites his concern for education’s future in our culture, which depends heavily on the voluntary sector, unlike government-supported health and welfare in Europe. Colleges cannot rely on tuitions alone, and religious institutions can no longer bridge the gap.

“We realized that Augsburg had basically no endowment, and it’s clear that that pattern of financial support would not lead to more creative and flexible programming. We want to make sure that this program is secure,” Paul says. “College offered us a liberal arts education, and we are deep lovers of the liberal arts. We see their relevance to everyday life the same way my father saw ethics in everyday life.”

The couple also believes in doing what you can. They cite a favorite poem by David Whyte, quoted here in part:

Start close in,

don’t take the second step

or the third,

start with the first

thing

close in,

the step

you don’t want to take. . .

. . .

Start right now

take a small step

you can call your own

don’t follow

someone else’s

heroics, be humble

and focused,

start close in . . .

 

 

 

 

Golf as a Guide to StepUP

 

Jon Schwingler
Jon Schwingler

For many, golf is more than a game. It can be a metaphor for life, a way to connect, or an ongoing reminder of challenges faced and rewards hard won. Jon Schwingler remembers being on a golf course when he first became aware of the strength and reach of the StepUP program, which he has recently chosen to endow with an estate gift.

In 2010, Schwingler was invited to play in the StepUP fundraiser golf tournament with his friend, Toby LaBelle ’96, and Toby’s father, Tad Piper. Toby is a Board of Regents member and former StepUP advisory board chair, and his mother, Cindy Piper is the current vice chair, so it took far fewer than eighteen holes for Schwingler to grasp one essential fact. “This program is a huge game-changer for families who struggle with addiction,” he says.

A Saint John’s University graduate and wealth management consultant, Schwingler has faced similar issues. “Recovery has been a big part of my life, and that is part of what opened my eyes,” says Schwingler, who has celebrated more than seven years of sobriety. Within a year after that golf tournament, Schwingler learned of two friends whose children were floundering college drop-outs. He accompanied the families on a visit to Augsburg, where the young people eventually found a safe home, sober dorm, and college degree. So when Schwingler was invited to join the advisory board, the answer was a resounding yes.

“Just knowing that there is an option for students to leave other environments and come to Augsburg is so important. Some graduates I know personally might not have earned a college degree if they had not had the opportunity to be in a safe environment,” he says. “It is a place of hope for parents. It is life-changing.”

Though his StepUP connection, Schwingler also came to love the college itself. “I had a pre-conceived notion of what Augsburg is and was—a little Lutheran school next to the University of Minnesota, a place I’ve often driven past. But now that I’m involved and see more of it, I have a much greater awareness of its urban location and real urban feel, and of many peers I never knew were alumni. I’ve found that people always loved their time at Augsburg.”

Jon Schwingler (center) and family hunched in football formation
Jon (center) and wife Julz (left) with their three kids

Schwingler finds much to applaud: student diversity, progressive buildings such as the new Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, specialties such as engineering, and graduate programs such as education. As a father to three not-yet-teenagers who struggle with ADHD, he particularly appreciates Augsburg’s acceptance of and support for students with disabilities of all kinds.

He uses golf to explain. “Most colleges want students who shoot straight down the middle of the fairway. Others aren’t going to do well in those places. For those who have to play in the first or second cut of rough, it’s challenging,” he says. “Augsburg has embraced them and even built programs around them. The Gage Center for Student Success, for example, is amazing. I like to think of Augsburg as the little engine that could.”

In addition to planned giving, Schwingler remains active on the StepUP advisory board and invested in its future. He envisions a transition home for new graduates, for example, as well as more room for StepUP on campus. Another goal is creating more awareness among other universities as well as getting the word out to family members and communities. “We’ve built good relationships with different treatment centers, such as Hazelden Betty Ford, and sober high schools in town, but we need to reach people in other geographic areas who feel they’re in hopeless situations with their kids. How about Chicago? All those things come down to funding,” he says.

“One of the great things about this program is that any college in the country can look at our model and adopt it. We give it away,” he adds. Contributing to such a profound mission feels like making a hole-in-one—or maybe even better.

Stepping Up for the StepUP Fund

Cindy and Tad Piper
Cindy and Tad Piper

About 25 years ago, young Toby Piper LaBelle ’96 had already learned a few things. He’d taken a year off after graduating from Breck School and gone west to teach skiing, which convinced him that he aspired to more than a minimum-wage job.  And he’d spent time in treatment for addiction, which taught him that staying sober was the only way to ensure success in college.

“Toby wanted a local school and chose Augsburg. It was the right place for him. He felt comfortable there,” says his mother, Cindy Piper. But he wasn’t comfortable sharing a dorm with students who drank alcohol, so he moved into an apartment off campus. Eventually he approached Don Warren, then director of the Academic Skills Center at Augsburg, about the need for a safe, sober place where students in recovery could live and support each other. In 1997, under Warren’s direction, the StepUP program was born.

The Piper family have been staunch supporters ever since. Cindy and her husband, Tad Piper, retired CEO and chairman of Piper Jaffray, recently pledged $500,000 to establish the Piper Family Executive Director of Recovery Advancement as well as to inspire others to contribute to the StepUP Program Endowed Fund. “We wanted to give a significant gift to get this program off the ground,” Cindy says. They have currently raised $5.2 million toward their $10 million endowment goal.

Thanks in part to Toby’s advocacy, StepUP became one of the first residential recovery programs in the nation and continues to be viewed as the gold standard for residential collegiate communities. Six months of recovery is required before students are admitted, and infractions are not tolerated. Today about 90 students are enrolled, and they maintain high abstinence rates and an average GPA of 3.2.

A smiling Cindy Piper at the podium at the 2016 StepUP Gala.
Cindy Piper at the 2016 StepUP Gala.

“Addiction is an ugly, cunning, baffling disease. Young people have to make up their minds they don’t want to be in it,” says Cindy. “I just feel so strongly about recovery for all people, especially young people who want to go to college. Toby’s business degree from Augsburg has served him well.” Now senior vice president at Northland Securities and a father of three, Toby is former chair of the StepUP Advisory Board and a member of the Augsburg College Board of Regents.

Cindy, who spent nine years as a trustee on the Hazelden Foundation, is now vice-chair of the StepUP board, where she organizes galas that gross half a million dollars a year. “That’s an unusual amount of money in recovery organizations. We’ve been able to add to the endowment through our proceeds,” she says. “As my son reminds me, we must keep in mind that we are changing lives. That’s the magic of the recovery community.”

— Cathy Madison