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

A Generous Family

A Portrait of Jean and Phil Formo
Jean and Phil Formo

“Go west, young man!” was the mantra guiding the young Philip Formo in his college selection. But after graduating from Pacific Lutheran University in 1968, he must have heeded a different axiom: “Yes, you can go home again.” Home again he came, not only to finish a special education degree at St. Cloud State University and a divinity degree at Luther Seminary, but also to pick up the Formo family legacy where it left off—at Augsburg.

Now a retired ELCA pastor, Phil, his wife, Jean, and their niece, Dawn, are the primary Formo forces behind not one, not two, but three separate scholarships honoring various family members and extending generosity to future Augsburg students.

“I was the first person on both sides of the family not to go to Augsburg,” says Phil. “My mother met my father in chemistry class there. She was in nursing and needed help, and he was good in chemistry. They also both sang in the first Augsburg choir concert that ever took place, after the men’s chorus and the women’s chorus merged.” His parents, Jerome and Winifred, both ’37, were extremely dedicated to Augsburg and stayed deeply involved in all things Auggie throughout their lifetimes. Jerome received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983 and was also a Regent Emeritus.

In 2009, Phil designated proceeds from their estate to establish the Jerome and Winifred Formo Scholarship for music majors or those with a strong interest in choral music directing. Seven students have already benefited from this fund, but it was not the first Formo scholarship. That distinction belongs to the David J. Formo Scholarship, which was established in 1979 and is awarded annually to a junior or senior student who has successfully overcome adversity to achieve academic and extracurricular excellence.

“My brother David graduated from Augsburg in 1964 and became a U.S. Navy commander whose plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea on November 3, 1979, the same day that Iran took U.S. captives. Before that, he had delivered to the Shah of Iran the gift of a new jet. It’s really a small world,” mused Phil.

The scholarship to honor his brother was the first for the Formo family, but not the last. When Phil retired in 2011, he decided to write a book about his maternal grandfather, Andreas Helland, who immigrated from Norway in 1889, attended Augsburg Seminary, and served there as New Testament professor for 35 years. “He was also very involved in fundraising. In those days you did everything, and he was really good at stewardship. One of his daughters, Beatrice, married Norman Anderson, who was the fundraiser for the first science building at Augsburg, and they were all there for the groundbreaking. My grandfather was the first to give a major gift,” Phil recalls.

Proceeds from Phil’s book, Papa—A Life Remembered, along with contributions from his own family and his parents’ estate, fund the Andreas Helland Scholarship, established In 2012 for students with financial need and academic achievement. “Education is so important, but we all know how expensive college is,” Phil says. “If students can get through in four years instead of five or six, they will have saved the equivalent of two years’ salary.”

Phil is sold not only on the value of affordable education, but also on the value of Augsburg. “I’ve always been amazed by what Augsburg, long known as a conservative Lutheran school, has become. What they are today is just awe-inspiring—their involvement in the community and openness to everyone is incredible. Culturally, they have really been able to reach out, to take minorities seriously,” he says. “For the only ELCA college in the city, what a unique opportunity.”