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.”

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 . . .

 

 

 

 

A Bountiful Blessing

Out of family tragedy, springs student opportunity

The Lester A. Dahlen Family Endowed Scholarship is a bountiful blessing. It rewards Augsburg University students’ hard work and provides financial assistance, while also assuring the family of Rev. Lester Dahlen that their family’s values will live on at Augsburg and be carried into the world. “As graduates go on to their lives after Augsburg, we hope they will be loving Christian people wherever they are and that they will touch whomever they can with the love of Jesus,” explains Barb (Dahlen) Cornell.

A blessing today, the scholarship sprang from a family tragedy more than 50 years ago. In 1966, when Barb was 18 and her sister, Ginny (Dahlen) Baali ’72, was 16, their brother Paul died in a plane crash with fellow Augsburg senior Jerry Pryd. Paul was pursuing a social studies major and physical education minor and, like his father before him, he played on the Auggie baseball team. To memorialize their son and highlight the importance of Augsburg to their family, Rev. Lester Dahlen ’39, ’42 and Marian Dahlen established the Paul Dahlen Memorial Scholarship to help students who had Christian purpose, demonstrated academic achievement and participated in extracurricular activities.

Blessed by Augsburg

Ginny (Dahlen) Baali and Barb (Dahlen) Cornell
Ginny (Dahlen) Baali ’72 and Barb (Dahlen) Cornell

“Our family’s connection to Augsburg started with Dad,” explains Barb, who supports the scholarship along with Ginny. A Minneapolis native, Rev. Dahlen enrolled in Augsburg in 1935 and quickly became involved in athletics, choir, student government and other organizations. “Augsburg helped prepare him for God’s calling and to be a man of faith and missions,” she continues.

“Ever since we were little kids we heard about Augsburg from our dad,” remembers Barb. Rev. Dahlen often brought the family to concerts, games and other campus events and, in later years, he sometimes wore Paul’s letter jacket. He was grateful for his lasting friendships with Augsburg greats Leland Sateren ’35, Edor Nelson ’38, Ernie Anderson ’37, Sig Hjelmeland ’41 and others.

After graduating from Augsburg Seminary, he served several parishes during the course of his 40-year career. The family did mission work in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and Rev. Dahlen also served as Lutheran Free Church Director of World Missions and staff member of the American Lutheran Church Division of World missions. “Augsburg was in his heart always,” remembers Barb. Their mother also held Augsburg in high regard: Marian worked in the financial aid office and joined the Augsburg Associates to provide volunteer support.

A Lasting Memorial

When Marian passed in 2003, memorial gifts boosted the scholarship fund. When Rev. Dahlen passed in 2012, a portion of his estate and memorial gifts further augmented the fund. Around that time Ginny and Barb fine-tuned the scholarship criteria to clarify their parents’ intent and more closely represent their family’s values. “Barb and I have continued to be representatives of the scholarship,” explains Ginny, who supports other Augsburg programs in addition to the family fund. The scholarship gives priority to students who are involved in campus ministry and pursuing a major or minor in physical education, and who demonstrate financial need and academic achievement. “People who have a faith background should come to the school and be blessed by it,” says Barb.

And after graduation? “I hope that scholarship alumni will be Christian witnesses to those around them, reach out in love and share their faith with others,” says Barb. “It’s important that Augsburg’s Christian legacy be nurtured and encouraged for all the students who will attend and be blessed by the school. That’s why we want to continue with this.”

-Kara Rose

Wefring Establishes Scholarship to Honor Edor Nelson

Larry Wefring's newly established scholarship pays tribute to encouragement he received as a youth from his late neighbor Edor Nelson '38.
Larry Wefring’s established a scholarship in tribute to the encouragement he received as a youth from his late neighbor Edor Nelson ’38.

“Children need a lot of guidance, and it’s good to have a coach on your side as you’re growing up. He was a coach to me,” Larry Wefring says of Edor Nelson, the legendary Augsburg coach who died in 2014 at age 100. Wefring’s $100,000 estate gift will establish the Edor Nelson Memorial Scholarship, but it should be noted that Wefring neither attended Augsburg nor played football for Nelson. Their relationship went far deeper.

“Sports are a fabulous teacher of life,” Wefring acknowledges. “They teach you that you win some and you lose some, but what’s important is that you work together. To be successful in the business world, you need to be a team player.” While he now understands this concept, traditional sports were not accessible to Wefring while he was growing up across the alley from Edor Nelson’s family in south Minneapolis.

Wefring was diagnosed with epilepsy at age seven. Subject to seizures and heavily medicated, he was often targeted by bullies and decided to drop out of public school in 9th grade. Leaning on the support and encouragement offered by Edor Nelson, he enrolled in Minnehaha Academy instead. Having learned electrical and woodworking skills from his handyman grandfather, Wefring had helped his neighborly coach wire his basement. In return, Nelson offered his young neighbor rides to school. They became friends.

“Larry had his frustrating days, but my dad kept telling him that he could be somebody, that he shouldn’t listen to anyone who said otherwise. My dad was a genuine people person, one of those comforting guys you could sit and talk to. He and my mom were always there for Larry, and Larry realized that. Now he is giving back,” says Bruce Nelson ‘71, Edor’s son and Augsburg’s A-Club Advancement Manager.

Naysayers pronounced Wefring too dumb for college, but Wefring went anyway, earning a psychology degree from Mankato State University. He found yet another mentor in Stanley Hubbard, who hired him at Hubbard Broadcasting, where he worked happily for more than three decades before retiring in 2006 to care for his aging parents. He struggled with his disability for much of that time, adjusting his medications to reduce brain fog and, in 1987, undergoing successful—and life-changing—experimental brain surgery in Canada.

Wefring lauds Hubbard for teaching him servant leadership, for showing him that Protestantism and the work ethic are two sides of the same coin, and for inspiring all to “always do the right thing.” But ultimately, Wefring concludes, it was education that turned his life around.

“I was already at a disadvantage, but education offset that. That’s really, really important to remember.

’As a man thinketh, so he is,’” adds Wefring, whose Lutheran faith and spirituality have always guided him. “Trouble is a blessing. It lets you look for the paradoxical nature of life, and learn to be captain of your own ship. But you have to have a dream.”

The Edor Nelson Memorial Scholarship will target students who have a disability, physical or otherwise, and who also aim high. “I told Edor that I wanted them to have a dream, and he said, ‘I do too,’” Wefring says. “And then I told him that I also wanted them to have an extra burden to bear, something that makes graduation tougher than it is for most people. And he said, ‘I do too.’ We were always on the same wavelength.”

Wefring never considered a scholarship in his own name, much preferring that it honor someone as well-known and revered as his former neighbor. He finds being able to share his legacy with institutions that mirror his faith and world view a blessing, and more than enough reward for a life well-lived.

“I gave it my best shot,” he says. “My dream has come true and then some.”

— Cathy Madison

 

Gift of Insurance Will Support Future Auggies

Purcell
Chris Purcell ’10

Whether in the world of commerce or philanthropy, Chris Purcell ’10 is not one to waste time. Since graduating, he has already tackled three big jobs, enough to preoccupy any young mover and shaker. Yet giving back has also been front and center, and he has had the foresight to designate life insurance policy proceeds to fund a full-ride scholarship for a future Auggie.

“Augsburg has done a lot for me, and I want to give back, especially financially since I was a beneficiary of financial aid,” he says. “Another way is to go back and network, and I encourage my classmates to do so, too. One of the most valuable things we can offer is our networks, to bring more Auggies into good companies.”

Purcell works for Amazon, most recently in Seattle as a buyer on the men’s fashion team, but soon in New York City as an advertising strategist. Amazon recruited him from Target, where he worked after a stint handling mergers and acquisitions for a now-defunct Minneapolis investment bank.

“I saw myself going out to Wall Street, so I started out as a finance major and then added economics,” says Purcell, who grew up in Northfield, the son of a carpenter and a middle school math teacher who strongly encouraged his educational aspirations. Recruited as a baseball player and the recipient of a Regents’ Scholarship, he loved moving to the big city and finding such a diverse, inclusive community within it.

“Augsburg feels much bigger than what it really is. You have a very small community right there on that three-square-block campus, but so much is going on all around you,” he says. He also discovered “phenomenal professors” such as Keith Gilsdorf and Stella Hofrenning, found a “very inspirational mentor” in Marc McIntosh, and treasures the formative advice he received from baseball coach Keith Bateman.

“He used to say, ‘Life’s not fair, I’m not fair, deal with it.’ Those words have helped immensely in getting me through tough situations,” says Purcell. “Augsburg helped me build my social abilities, which is extremely important in any corporate environment, and gave me critical reasoning ability. That’s the huge benefit of a liberal arts background. You learn things outside your main focus, and you learn to understand broad concepts as well as the specific issues you’re taught to deal with.”

His insurance gift will help a future student, preferably a baseball player with an interest in business, learn to navigate obstacles like the ones Purcell encountered when trying to break into the post-recession job market. Despite the bleak prospects, professors, mentor and coach urged him to keep fighting until he found something. That is exactly what he did.

“Augsburg set me up really well,” he adds. “Go Auggies!”

Endowed Scholarship Celebrates the Ecumenical

Paul and Diane Jacobson at Redeemer Lutheran.
Paul and Diane Jacobson at Redeemer Lutheran.

As a young girl raised Jewish in St. Louis, Missouri, Diane Levy Jacobson never imagined that she and her husband, Paul, might one day endow a scholarship for a Muslim student at Augsburg. But then she never imagined that she would teach Scripture, either. Or become a Christian, for that matter.

“Becoming a Lutheran biblical professor was certainly not in my life plan while I was growing up, and I’m sure I had no idea what a seminary was. God has a great sense of humor,” says Diane, professor emeritus at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, where she taught from 1982 to 2010.

By the time she got to Connecticut College, in New London, Connecticut, she decided to major in religion. Times were turbulent, and what was then a liberal protestant church championed civil rights and antiwar causes.

“It’s interesting right now with all the politics swirling, and it wasn’t all that different in the ‘60s. I got involved in the campus ministry, which was a large part of the political movement,” says Diane, a self-described searcher. “I felt very alive and in the middle of things. God works in mysterious ways!”

Diane earned a master’s degree in religion from Columbia University and a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary, where she met and married Paul Jacobson, a St. Olaf graduate and son of a Lutheran pastor. They attended a Lutheran church, where she taught Sunday school, yet she remained Jewish “because it seemed wrong not to.” A change of heart had occurred by the time her second son was born; she and her sons were baptized together.

“Then I became a super Lutheran,” she says with a chuckle. Diane was called to teach at Luther, so the family moved to Minnesota in 1982, where Paul pursued his music career as composer, flutist, and co-founder of the Lyra Baroque Orchestra. At Luther, Diane became the first woman to teach Bible at any Lutheran seminary in the country. A well-respected leader, frequent speaker, and author of numerous publications, she retired in February as director of the Book of Faith Initiative for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“I can’t imagine anything that would be more rewarding to do,” she says of her career. “It is quite a privilege to be a teacher of any sort, and it has been exciting to be part of the ELCA, the church, and education.” Continue reading “Endowed Scholarship Celebrates the Ecumenical”

Scholarship Will Welcome Home Next-Generation Students

McNevin“Augsburg is a second home to me. It always has been and it always will be,” says Patricia A. McNevin, ’90, whose planned gift will be the Patricia A. McNevin Endowed Scholarship, designated for an English and/or art major.

In fact, after a few decades away, McNevin plans to return to her Augsburg home soon to take advantage of reduced tuition for alumni. She needs only a few more art classes to complete a second major in studio art, with a focus on painting and photography. “Last year I picked up a paintbrush, which is something I haven’t done in 30 years. It was very different, almost foreign to me.”

McNevin’s initial Augsburg journey was a long but fruitful one. She planned to double major in English and art, but health reasons forced a hiatus in the middle of her junior year, creating what she calls “my eight-and-a-half-year plan.” She completed her degree in English in what was then called the Weekend College (now Adult Undergraduate) program.

While she was earning her degree, McNevin worked in Augsburg’s college relations office, where writing projects put that major to good use, and the magazine, Augsburg Now, published her photographs. She enjoyed other benefits, too, such as a biplane ride donated by alumni who owned a farm in Farmington. Even then, with money tight, she found a way to donate $25 for one key in the Foss Center organ.

“The gifts I received from Augsburg were many,” she says. “I didn’t even know my name would be on a plaque, but I saw it when I returned for a special event. No matter the amount, leaving some sort of legacy is a way to live on, especially if you don’t have children.”

Though her career path did not follow traditional routes for English or art majors, “my Augsburg degree got me through the door in more places than one, and I’m using my education in ways that I never imagined,” McNevin adds. As an officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, she relies on traditional journalism skills to ask pertinent questions during interviews, and on research skills to learn the constitutional law she must understand to make good decisions.

She hopes that recipients of her scholarship will pursue careers in English and/or art as well as related community or volunteer work. “I would like them to not only be doing something in the field while they’re going to school, but also have a solid plan about what they want to do in the future,” says McNevin, whose volunteer work has included teaching English as a second language in GED programs.

No doubt she will also want them to love Augsburg, just as she admires the many changes that have occurred since she first arrived. She applauds the leadership and direction of recent presidents, the addition of a masters program and nursing doctorate, and the plans for the new Center for Science, Business, and Religion, to which she has also donated.

“I really don’t have very much money, but I wanted to give something back to the college. What it was I didn’t know, but then life changed and this scholarship idea came up,” she says. “Augsburg’s motto when I was there was ‘through truth to freedom.’ I have spent my life searching for truth, and Augsburg provided that background for me. I ended up in my occupation in response to that search.”

As for that feeling of being at home, she says it is hard to describe. Certainly the fellow students, the faculty, the staff, and the physical campus have something to do with it, as does the solid foundation based in the Lutheran faith. “It’s just a spiritual feeling, I guess, a feeling that Augsburg is a safe place to grow—in more ways than one.”