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.”

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 . . .

 

 

 

 

Carol Ott ’90 Gives Back to Augsburg’s Future

 

CarolOtt_webThanks in part to her Columbia boots and the diligence of her “amazing” guardian angel, Carol Ott ’90 has joined the legion of angels ensuring Augsburg’s future.

“You never know when your time is up,” Ott decided after a 2014 pedestrian accident shook her world. She had just left her yoga class when a truck struck her, trapping her left foot under the tire. Apart from whiplash and some chiropractic needs, she emerged relatively unscathed. But the event gave her pause, and reviewing other meaningful times in her life prompted her to remember Augsburg in her will.

“The relationships built during my four years there were the most impactful of my life,” says Ott, who followed her brother to Augsburg. The two hailed from the small Minnesota town of Lakeville, where their family lived on 10 acres in what was then a farming community.

As a freshman, Ott immediately connected with her orientation leader, Jacquie Berglund ’87, and the two have remained friends ever since. Ott was a chemistry and marketing double major who planned to make and market perfume, but a dismal business climate at graduation steered her toward marketing instead. Berglund, too, ended up in business, as CEO and co-founder of Finnegans, a beer company that is the state’s 10th largest and the world’s first to donate its profits to those in need.

“What I loved most was the ethics, learning right from wrong, and figuring out how to combine my religious beliefs with my daily life. I was very much influenced by Pastor Wold’s views on marketing ethics and religion,” Ott says. (Pastor Dave Wold, Augsburg’s pastor since 1983, was named Campus Pastor Emeritus when he retired in 2013.)

After earning her MBA from St. Thomas in 1996, Ott had ample opportunity to put her beliefs into practice in a career that has ranged widely both geographically and corporately. Her expertise in first direct, then digital marketing and e-commerce has benefitted such companies as Fingerhut, Carlson Wagonlit, Select Comfort, Petco, and ShopNBC, as she moved from West Coast to East Coast and back again to Minnesota.

Now director of marketing analytics at Best Buy, Ott returns to Augsburg annually to share her experience with marketing classes. She is also a fan of class reunions and looks forward to participating in the big one, Augsburg’s sesquicentennial. “When we had our 25th reunion, we just picked up where we left off. It’s a small school, and you know everyone in your grade.”

She has not yet designated where her planned gift will go, though she is considering both science and business. She also welcomes to campus the new Norman and Evangeline Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, the capital campaign which surpassed its $50 million fundraising goal. Groundbreaking for the building will take place on April 29, 2016.

“Science, business, religion—tying those pillars together is what drives me,” Ott says.