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

 

A Year at Augsburg, and an Impact for Life

 

marlysmorlandIt took just one year for Augsburg to make its indelible mark on Marlys Morland ‘54, who has pledged a sizeable increase to the Marlys B. and Robert Backlund Morland Scholarship, established in 2011 as part of the couple’s estate plan.

“I really did like Augsburg. The Christian influence was so sincere, and faith entered into everything,” says Marlys. “I was there when Bernhard Chistensen was president. His wife used to come over to the dorm for an evening talk with us. They were just good, kind people.”

One thing she remembers about her year at Augsburg was a dentist’s visit to her health class, where he had to listen to student complaints about rising dental care costs. Coincidentally, she had to have three wisdom teeth removed that summer. The $150 bill meant that she had to drop out of school, even though she was working 20 hours a week at Swedish Hospital, making 93 cents an hour.

“I found out partway through the year that other college students only got 76 cents an hour, so I was lucky. But I never got a penny from my parents—they couldn’t afford it—and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go back to school,” she says. Instead, she took a national Lutheran youth leader’s advice to move to Helena, Montana, where she discovered her love for working with young people and also taught adult Bible classes. She went on to become a parish worker in Portland, Oregon, where she met her husband. The couple settled in Newberg, Oregon, in 1971.

When the youngest of their three children entered school, Marlys finished her degree at Portland State University and taught elementary and junior high school for 25 years. She retired early to travel with her husband, Robert, until he died in 2008.

Thanks to her career and extended family experience, she understands the special challenges and struggles that even the most academically gifted students face. “We designed our Augsburg scholarship to support the StepUP program. We also support students who are majoring in Bible and planning to go on to seminary,” she says. “There is such a need these days. I don’t want them to have a lot of debt when they are ready to start their work.”

Marlys notes how much Augsburg and its student population have changed. She grew up near Alexandria in Holmes City, population 65, where “we went to the Swedish Lutheran Church. We knew people who went to the Norwegian Lutheran Church, and some who went to the Finnish Lutheran Church, but we thought the Germans were really different,” she recalls.

She embraces the Augsburg of today. “We meant well, but we didn’t think about helping the community. We were struggling just to take care of ourselves, and everyone was just like us,” she says. “Today students are reaching out and helping others in the community who aren’t just like them. That is so important.”

— 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!”