This summer, scenes of remembrance and honor unfolded on the beaches of Normandy as World War II veterans and their loved ones marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day—the battle recognized as the largest sea invasion in history. The occasion was reminiscent of commemorations attended years ago by John and Norma Paulson, caring parents of Augsburg alumni and generous benefactors of Augsburg College. John returned to France several times as a D-Day +1 survivor. Norma joined him as a passionate steward of history. And, together, they formed a couple who—when abroad—could unite people across countries and—when at home in Minnesota—could connect a congregation, campus, or community.
John, who passed away June 7, 2012—68 years to the day after D-Day +1—and Norma, who passed away March 5, are remembered for their committed involvement in Twin Cities organizations ranging from Rotary to Shriners, and from the Classic Car Club of America to the Purple Heart Association. The Paulsons were successful in their careers—John as a builder and Norma as a banker—and made deeply meaningful philanthropic gifts throughout their lives.
While neither John nor Norma attended Augsburg, three of John’s children and a son-in-law are alumni of the College—Mary Jo (Paulson) Peterson ’80, Laurie (Paulson) Dahl ’76, David Dahl ’75, and Lisa Paulson ’80. The couple’s lifetime gifts to Augsburg exceed $2 million. In 2001, the Paulson family provided major funding to complete the Atrium-Link that connects Lindell Library via skyway to an atrium between Memorial and Sverdrup halls and, in 2006, they were early donors to the campaign for the Center for Science, Business, and Religion—a capital project John’s daughter Lisa said is fitting given her family’s numerous career ties to the health, science, and business fields.
Augsburg College President Emeritus William Frame recalls that John and Norma were passionate about their family and friends, their hobbies and interests, and their call to better the world. “They were a sight from the 1930s—John driving Norma in a Packard touring car up to Augsburg House, stamping down to applause…more of his panache than of his great car,” Frame said. “That’s the way they ‘drove up’ to the dedication of the Link” and their gifts to the College.
Throughout their lives, John and Norma connected the past to the present and future. Whether Norma was funding fieldtrips for grade school students from her hometown of Redwood Falls, Minn. to visit the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul or John was contributing to an organ fund that allowed young musicians to practice, the Paulsons ensured future generations could engage with varying aspects of history.
Augsburg College Pastor Emeritus David Wold recalls the Paulsons as “people of tremendous faith and commitment.”
“I learned so much from John in my days at Calvary Lutheran Church and in my years at Augsburg College,” Wold said. “I learned about patriotism…about work ethic, about family, about resiliency through tragedy, about benevolence, and about Packards.”
And, Wold says he learned about the Paulsons’ “commitment to the young and the old and to those in between.”