She called herself Sandy Simpson from Spicer back then, and her journey from aspiring Willmar High School student to generous Augsburg University donor was as lively and adventurous as Sandra Simpson Phaup ’64 is today.
Her college-educated parents were trained as teachers, so it was no surprise that Phaup planned to go to college. But her first-choice school cost too much, and her enrollment at Lutheran Bible Institute was short-lived. Her goal of becoming a nurse landed her on the Augsburg campus, where she got a small scholarship and found a welcoming home she had not anticipated.
Imagine her surprise when a professor in the theater department allowed her to keep her bicycle in the old theater. “I found living in the city a little confining after being in the country, so she gave me a key,” recalls Phaup. “And I had Professor Philip Thompson for art, which I loved.”
Slowly but surely, she found her way. Though she had made a pact with her parents to earn a nursing degree, her sophomore chemistry class “felt like they were all speaking Russian—I never grasped it,” she says. So without consulting mom and dad, she transferred out, signing up for a 17th-century British literature class instead. English and teaching became her major and art her minor, but she also pursued an interest in Norwegian language and culture sparked by the Norwegian grandparent who moved in with the family while she was growing up. She read Nobel Prize writer Knut Hamsun and Ole Edvard Rölvaag’s Giants in the Earth. She carried a small notebook to record Norwegian words.
Her teachers picked up on her ongoing fascination. “When art topics were assigned, we didn’t get to pick. My friends got Monet and Renoir and I got Edvard Munch. I thought, ‘what am I going to do with this German expressionist?’ Two days before the paper was due, I hadn’t even started. I rode my bike to the Minneapolis library, checked the card catalogue, and found out he was Norwegian! I was so excited I did nothing but read about him,” she says. “It was life-changing. Augsburg professors know their students really well.”
As a sophomore, Phaup asked a Norwegian family friend in Spicer to help her move to Norway for a year, but her parents insisted that she finish college first. As a senior, she was registering for classes when a friend reported that their English professor had suggested she apply for a Fulbright scholarship. “What’s that?” was her first response. But she applied, was accepted, and arrived in Norway—“so focused and full of myself”—the following year. There she met relatives she hadn’t known existed as well as her husband-to-be, a Fulbright scholar pursuing an economics Ph.D.
At home in Arlington, Virginia, since 1976, Phaup earned a master’s degree and taught English and art for 30 years in England, Ohio, and Salem, Virginia, where her lively embrace of all study topics, from Bob Dylan to Allen Ginsberg, made her a favorite among students who still invite her to reunions. As a Kennedy Center teaching artist, she is occasionally invited to lead teacher workshops that integrate visuals arts and writing.
“I feel like I’ve really been blessed,” Phaup says, “and I thank Augsburg for making that happen. That’s why I have been donating every year.” She describes her gifts as an “offering of thanksgiving for what my experience was,” although she realizes that today’s students will have quite different experiences. “Augsburg is thriving where it is, serving a unique population, and I very much support the notion of serving that community,” she adds. “Augsburg is doing important work in the world.”