Torstenson Scholars Program and Donor Mark Johnson ’75 Make Research in the South Pacific Possible

Briana Mitchell ‘19, Britta Andress ‘19, and Sociology Professor Tim Pippert in Vanuatu
Briana Mitchell ‘19, Britta Andress ‘19, and Sociology Professor Tim Pippert in Vanuatu

When Augsburg sociology professor Tim Pippert circulated an email last spring inviting his students to apply for a research opportunity in the South Pacific, at least two of them thought of the trip as little more than a fantasy. Yet Briana Mitchell ’19 and Britta Andress ’19 applied anyway.

“It was very random for me,” Andress says about receiving that unsolicited email. But she was intrigued by the fact that whoever was chosen to go to Vanuatu, a nation comprised of about 80 islands that stretch 1,300 kilometers in the Pacific Ocean, could research whatever they wanted. She also knew she would have the whole summer to prepare.

“I was super pessimistic,” says Mitchell, who doubted she would be chosen because she was a “city girl, always doing city things. I’m not very outdoorsy. I’m a scaredy cat, and I’d heard there were spiders the size of dish plates. But when I got chosen and knew I was going with Britta, I figured she would take care of those spiders.”

Thanks to the Torstenson Scholars Program and the ongoing generosity of Mark Johnson ’75, a retired city planner and former president of Sonju Motors in Two Harbors, Minnesota, the two were about to embark on a life-changing, career-molding adventure. Since a chance encounter with the King of Tanna several years ago, Johnson has actively supported various initiatives on the island of Tanna, which was damaged by a cyclone in 2016. A solar project to supply electricity to the island’s 20,000 residents is currently underway.

Last September Mitchell and Andress, accompanied by Pippert and Johnson, flew nearly 30 hours to reach the island some call the “happiest place on earth.” For Mitchell, it conjured images of Jamaica, where her mother grew up. “When we got there, it had this paradise feel. Everything looked very good. The people were extremely happy, personable, and introduced themselves immediately.” As a black woman traveling abroad, she also noted, it was nice to be the one who fit in.

The Augsburg group including Mark Johnson '75 and two locals who helped translate.
The Augsburg group including Mark Johnson ’75 and two locals who helped translate.

It wasn’t long, however, before the budding sociologists realized that solar lighting and happiness were not the topics that most interested them or their hosts. “Gender dynamics was a big issue. Behind this happiness were a lot of problems, so we decided to focus on the smaller ones and how they contributed to the larger ones,” Mitchell says. A female translator was secured so the island women could speak freely about their lifestyle and culture.

Life in Tanna is “drastically different. There is no agenda, and the pace is very laid back—they call it Tanna time. They don’t have an official economy and everything is free,” says Andress, describing a system known as cargo cult, where islanders depend on donations they believe will show up as needed.

The researchers conducted 26 interviews, exploring everything from medical care to food preparation to the ritual daily consumption of kava, a hallucinogenic beverage for men only. They questioned how solar lighting might impact women whose workdays were already long, and whether harsh, unsanitary childbirth conditions could be improved. They identified 13 themes in the study they will present at the Midwest Sociological Society conference in Chicago in April.

Briana and Britta doing research with the help Of local Peace Corps volunteer Christy Kosak.
Briana and Britta doing research with the help of local Peace Corps volunteer Christy Kosak.

“Because of how fast it went and the amount of information we absorbed in those days, I now see everything through a more critical lens,” says Andress. Her experience has impacted how she interviews people, how she frames questions, and how she evaluates the research itself. “I see how vital it is, and I developed skills I knew I needed.”

Johnson understands completely. “I had the good fortune to participate in Joel Torstenson’s first Scandinavian Urban Studies term when I was a student at Augsburg. That experience was transformational, opening my eyes to a global context that has shaped my life,” says Johnson, who was named to Augsburg’s Board of Regents in 2018. “I’m interested in making sure that today’s Auggies have the same opportunities.”

“It was an amazing opportunity, and so kind of alumni to use their own time, effort, and funds to support students like me, who hadn’t done research or traveled abroad,” says Mitchell. Even simple things—like the gift of a six-foot-tall stick of sugar cane, which she hadn’t sampled since visiting Jamaica as a young teen—made the visit “a wonderful experience” that also prompted a closer connection with her mom. She hopes to return one day.

“It’s surreal that it even happened, and it’s something I will always reflect on,” she adds. “I was living my best life there. It feels like a dream, still.”

The Nathan R. Schott Scholarship Fund Surpasses $100,000

The Schott family
Nathan Schott in his senior year at Maple Grove High School (left). (L to R): Teri Schott, Alexandra Stoiaken ’13, and Chuck Schott at the 2011 brunch for Augsburg scholarship donors and recipients.

Nathan Schott ’13 spent only a short time on campus at Augsburg, but it was both active and memorable. The Maple Grove Senior High School graduate was an avid sports fan and Twins season ticket holder who wanted to major in English and become a sports writer. Because he also had muscular dystrophy and was confined to a wheelchair, one of his counselors recommended Augsburg for its ease and accessibility.

“We hadn’t heard too much about Augsburg, so we set up a tour. It was one of the first places we visited, and when we saw what sort of help Nathan would get, we thought this must be the place,” his mother, Teri, recalls. Augsburg’s CLASS (Center for Learning and Accessible Student Services) program is designed to help those students who need extra help, whether they are coping with autism, ADHD, mental illness, learning disabilities, or a chronic health condition like Nathan’s. The services are broad, ranging from securing appropriate accommodations to helping with time management, course selection, and any other challenges that might be better met with individual support.

“On a typical day, I drove him to school and dropped him off, then stayed on campus while he went to classes on his own,” Teri says. Nathan made friends. He used underground tunnels to get around. Helpers took notes in his classes and filed them where he could pick them up. The late “Pastor Dave” Wold took Nathan under his wing and made sure there was a parking space behind the church for the family car.

“It seemed like everyone wanted to assist him, and he felt like it was a good place to be,” says Nathan’s father, Chuck. “It wasn’t easy to go into that type of environment with that many students and be accepted for his disability, but he was very comfortable there. He was always eager to get to class in the morning, and he often went back at night for lectures and other functions. He enjoyed it.”

During spring break of his first year, however, Nathan, the oldest of the Schotts’ three children, contracted pneumonia, from which he never recovered. He died on April 1, 2010. His family received many sympathy notes from Nathan’s Augsburg friends and their parents. They grieved, but in their grief, they wanted to do more.

“We wanted to do something to honor Nathan and keep his memory alive,” says Teri. “My older sister, Mary Rose, actually got the ball rolling. We had planned a tour of Augsburg, and she set up a meeting with Doug Scott, Augsburg’s director of leadership gifts, without telling us.” After conferring with Scott, the Schotts decided to establish the Nathan R. Schott Scholarship Fund and donated the initial $25,000 to set it up. Since both Teri and Chuck are the youngest of seven siblings, reaching out to extended family for support made perfect sense.

“We are so pleased that the endowment has now gone over $100,000 and will continue to grow,” says Chuck. Designated for CLASS program participants, the scholarship fund has already helped eight students.

The couple, who moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, two years ago, are grateful for the close connections they maintain with Augsburg. They named their new miniature dachshund puppy Auggie Doggie. They welcomed Scott for a visit to their new city. They have also attended past scholarship luncheons and met with some of the students they have helped.

“Hearing about past scholarship recipients and what they have achieved must give those students such a great feeling and sense of accomplishment,” Chuck notes. “For us as donors, it is so rewarding to learn of their successes. To be able to lessen their cost burden by providing financial aid means so much. We are very proud to be able to provide this scholarship to the students.”

 

Gracia ’66 and John ’65 Luoma Honor Augsburg Family Legacy for the Sesquicentennial

Gracia ’66 and John ’65 Luoma
John ’65 and Gracia ’66 Luoma

For Gracia ’66 and John ’65 Luoma, the Augsburg Sesquicentennial marks not only a milestone for the University, but also a time to honor their own family legacy. These frequent donors have decided to celebrate by fully funding the John K. and Gracia Nydahl Luoma Endowed Scholarship with a $100,000 cash gift.

“We wanted to be proactive in our estate planning. We wanted to see the fruits of our legacy before we died,” says Gracia, noting how financial help is essential for today’s young people. The scholarship will go to an undergraduate student who demonstrates financial need, academic achievement, and a commitment to vocational service, preferably in the Christian ministry, education, psychology, or medical fields.

“Emphasizing vocation for service has always been part of Augsburg’s vision,” John points out.

And Augsburg, adds Gracia, has long been “the family business, so to speak.” Born in Minneapolis to the Nydahl family, she recalls frequent outings to Augsburg events as a young child. Her grandfather Johannes, who emigrated from Norway in 1845, graduated from both Augsburg College and Augsburg Seminary, which he attended from 1883 to 1891. He became a professor of history and Norwegian before becoming Augsburg’s head librarian in 1920 and was also a member of the Augsburg Quartette, as was his son, Harold. Johannes and his wife, Tabitha, had six children, all of whom followed his footsteps, as have many other descendants. In fact, Augsburg recognized this “formative family” with a Distinguished Service Award in 2004.

“That I would attend Augsburg was never a question,” says Gracia, a math major who forged a career in computer science. Nor was it a question that she, as well as her prospective husband, would rank service high among their career goals. “Even in the business world, you can have a sense of service in vocation. You don’t have to be in a formal ministry to serve God and serve Christ,” she says.

LuomasJohn Luoma, the boy she first met in Luther League and later dated and married while in college, learned of Augsburg through his affiliation with Trinity Lutheran Church. In his quest to become a pastor, he never considered going elsewhere. Fully committed and active on campus, he was elected student body president in his senior year. After receiving his Ph.D. in theology, he served as a college and seminary professor and Lutheran parish pastor for more than 40 years.

“Augsburg was very formative for us in those years. It built on the values we’d had as young people, strengthening them, testing us, and preparing us very well for our vocations,” Gracia says.

The couple had two sons, both of whom also chose service vocations. Aaron, who died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart defect in 2015, was an occupational therapy assistant, international traveler, and frequent volunteer who worked with immigrants, refugees, and hospice patients. Jason is a clinical psychologist in Portland, Oregon. Neither had children.

“Our son is fine financially, and we have no grandchildren, which started me thinking: I would like to leave a legacy. Even on my mother’s side, there was always a commitment to service for others,” says Gracia.

The Luomas raised their family in Connecticut and Ohio before moving to their current residence in Lady Lake, Florida, but they return to Minnesota every summer to escape the heat. Now retired, they are able to visit Augsburg regularly, attending their class reunions and the annual Nydahl cousin reunion, usually timed to coincide with homecoming. They have reacquainted themselves with the current administration and reaffirmed their confidence in Augsburg’s vision. While the neighborhood and student population may have changed in recent years, the basic values have not.

“A lot of schools do not bring up their religious connection. I like that Augsburg is still proud of being a Lutheran college without being pushy about it,” says John, who has served on the ELCA Board of Education. Adds Gracia: “It has a unique place among Lutheran colleges. It does a lot to reach out to businesses and the community, and to make that connection between education and serving in an urban environment.”

Augsburg Then and Now: Why Tom Peterson ’69 Gives to the Clifford A. Peterson Scholarship

Tom PetersonThe difference between college then and college now is a key factor that motivates Tom Peterson ’69 to honor his father by contributing regularly and often to the Clifford A. Peterson Scholarship endowment fund.

“A small scholarship throws off enough to buy books. I would like to get to where I can make a material dent in someone’s tuition,” Tom Peterson says. He figures it takes about a million dollars to fund an endowment that pays for one person’s full scholarship each year, and he speaks with a deep knowledge of finance. As former chief investment officer for the Good Samaritan Society, he was in charge of two privately held mutual funds and managed $1.5 billion in capitalization.

He was not, however, an academic star. “I was an extraordinarily ordinary high school and college student, with average grades at best,” Tom recalls. He grew up in Richfield and initially enrolled at Bemidji State University, which invited him to play on its tennis team. He studied hard there but again earned only average grades, and the tennis team’s mediocre performance coupled with the frigid climate convinced him to move closer to home and enroll at Augsburg, his father’s alma mater.

“My father always held Augsburg in high regard. He used to drag us kids along to basketball, football, and baseball games,” Tom says of Clifford Peterson ‘49, whose successful career included marketing stints at Standard Oil and SuperAmerica as well as nursing home administration in later years. Tom’s younger brother, Jim Peterson ’78, was inducted into the Augsburg Hall of Fame for his prowess in both baseball and hockey.

At Augsburg, Tom majored in finance and sociology and played for two years on winning tennis teams, which placed second in the conference. (His son, Christopher Olson ’91, later lettered four times in tennis at Augsburg.) Tom also graduated in four years with no debt, an accomplishment that seems impossible today. That was college then, when tuition was $1200 a year.

“I put myself through Augsburg, had an apartment off campus, and paid for it all myself,” he says. “I had one of the best jobs a student could have at that time—I drove truck.” He made deliveries throughout the state, working 30 hours a week during school and 60 hours a week during summers and breaks. When he graduated and got his first job as an accountant at Honeywell, he almost had to take a pay cut (but got to work a shorter, 40-hour week).

Even though he would sometimes come home too tired at night to study, he found time to connect with and admire his sociology professor, Joel Torstenson, and several adjunct business professors, one of whom he later mentored in the business world.

“I had good teachers, and they were fun people to be around. Here’s the thing: I felt comfortable there,” Tom says. Now retired and living in Edina, Minnesota, where long walks with his dog have replaced tennis, he recalls, with fondness, those college days in the past. He also remains committed to ensuring that students will be able to meet the financial challenges and enjoy the faculty support at Augsburg in the future.

From Nursing Major to Fulbright Scholar in Norway: How Donor Sandra Simpson Phaup ’64 was Shaped by Augsburg

SANDRA SIMPSON PHAUP ‘64
Sandra Simpson Phaup.
Photo by: Duy Tran Photography

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.”

Donors Seek to Remove Cost as a Barrier to Education with the Paul ’84 and Nancy Mackey ’85 Mueller Presidential Scholarship

Nancy Mueller, President Paul Pribbenow and Paul Mueller
Nancy Mueller, President Paul Pribbenow, and Paul Mueller. Photo courtesy of Coppersmith Photography.

Ask Nancy Mackey Mueller ’85 about her family’s planned giving history and philosophy, and her answer will be succinct: “We’re all in.”

Indeed they are, for reasons that both she and her husband, Paul Mueller ’84 articulate clearly. Their commitment goes deep. Paul served on the Augsburg Board of Regents for 12 years and currently chairs Great Returns: Augsburg’s Sesquicentennial Campaign. Nancy was named to the Board in 2018. They have donated often over many years, including a previous bequest to support the Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, and most recently designated a planned gift to create the Paul ’84 and Nancy Mackey ’85 Mueller Presidential Scholarship, valued at $1,000,000.

“We both felt that our experience at Augsburg gave us the keys to success for our future,” explains Nancy. Their college experience was not only positive but also rigorous, preparing them for challenging graduate work and distinguished careers. “We were both encouraged in different ways. As the only woman in the physics department at the time, I was always very much supported. I never felt I had to prove myself any more than the guys in my major, and that gave me the confidence to stretch myself.”

Coming to Augsburg

Nancy became a structural engineer, earning a master’s degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland and helping the U.S. Navy design submarines before eventually becoming a physics and chemistry teacher at Mayo High School in Rochester. She had followed her father and her aunts to Augsburg, where she first met her future husband when she was a nervous sophomore tutoring juniors and seniors in physics. He remembers being smitten; she remembers just trying to get through the intimidating hour. Dating came later, but the scene had been set.

“We have a deep affection for Augsburg. It’s where we met,” Paul says. “We also appreciate the values of the institution—its academic rigor, its vision, its commitment to the Cedar-Riverside community. Augsburg transforms lives.”

Paul had already won a scholarship to the University of Minnesota when a visit to Augsburg’s campus altered his trajectory. Impressed by the warmth, welcome, and undivided attention he received that day, especially from chemistry professors, he chose Augsburg. Now-retired chemistry professor John Holum became his mentor and inspiration. Paul went on to earn his MD and MPH at Johns Hopkins University and is now an internist and professor of medicine and biomedical ethics at Mayo Clinic and the regional vice president of the Mayo Clinic Health System—Southwest Wisconsin.

What Sets Augsburg Apart

Both Muellers have fond recollections of Augsburg support and inclusion. “It felt like family. Somebody was always looking out for you. If you missed class, the professor would see you later and ask where you were. That was one of the things that set Augsburg apart, then and now. No matter who you were, or what interests or inclinations you had, you felt very welcomed,” Nancy says.

That Augsburg “vigorously retained its Lutheran heritage while at the same time welcoming everyone is very important and appealing to us. It’s the idea that we are called to love and serve each other, without regard to personal characteristics such as race, religion, or sexual orientation,” adds Paul. “In today’s world, it seems like the focus is more on what separates us than what brings us together.”

He also notes that these days, more than half of the student population are people of color. “It didn’t look that way when we were there, and I love that about it,” he says.

Nancy points to the unusual number of programs designed to help students with special needs and talents, from StepUP to URGO. “As parents, we’ve been on many college campus tours, and nowhere else offers the programs that Augsburg does,” she says. “It’s a unique place, and we so believe in their mission.”

Their oldest son, Luke, majored in math and history at Augsburg before pursuing a graduate degree in statistics from Harvard. His mother notes that his presidential scholarship made a big difference to him, both financially and by providing opportunities he may not otherwise have had. Endowing such a scholarship for future generations made perfect sense.

“Removing cost as a barrier to education—that was our intent,” Paul says. “We very much wanted Augsburg to be able to attract top-notch students without regard to expense. To have brilliant, talented, gifted students be able to come to Augsburg without having to worry about how to pay for their college education? Now that is changing lives.”

Bruce Olson ’71 Pays it Forward with Olson Peterson Wiggins Scholarship

Bruce Olson '71, his brother Brad Olson '73, and scholarship recipient Nick Thompson
Bruce Olson ’71 (center), his brother Brad Olson ’73 (left), and scholarship recipient Nick Thompson (right).

When Bruce Olson ’71 was a youngster in Brooklyn Center, he was not sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. He was sure of a couple of things, though. Active in the Lutheran church, he knew he wanted to attend a Lutheran college, and he preferred being in the city, where ‘60s activism meant things were happening. He also knew that his rural extended family would support him fully, although they could provide little more than love and encouragement.

“I came from a family of modest means. I needed a lot of help,” says Olson. He was grateful to receive an Augsburg legacy scholarship but wished he could have met his benefactors. “I wondered about the history of it, but I never really knew,” he recalls.

The financial cushion served him well. He participated in student government and played all four years on the golf team, which won both conference and state championships. He changed majors four times, abandoning religion after nearly flunking his first theology class, contemplating a future as a high school math teacher, succumbing to the inverse multiple-choice question challenges in his sociology exams, and, finally, plugging a gap one semester with an accounting class.

“I loved it,” he says.

Accounting became his major and business his forte. Right out of college, he worked for a small mobile home finance company, then Josten’s, then a series of successful entrepreneurial ventures in various fields, from insurance and computer services to light manufacturing and retail. He retired at 45 and moved to Florida to play golf, including with such luminaries as Arnie Palmer, but 10 years of retirement sufficed. Now a Kansas City resident, he is back at it, officially the owner and president of the HRS Group.

“I love the challenge of taking a new idea or a new product and making it work,” he says.

Olson also loves the idea of establishing the Olson Peterson Wiggins Scholarship. It is named for his family, including his grandfather Olson, who owned the five-and-dime back in Afton, Iowa; his grandfather Peterson, the town mechanic and truck and tractor repair whiz in Tracy, Minnesota, where he was born; and his near and dear great uncle Walt Wiggins, Walnut Grove’s town barber, who offered shaves and haircuts there along the banks of Plum Creek. And it will grant $25,000 to someone like him.

Olson was delighted to meet the first recipient, Nick Thompson, when the initial $5,000 installment was awarded. “He’s real nice, an athlete who plays baseball and a reasonably good student who aspires to become a physical therapist. But who knows? I told him I hoped he would be lucky enough to hold onto that dream but reminded him that it would be crazy to guarantee it.”

Olson hopes, too, that Thompson will enjoy the same Augsburg benefits he found: a good education, both academic and social, and important lessons about how to conduct one’s life. He also points to Augsburg’s growth and progress, demonstrated in part by the much-expanded economics and business department in the impressive Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion.

“It’s a pay-it-forward sort of story,” Olson says. “I was lucky to come from a great family, get a good education, and have some success in life. Now I’m finding a way to honor my family by honoring somebody else in the same situation.”

A Foundation for Future Educators

Doug and Deb Wagman
Doug and Deb Wagman

Call them stepping stones or building blocks—Deb Wagman’s foundation for life began at Augsburg University.

“Augsburg gave me the foundation to build on, for what I have today,” Deb says. “I owe them so much for helping me get started.”

Perhaps “paying it forward,” as Deb says, more aptly describes how she and her husband, Doug, think of their planned gift to Augsburg. With a gift in their will, also known as a bequest, the couple has not only returned that sense of gratitude, but they also are helping pave the way for tomorrow’s educational leaders through the Deborah K. and Douglas R. Wagman Education Scholarship.

“It was an inspiration to witness how excited the Wagmans were to create a scholarship to help train future educators,” says Ann Ulring, director of leadership gifts.

Graduating in 1978 as an elementary education major with a minor in library science, Deb worked in the teaching profession for 34 years; 25 of those were as a media specialist at an elementary school in Chaska, Minnesota. She saw firsthand the need for good, dedicated teachers.

“I definitely believe in education. Education is power,” she says.

As Deb sees it, the couple’s scholarship can bolster future educators and provide the stepping stones of success by easing students’ financial concerns. That way they can focus on learning the profession.

“If I can help someone at Augsburg and continue to grow the profession,” says Deb, “that’s my legacy.”

 

This article was reposted from http://augsburg.planmylegacy.org/auggies-give/deb-and-doug-wagman

“Care is just a word if you don’t act”: Linda Giacomo Invests in Augsburg Women

Linda Giacomo with President PribbenowSometimes a match made in heaven requires a connection here on earth. Such is the case with Linda Giacomo, whose generous gifts to the Augsburg Women Engaged (AWE) Scholarship fund are the outcome of a chance meeting.

Giacomo, 67, is a retired clinical psychologist who speaks freely of her two passions: helping women get educated and helping them get elected to political office. When she met Catherine Reid Day, an Augsburg friend, donor, and strategic marketing consultant through her company, Storyslices, at a political event last May, the two talked about the interests they shared. What ensued was as unlikely—yet as likely—a serendipitous result as anyone could imagine.

In so many ways, Giacomo and Augsburg are a matched set. An Italian-American who hails from Port Chester, New York, Giacomo knew in her teens that she wanted to work with children, perhaps in elementary education. But a comment by her younger brother—“Stop talking to me like you’re a psychologist!”—led her to study psychology at SUNY-Buffalo, then earn a Ph.D. in child clinical and adult psychology at Michigan State University.

“It was fascinating,” she says. “It combined everything I’m interested in: people—what makes them tick, why they feel and do things, being intellectually challenged, and helping others. It was a perfect fit.”

After post-doctorate work in Philadelphia and other positions that proved too research-heavy, she moved to Minneapolis for a clinical position at Children’s Hospital, then went into full-time private practice five years later. After retiring, and with much appreciation for the area’s affordable real estate, bike paths, parks, and “just enough” theater, art, and music, she has stayed. So has her propensity for research.

After learning more about Augsburg, she did her homework. “I have had patients who went there, but I knew very little about it,” she says. “Having gone from having no money to probably being considered fairly wealthy, I was looking for an estate beneficiary. I have no loyalty to any particular institution, but I do have a great commitment to representation, especially of women in the faculty and administration.”

She studied Augsburg’s numbers—need, diversity, solvency, service—and visited campus to meet its leaders. What she found was common ground. Like so many Auggies, she was the first in her family to attend college, earning merit scholarships but still needing a decade to pay off student loans. She empathizes with immigrant struggles, recalling impoverished grandparents who left southern Italy to become naturalized U.S. citizens, and parents who could not afford their children’s college tuition despite her father’s three jobs and her mother’s one. She also inherited a legacy of service, after watching her family take in neighborhood children and offer help to anyone in need.

“There are people who say they care, but care is just a word if you don’t act,” says Giacomo. “In my practice, my one concern was to make sure I didn’t leave behind the people who had no money. I never turned a patient away for lack of funds. About a third of my patients paid whatever they could afford.”

Giacomo reviewed statistics revealing that college graduates’ increased earning potential could move them up two socio-economic classes. “Education is transformative in a way that gives you so much power and choice. People should not be denied that opportunity because they have no money,” she says. A prior visit to a small, struggling college in South Carolina “touched my heart, but it also woke me up. My family knows I love them and will help if they ever need money, but they are educated and affluent enough to help their children easily afford college or repay loans. I want to help people who have nobody.”

Noting that women earn 26% less than men but carry two-thirds of the nation’s college debt, Giacomo has placed them first, designating a $30,000 outright gift to the AWE Scholarship as well as her $1.5 million estate gift. In her current role as “village elder,” and when she is not busy tap-dancing and practicing Italian, she will share her significant wisdom with the AWE Philanthropy Council, which she has joined.

“I found it deeply satisfying to be able to provide emotional help and support to so many patients, who could then face their pain and make better, happier lives for themselves. What they could achieve was profoundly moving,” she says. “Now I am able to provide financial support as well. To not be generous, to not share what you have with those in need, is heartbreaking. In making these gifts to Augsburg, my heart is full.”

The Class of 1968 Says ‘Thank You’ to Augsburg Through Their Endowed Scholarship of $75,000 and Growing

The Class of 1968When the class reunion committee first met last May, the Class of 1968 Endowed Scholarship was not on the agenda, nor did anyone mention any sort of fundraising. But the idea had already sprouted in the mind of committee co-chair Bruce Benson, and by the time he reached home after the meeting, it was firmly planted. The retired St. Olaf College pastor knew that other institutions benefited from alumni reunion gifts, so why not Augsburg? Dare he test a gift proposal among his peers?

“If I hadn’t been on the committee, I don’t know if I would have proposed it,” he says, “but I thought, ‘let’s just see what happens.’” He emailed the committee members, respectfully acknowledging their other charitable commitments, making no assumptions about class members’ financial means or inclinations, yet exploring possibilities. Would they be able and willing to contribute? Would they resent being asked? Might such a project fizzle out before reaching its final goal?

His pitch was forthright. “In 50 years I’ve developed other commitments and loyalties,” he wrote, “but Augsburg is where I got an undergraduate education that helped me live a meaningful life and contribute to the world around me. Additionally, I am rather proud of what Augsburg has become since we were students. I’d like to support that.” One could do that on one’s own, of course, but “a class gift sounds like more fun.”

The response was unanimous: yes!

“It seemed like a great idea. A lot of us got scholarships,” says Miriam Cox Peterson, who thought a goal of $50,000, the minimum required for an endowed scholarship, would be nice, but $68,000 sounded even better. “Why not try? Kids going to Augsburg now are certainly paying more than we did. We were given that opportunity, and we want other people to have it, too.”

Back in 1968, she pointed out, her guaranteed tuition ranged from $1,000 her first year to $900 her last, and her summer jobs covered the $500 for room and board. Those jobs—destroying old files in a sub-basement, sliding carbon paper between insurance policy copies—were anything but glamorous, thus convincing her that a college education was essential to a happy future. She has remained grateful to Augsburg ever since, and she will contribute $10,000 to the cause.

Benson wrote to the entire class, identifying with how hard it might be to choose among competing responsibilities but also reminding them that they had entered the era of minimum IRA distributions and might be seeking a way to make a difference. So far they have donated more than $75,000 for the scholarship, which will be available to any student in need.

“Clearly, I’m gratified. The response is very satisfying but not surprising,” Benson says. The Class of 1968, which graduated during a momentous year of assassinations and Vietnam War protests, was characterized by others as “different,” more engaged, active, and risk-taking than most. “Fifty years out, we all have an honest sense of how influential our education was. Whatever we didn’t like has faded away, and we realize this is a good thing. I’m also rather proud of what Augsburg has become since we were there,” he says.

“I’m very impressed with what they’re doing. They’re incredibly inclusive, and service to the world around us is ingrained in them, just as it was ingrained in us,” Peterson adds.

Five decades ago, Augsburg seemed trapped by its confinement in the city, with no place to grow and all the action shifting to the suburbs, Benson explains. Since then, however, it “has embraced its role as a city school and has become a good neighbor and resource. This gift will help the Class of 1968 say both ‘thank you’ and ‘bravo’ to Augsburg.