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Torstenson legacy lives on through gifts

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Augsburg alumni shaped and inspired by Professor Emeritus Joel Torstenson, known as the College’s “father of sociology,” have contributed more than $180,000 to the Center for Science, Business, and Religion to honor the legacy of the man who greatly influenced their Auggie experience.

Torstenson, who died in 2007 at age 94, was well known for his advocacy for civil rights and social services. His decades-long legacy is being extended and honored through generous gifts to name a hall for him in the new CSBR.

One alumnus central to the effort to honor Torstenson is the Rev. Herb Chilstrom ’54, the ELCA’s first presiding bishop. Chilstrom, who grew up in Litchfield, Minn., said being a student in Torstenson’s class opened his eyes to justice issues and pulled him from his comfort zone.

Then, as today, the College’s location in the city was an asset to its faculty and students. Torstenson’s impassioned teaching and perspective on civil rights inspired Chilstrom years later to fight for the rights of gay and lesbian people.

“Dr. Torstenson impacted me not only during my student years but throughout the rest of my life,” Chilstrom said. “He taught that if you are a Christian, you need to face the problems of the world and be out on the front lines, even if it makes you unpopular.”

Torstenson challenged students to confront the world’s problems by engaging directly with individuals. It seems only fitting, then, that Augsburg’s proposed CSBR pay tribute to Torstenson’s influence on generations of people, including the Chilstroms and another family with deep roots in the College: U.S. Rep. Martin Olav ’59 and Sylvia Sabo.

“Clearly, people like Joel have an impact on what you think and who you are,” said Rep. Sabo, who spent 46 years serving his state and country as an elected official.

Rep. Sabo’s Augsburg connection never waned. He served on the Board of Regents from 1973 to 1984, and daughters—Julie ’90, a former state senator, and Karin ’86— are also Auggies.

The Sabos share enthusiasm that the CSBR will be a great addition to campus.

“The facilities need to keep up with the quality of the faculty,” Rep. Sabo said. Combining three disciplines in one facility, the Sabos believe, is a unique and positive step for the College, which has long embraced interdisciplinary and experiential education.

The Sabos also marvel at the lifelong friendships that evolved from Martin’s undergraduate experience, and the couple remains close to Torstenson’s widow, Fran.

“I’m always amazed at Augsburg,” Sylvia Sabo said. “I think so much good comes out of it, and Martin had such a great four years there. I think its size and location give it a specialness that a lot of colleges don’t have.”

Herb and Corinne Chilstrom pledged $30,000 to kick off the Torstenson corridor initiative.

“Giving is a lot of fun,” Rev. Chilstrom said. “We have been blessed, and we like to share our blessings. Giving to the CSBR means I can say ‘thank you’ to Dr. Torstenson for the major impact he had on my life, and maybe, by example, we can encourage others to do likewise.”

If you are interested in donating to the CSBR or honoring Torstenson with a gift, contact Doug Scott at 612-330-1575 or

Center for Science, Business, and Religion Joel and Frances Torstenson Corridor 

This space will be provided through the generosity of

Norman ’59 and Delores Berg
Richard ’78 and Linda Bonlender
Herbert W. ’54 and E. Corinne Chilstrom
Joel ’61 and Yvonne “Bonnie” ’62 Egertson
Harold Hansen ’52
Garry Hesser and Nancy Homans
Lowell O. Larson ’47
Steven ’64 and Rebecca ’65 Nielsen
Martin ’59 and Sylvia Lee Sabo
Allan Torstenson ’75 and Frances Homans
Beth Torstenson ’66
Gale ’59 and Barbara Torstenson
Linnea Torstenson
Lyndon Torstenson ’78
Robert ’65 and Sylvia ’66 Torstenson

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