Author Archives: Heather Riddle

We Are Augsburg Strong

To many of our students, Augsburg is their home. This is the place where they make a living, make a life, and build community together. But what does that community look like when we can’t be together?

Our students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors have shown us in countless ways over the past few months how we continue to be Augsburg Strong. Through faculty creating videos to cheer on their students as the finished the semester; alumni who are actively working to fight this virus, teach their children at home, and keep our economy going; donors who have answered the call to provide emergency funding to students in need; and through our students who have graciously weathered all of these changes to finish the semester strong, I see Auggies doing what they do best.

Here are some student reactions to how the Augsburg campus has adapted during this time:

Carson Tomony, Secondary Education, Baseball ‘23 – “I’m an education major so I like school. Teachers are working hard at making this work, it helps to do Zoom classes to get the interaction with teachers and classmates, that discussion as a face-to-face really helps.”

Jacey Mismash, Communication, Arts and Literature in Secondary Education ‘22 – “All my professors are being really communicative with students, working with students to make sure everything works out.”

Erin Malkow, Social Work ‘20 – “I’ve felt nothing but support. Teachers have been reaching out and are more than willing to accommodate and provide resources as need be, that really helps with the anxiety of everything that’s going on.”

As we think of other ways to continue to support our students now and for years to come, I invite you to consider making a gift to the Augsburg Fund for our Augsburg Strong giving challenge. Today is #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of giving and unity. A gift to the Augsburg Fund today allows us to deploy resources as needs and opportunities arise and is an investment for Auggie generations to come.

New Campaign Milestone in Drive to Build Augsburg Endowment

We are happy to share that Great Returns: Augsburg’s Sesquicentennial Campaign has hit a new milestone in our fundraising effort to build the Augsburg endowment. Thanks to the generosity of Regents, alumni, parents, and friends we have more than $56 million in gifts and pledges. Although we are still in the early stage of this effort, the response is remarkable. The commitments of our closest donors already make this the largest campaign in our history. We expect to continue with our early stage fundraising through 2020. This is the time for donors who care deeply about our mission to make the initial commitments that set the pace for the broader campaign.

Augsburg Endowed Scholarship Donors Jeff ’77 and Becky ’79 Nodland

This week we announced a new endowed scholarship for music from Jeff ’77 and Becky ’79 Nodland. Jeff is a longtime leader on the Board of Regents, both serve on the President’s Council and are active alumni volunteers including their role as chairs of the 2021 All-School Reunion, they are Augsburg parents, and Becky serves on the Music Advisory Board. It has been a pleasure to work with them on a number of fundraising efforts. Hope you will take a moment to read about their gift here.

April 1921: Bernard Christensen Wins Class Oratorical Cup

On this day in Augsburg history… Bernard Christensen, a student at the time, took first place in an annual oratorical contest.

What follows is an excerpt edited for length and clarity from an earlier draft of “Hold Fast to What is Good,” the sesquicentennial history of Augsburg University, by Phil Adamo.

Debate and declamation

Oratorical cup


We live in the year of our Lord 1921. Never before in history have the possibilities of service to God and humanity been as great as they are today. As the ages have gone by, God and His eternal purposes have remained unchanged. But each passing year has widened the sphere of man’s influence, and increased the possibilities of the individual human life, until in our day they are almost boundless in extent.[1]

Bernhard M. Christensen, Augsburg’s President from 1938-1962

These are the opening lines of Bernhard M. Christensen’s first-prize winning oration in the first ever “Class of 1918 Oratorical Cup” contest. He was nineteen years old. Listen to the rhythm of those sentences: the syntax and word choice and turn of phrase. Man, that kid could write!

Since 1872, the year Augsburg Seminary opened in Minneapolis, there have been debating societies within its walls. “Augsburg offers the opportunity to any student to supplement his regular public speaking courses with practice in oratory.”[2] Debate clubs dominated the extracurricular scene in Augsburg’s early days. Sports were seen as unnecessary and brutish. When students had to spend part of their day chopping wood to heat the college, there was little need for extra physical activity.  Instead, the idea was to exercise their brains. “Augsburg’s graduates become teachers and preachers, and what is of more practical value to these two professions than: first; to have a real message to give, and second, the ability to give it with power.”[3] Oratorical clubs began at Augsburg with The Demosthenian Society, named for the famous Greek orator. The goals of the club were “debate, declamation, composition, and parliamentary practice.”[4] The Athenaeum Society, named in honor of Athena, focused on literary study. Both of those clubs debated in English, but Augsburg’s Forensic Society, known as Den Nationale Ovelses Forening, debated in Norwegian, only going bilingual in 1905. These clubs weren’t always exclusive to debate. Some involved music or other activities, but the driving idea behind them was that through public speaking, students developed the ability to achieve greatness. These debating clubs were solely extracurricular and they were in existence to strengthen and fine tune students’ thinking. “Orators may have their faults, but we cannot accuse them of mental lassitude. There is perhaps no field at our school where so much work has to be expended for so little remuneration in the line of honor as in the oratorical field.”[5] Students debated the hot topics of the time, such as women’s suffrage, the minimum wage, and even the Constitution. Nothing was off limits.

The graduating class of 1918 presented the College with a “Silver Loving Cup for the possession of which a contest [was] held each year.”[6] It had been their hope to fuel a greater interest in the art of oratory. Each year students would prepare a debate or oration of some kind and enter into the contest. “A large number of contestants enter the contest every year, and, after preliminary eliminations, five or six orators participate in the final contest held in the Chapel in the spring.”[7] The winner of the oratorical contest would then have their name inscribed on the cup to memorialize the win as well as the importance of debate and oratory within the College. The first name to be engraved on the cup was in 1922, when future Augsburg president, Bernhard Christianson “won the Cup with his oration on “The Call to Service.”[8]

The cup was a success. More students began to show an interest in oratory and more and more students entered the annual Oratorical Cup Contest. At the 1926 Contest, Professor B.A. Helland, remarked, “it is to be hoped that in the near future a new cup may be presented … to each year’s oratorical champion.”[9] In 1928, Augsburg started giving each first-place winner their own miniature cup. “The cup is about ten inches high and is engraved with the letter A. This letter in any form is the highest award that Augsburg can bestow on any student.”[10] They also gave out prizes to the second and third place winners. All together, this sparked quite an interest in the student body, and more and more students joined the public speaking clubs.

The debate clubs evolved as time went on. The Alpha Sigma Debating Society, one of Augsburg’s earliest debating clubs was organized in 1906. It consisted of, “all students registered in the College department”[11] Their meetings consisted of debate of a topic, either in English or Norwegian, followed by music. They also discussed science and politics. The Forward Literary Society was made up of the freshman and sophomore classes. This was a lighter version set up with the goal to get students comfortable in public speaking and also to prepare them for business meetings. Following the Forward Literary Society was the Lyceum Debating Society. This group was comprised of juniors and seniors. “It is the aim and purpose of the society to give the students experience in public speaking. The debaters must prepare their own speeches and rely solely upon their own resources and ability. This work arouses a fighting and conquering spirit which is so necessary to their future work in life, whatever line it may be.”[12] After women were admitted into the college in 1922, female students organized their own debate club. The Women’s Debate Club argued against other local college debate teams. When they weren’t debating other college’s they often held skirmishes with Augsburg’s men’s debate clubs. However, with the Women’s Club, “only non-decision debates were held.”[13] The Lincoln Debating Club was formed on Lincoln’s birthday in 1925, determined to broaden Augsburg’s debate opponents. Up until this point there were no official debates between local colleges. The Lincoln Debating Club became the first intercollegiate debate team, challenging other local colleges on a regular basis. It was also Augsburg’s first co-ed club, founded by both men and women. Many of these eventually groups merged or were dropped all together.

In 1947, the Oratorical Contest was opened up to all students, even those who were not members of the debate leagues. By the 1950s, it seems that not as many students were joining the oratorical clubs, though the oratorical cup contest was still mentioned in the Echo, with topics that included “treatment of the feeble-minded” and “attitudes toward foreign policy.”[14] Debate and oratory were still a part of student life, but the world had changed, and so had Augsburg students. Instead of focusing on heavier issues, they began to host silly competitions, like beard growing, with prizes given for “the curliest, the longest, and the best trimmed beards.”[15]

But debate and oratory never went away entirely. In 1949, professor Ray Anderson came to the College to teach speech and by 1953 Augsburg had a full-fledged speech major. Originally connected as speech and drama, the two departments eventually separated into theater and communication studies, the latter offering all elements of speech and forensics.[16]

In 2004, Augsburg partnered with the Minnesota Urban Debate League (MNUDL), a community program that “empowers junior high and high school students in Minneapolis and St. Paul to become engaged learners, critical thinkers, and active citizens who are effective advocates for themselves and their communities.”[17]  In 2009, the MNUDL was fully integrated into the college. Augsburg has partnered with thirty-nine schools in the local community, raising money and awareness to help under-served children. Because of the College’s commitment to diversity, debates are now held in Spanish and Somali. The College’s collaboration with the Minnesota Urban Debate League offers students the necessary tools to achieve “greatness through oration”—the goal of Augsburg’s original oratorical societies.

 [1] Bernard M. Christensen, “The Call to Service,” Echo 25: 197 (May 1921), 17.

[2]Augsburgian (1928), 73.

[3] Augsburgian (1928), 73.

[4] Chrislock, From Fjord to Freeway, 104.

[5] Augsburgian (1928), 73.

[6] Augsburgian (1922), 32.

[7] Augsburgian (1937), 32.

[8] Augsburgian (1922), 32.

[9] “Gotthilf Jorgensen Wins Oratorical Cup Contest,” Echo 30:12 (15 April 1926), 1.

[10] “Silver Cup Will Be Awarded in Oratory,” Echo 32:07 (19 January 1928), 1.

[11] Augsburgian (1916), 46.

[12] Augsburgian (1916), 46.

[13] Augsburgian (1930), 89.

[14] “Vernon Awes, Oratorical Cup Winner, Last Tuesday,” Echo 57:7 (25 January 1952), 1; “Six Auggies to Compete In Oratorical Contest,” Echo V 61:9 (16 February 1955), 2.

[15] “King Bob, Queen Shelby Reign Over Snow Day Festivities,” Echo 58:09 (13 February 1953), 1.

[16] Chrislock, From Fjord to Freeway, 199.

[17] “Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning,” Augsburg Now 74:01 (Fall 2011), 14.

Augsburg Moved Online in Many Ways

Visit to take an online campus tour.

One month ago Governor Walz issued our “shelter in place” order beginning a long stretch of isolation and changes that previously were unthinkable. All of us are adapting to this new, challenging reality.

Thanks to quick moving faculty and staff, Augsburg classes are now online. Most of our students left campus with the exception of about 200 who didn’t have other good living options. We’ve provided laptops and emergency aid to students in need while we continue to do everything we can to help them finish the year strong and on track to get the degrees they seek. We are deeply grateful to everyone who has helped make this transition including hundreds of donors who have given more than $385,000 to support emergency needs.

In addition to online classes, a number of other activities and events are happening via the internet for example:

All Student Juried Art Show

Daily Chapel

Music Rehearsals

The Auggie Awards Ceremony recognizing student athletes

Campus tours for high school students

Commencement on Friday, May 29

Click on the links above and join us online to check out the new ways we are connecting with students, alumni, and the community.

Work in our Advancement division continues too. Over the last couple of weeks a primary concern has been announcing and working through lay offs and transitioning responsibilities. We appreciate all the ways you and others have offered support to those impacted by these sudden and heartbreaking changes. Sustaining the mission of Augsburg and supporting the thousands of students who depend on us is critical and still, even when we know financial realities require reductions, it is hard.

We’ve launched a new series of live Facebook events which you can join in real time or watch when it in convenient for you on our Augsburg Alumni Association Facebook page.

We’ve canceled, postponed, or moved online all Advancement events and meetings for the foreseeable future including the Sesquicentennial All-School Reunion which is postponed until Homecoming 2021, all upcoming reunions and gatherings which are postponed until future notice, and I expect the next Alumni Board meeting in June will be held via Zoom. We had a number of international travel programs planned for this summer which have all been canceled. And our gift officers who normally are out meeting alumni and other donors are staying in touch by phone. video calls, and email.

As we move forward I’m sure we will find lots of new and interesting ways to build connections online. I’ll keep you posted!

A message to Augsburg Advancement Volunteers

I imagine a lot has changed for you in recent weeks. I hope you are well and finding some peace and balance in this new reality. When you have a moment, let me know how you are doing. Could we schedule a time to talk by phone or a video call? I would welcome that.

Augsburg’s President Paul Pribbenow sent an email yesterday sharing news from our campus related to the coronavirus and news of layoffs and furloughs. I’m writing to follow up with members of the Alumni Board, the AWE Board, the Augsburg Associates, the A-Club Board, All School Reunion volunteers and other leadership volunteers who have worked with staff in our division who were included in lay-offs or furloughed.

While these transitions are tough, I want to let you know that we are 100% committed to supporting you in your volunteer work. Building relationships between Auggies and between our alumni and the University means a great deal to all of us. While it may be a bit before we can get together for in-person meetings and events, there are many ways our work will continue over the coming months.

If you haven’t already, please add me to your address book. My mobile phone is 651-283-7949. Think of me as the primary contact in Advancement for your volunteer work. Please also feel free to send me thoughts and ideas. I’ll share regular updates with you by email and through my “good news” blog.

Where do we find good news in all of this?

The place where I find silver lining is that, unlike similar disasters experienced by humanity, this one strikes when we are at our strongest. If I can lean on my liberal arts background for just a bit… in the 14th century, a pandemic spread from East Asia to Britain in a span of 10 years and between 25% and 50% of the entire world’s population died. By the time the contagion was gone, no one had any idea what it was, what caused it, how it spread, or even how it could be stopped.

Today, however, humanity already knows what virus caused this outbreak, we’ve mapped its entire genome, and developed several ways of determining whether a person was sick or not.

Our response to this disaster is stronger thanks to places like Augsburg University and servant leaders like Paul Mueller ’84 at the Mayo Clinic, Ray Yip ’77 who worked for the Center for Disease Control and the Gates Foundation, Jean Gaudette ’14 who is a nurse manager at Fairview Hospital, Nick Gangestad ’86 who is the CFO at 3M, and thousands of Augsburg nurses, physicians assistants, doctors, researchers, logistics managers and more.

At times like this, the world depends on informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. Thank you for being one of them. It is an honor to work with you and everyone to ensure that our mission continues.



Augsburg All-School Reunion Postponed to Homecoming 2021

Due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and out of care and concern for the health and safety of the entire Augsburg University community, we are postponing the university’s first All-School Reunion that had been planned for Sept. 26, 2020.

The reunion will be rescheduled to coincide with Homecoming 2021. Those dates are still being finalized.

If you’ve already purchased tickets to the event, you have three options. First, you can do nothing—we will honor your registration for the new date in the fall of 2021. Second, you can request a refund by emailing Kristen Cooper at Finally, you can ask that Kristen convert your registration into a donation to the Student Emergency Fund to support current Auggies facing hardships during this challenging time.

The reunion will be an occasion to draw together alumni; current students; and past and present faculty, staff, and friends of the university to celebrate more than 150 years of Augsburg history and—most importantly—the relationships that have shaped the lives of generations of Auggies. We are also discussing ways to incorporate some of the Sesquicentennial projects by faculty and staff that were canceled or curtailed because of the pandemic.

We are grateful to the many volunteers working to make the All-School Reunion a reality, and while we know this postponement is disappointing, we promise: in the end, it will be an event worth waiting for!

April 6, 1916 The United States Entered World War I and Augsburg Students Enlist

On this day in Augsburg history…  The Augsburg campus like colleges and universities across the country saw their students enlist to serve.

What follows is an excerpt edited for length and clarity from an earlier draft of “Hold Fast to What is Good,” the sesquicentennial history of Augsburg University, by Phil Adamo.

Pages from the Augsburg Ekko March 1918 Listing Students Serving in the Army and Navy during World War I.

The Tide of War

Oscar Soberg and Halvor Halvorson

 Portraits and obituaries

1916, 1918

The spirit of sacrifice yet lives in spite of the widespread materialism of our times. Therefore, we may be pardoned if we feel proud of our boys who are willing to offer their all for this cause.[1]

ONE ASPECT of an Augsburg education that has always been a source of pride is service. Through the years, this has included military service. We have already encountered Nils Bøe, the Civil War veteran who was among the first students of Augsburg Seminary in Marshall, Wisconsin. During World War I (the Great War), Augsburg again saw many of its students and alumni serving in the military. Oscar Soberg was one such student.

Soberg was born in 1889 on a farm near Northfield, Minnesota. In 1906, at the age of seventeen, he enrolled at Augsburg. Personal financial difficulties kept him from finishing—a problem still faced by some of the College’s students today. Soberg tried his hand at farming, and in 1911 found himself a homesteader in Manitoba, Canada. After World War I broke out, Soberg enlisted with the 54th Overseas Battalion in Saskatchewan in 1915, two years before the United States entered the war. According to the 1920 Augsburgian, Soberg died:

In the famous battle of Ypres, that long and terrific struggle that Field Marshall Haig has called the turning point in the tide of the war. [He] was sent to guard an outpost on the front line. There, on June 2nd 1916, he laid down his life.[2]

He was 27 years old. It is interesting to note that, even though he didn’t graduate from the college, the Augsburg community still saw fit to honor Soberg as one of their own. Soberg’s name is engraved at the Menin Gate Memorial, a great staircase on the eastern side of Ypres, which bears the names of 55,000 men who “have no known grave.”[3]

Another Augsburg student to fall in the war was Halvor L. Halvorson (right). The plaque on his portrait tells us that he was Private First Class in the Headquarters Company of the 362nd Infantry (91st Division), where he served as a runner on the front lines. He entered the service on May 25, 1918, arrived in the war on July 10, and was killed in action near Gesnes, in the northwest of France, October 11, one week shy of his 25th birthday. He is buried on Hill 288.

The Echo of March 1918 listed Soberg’s and Halvorson’s names among a total of 75 “Augsburg Boys in the Ranks” in World War I. These included Si Melby, later Dean of Men and Director of Athletics at the College; Leif Harbo, who would later teach at Augsburg and serve as interim president; and Leif Sverdrup, nephew of Georg, who would later lead the Corp of Engineers in WWII, and then became an architect who designed many impressive (and some tragic) structures. An editorial following this list announced that:

There are seventy-five stars in our service flag at school, which represents seventy-five boys who have answered their country’s call and have gone to fight for democracy. This is a large number for a school of our size. Nothing more need be said about the patriotism of the students of Augsburg.[4]

[1] Augsburgian (1918), 77.

[2] Augsburgian (1920), 50.

[3] Oscar Gustav Soberg, Canadian Virtual War Memorial,

[4] “Roll of Honor: Augsburg Boys on the Ranks” and “Do Your Bit,” Echo 22:177 (March 1918), 28-29.


April 1957 Carl Blegen ’04 Recieves Honorary Degree from Oxford University

On this day in Augsburg history… Carl W. Blegen who took classes at Augsburg at the turn of the century while his father John Blegen served on the Augsburg faculty, was given an honorary degree by Oxford University.

What follows is an excerpt edited for length and clarity from an earlier draft of “Hold Fast to What is Good,” the sesquicentennial history of Augsburg University, by Phil Adamo.

Carl Blegen ’04 (January 27, 1887 – August 24, 1971) was an American archaeologist famous for his work on the site of Pylos in modern-day Greece and Troy in modern-day Turkey.

Carl W. Blegen

 IF INDIANA JONES had gone to Augsburg College, he would have become Carl Blegen.

Blegen was born in 1887, one of six children of Augsburg Greek professor John Blegen and his wife, Anna Bergine Olsen, Norwegians who immigrated to the States in 1869. Carl’s younger brother Theodore, who also attended Augsburg, later became an historian and eventually Dean at the University of Minnesota. Blegen Hall is named for him. John Blegen was part of the Saga Hill Association, an investment group of Norwegian Lutherans—Augsburg professors, but also ministers and bankers—who purchased land on Lake Minnetonka to build a summer retreat. Saga Hill provided all the fun that teenage boys might imagine at the turn of the twentieth century.[1] In 1902, when Blegen was 15 years old, a hunting accident shattered his right arm and made it necessary to amputate.[2] Notice the single glove in the photo. Blegen studied history and classical languages at Augsburg. The Blegens and the Sverdrups were neighbors on Saga Hill, so when it came time for Carl to choose a graduate program, he chose Yale because his friend George Sverdrup the Younger had gone there for his graduate studies. Carl received a Ph.D. from Yale in 1920. During his graduate studies, he was a fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. While in Greece, he met fellow archaeologist Elizabeth Denny Pierce. They married in 1924 and became partners in life and work.

In 1922, two years out of grad school, Blegen contributed an essay to the Augsburgian yearbook on the topic of his excavations at ancient Corinth:

When a modern archaeologist excavates an ancient site like Corinth, long inhabited through many changing periods, he finds not simply one buried city, but a complicated succession of cites … not always one below the other in orderly layers, but often one mixed up with another in almost inextricable confusion. But the remains thus brought to light, if they can be sorted out in their proper sequence, provide a monumental record of the vicissitudes of history.

Blegen believed that the great poet Homer had based his epic work, The Iliad, in historical fact. From 1932 to 1939, he excavated at the Hisarlik site of ancient Troy, improving on the work of nineteenth-century predecessors, such as Heinrich Schliemann. Blegen isolated a total of 47 strata from different periods of Trojan history, mapped and photographed the sites, and placed them in chronological order. At Troy VII, in addition to artifacts that indicated a highly developed Bronze Age civilization, he discovered human bone fragments, arrowheads strewn about, and evidence that the city had been razed by fire. Based on this evidence, Blegen argued that Troy VII was the site of Homer’s epic poem.

In 1927, Blegen joined the faculty of the University of Cincinnati, and taught there for thirty years. The photo of Blegen at the front of this chapter hangs in the University of Cincinnati Library, which in 1983 the university rededicated in his honor. Blegen became one of the leading archaeologists in the world. He was the recipient of honorary degrees from numerous universities, including the universities of Oslo, Thessaloniki, Athens, and Cincinnati. In 1957, the Echo reported on Blegen’s receipt of an honorary doctorate from Oxford University:

An Augsburg graduate known as the scholar who re-excavated Troy will receive the honorary degree of doctor of literature from Oxford University next month. Dr. Carl Blegen, professor of classical archaeology at the University of Cincinnati, is one of two Americans being so honored this year by the British university. Dr. Blegen graduated from Augsburg in 1904 … He is in Greece now completing a series of excavations of the palace of Nestor, a prominent figure in the Homeric legends. Dr. Blegen located the site of the palace before World War II and began excavating after the war. Six volumes of his series on Troy have been published and two more books are still to come.[3]

In 1965, Blegen became the first recipient of the Gold Medal for Archaeological Achievement, awarded by the Archaeological Institute of America.

[1] Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, Jack L. Davis, and Vasiliki Florou, eds., Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaelogical Narratives (Atlanta, 2015), 19-20.

[2] “Arm amputated,” Minneapolis Journal (13 October 1902), 6.

[3] “Oxford Honors Carl Blegen, Augsburg Graduate of 1904,” Echo 63:14 (24 May 1957), 2.

March 28, 1937 Augsburg Choir Performance Broadcast Coast-to-Coast by NBC

On this day in Augsburg history… It was Easter Sunday and Augsburg was about to be put in the national spotlight.

What follows is an excerpt edited for length and clarity from an earlier draft of “Hold Fast to What is Good,” the sesquicentennial history of Augsburg University, by Phil Adamo.

Henry P. Opseth

Singing ourselves out of barns

 We were happy to learn that the Augsburg College Choir … [has] been honored in a special way by the National Broadcasting Company through an invitation to sing on the annual NBC Easter Program that is broadcast from coast to coast in America, and from America to Norway.[1]

THE FIRST TIME Augsburg College got on the map, the first time it had name recognition beyond the Norwegian Lutheran community—with people who didn’t have to care—it was thanks to its music ensembles.

Theodore Reimestad, an Augsburg graduated from 1875, returned to the faculty in 1882, having studied music throughout the United States and Europe. In 1892, Reimestad started the Augburg Quartet, whose forte was singing songs in the cause of the temperance movement during their summer vactions. Their success was fueled by the conviction that “few nationalities… suffered more from drunkenness,” than the Norwegians.[2] In 1895, the Quartet toured Norway, the first American musical group to tour the homeland, giving 45 concerts. In 1898, F. Melius Christiansen became a student at Augsburg and joined the Quartet. Christiansen’s name has become synonymous with Lutheran choral music. He was recruited to teach at St. Olaf, and would later become the founding director of the St. Olaf Choir.[3] Aaargh—St. Olaf!!!

But Christiansen repaid his alma mater in the early 1920s when he recommended one of his St. Olaf students to teach at Augsburg. Henry Opseth was a tuba virtuoso in the St. Olaf band, but when he joined the Augsburg music faculty he conducted the Men’s Glee Club. In 1922, when Augsburg went co-ed, he conducted a women’s ensemble known as the Choral Society. Male and female ensembles performed together in 1924, but this merger didn’t stick until 1933, when they officially became the Augsburg Choir. Under Opseth’s leadership.[4] It was this mixed choir that performed coast-to-coast on NBC’s Easter Program in 1937.

According to music historian Paul Benson:

The choir sang well under Opseth’s leadership, with a passion which reflected Opseth’s intense personality. His training as a bandsman, as in the case of Christiansen, aided him in his work as a choral director. Opseth built a choir with distinctive choral tone and, with only limited vocal resources, accomplished the task of producing a quality choir year after year.[5]

Opseth’s other skill was in recognizing and nurturing the talents of his students. F. Melius Christiansen had done this with Ospeth. Now Opseth did this with a young Leland Sateren, who would return to Augsburg to replace his teacher. According to Sateren:

Opseth was absolutely selfless in his encouragement of many of us. In my case, he gave me many opportunities to direct the choir – even in public appearances, and finally in my senior year appointed me assistant director.[6]

Lelan Sateren

In the 1930s and 1940s, the choir’s repertoire was entirely religious, aimed at Lutheran congregations. This changed with the arrival of Leland Sateren. Opseth’s prodigy graduated from Augsburg in 1935. He was a conscientious objector in World War II, and joined the faculty in 1946. Sateren took charge of the choir in 1950, upon Opseth’s death. As Sateren began to build the choir in his own image, it continued to perform in churches, but branched out to concert halls. Critics through- out the United States and Europe sang the choir’s praises. Again, Professor Benson:

 Dagbladet (Oslo) commented on the choir’s “extraordinarily pure sound” while Oslo’s Aftenposten noted its “exquisite pianissimos and truly full-toned singing with power and body.” In Germany, the Stuttgart Nachrichten remarked that Sateren was “a virtuoso ‘playing’ on the choir as one would on a precious instrument.” In the American press, the Capitol Times (Madison, Wisconsin) called the singing of the Augsburg Choir “magnificent”; and perhaps the most generous praise came from the National Broadcasting Company’s music supervisor who wrote, “I can remember no better choral performance on the air in all the years I have been with NBC.”[7]

It appeared as if thirty years might be the standard for Augsburg choral directors. Opseth served from the early 1920s to 1950; Sateren from 1950 to 1979. The run was broken following the Sateren era, with three choral directors over forty years: Larry Fleming (1979-86), who created the yearly ritual known as Advent Vespers; Tom Rossin (1986-92), a relatively brief stint; and Peter Hendrickson (1994-present), another alum of the College, who studied under Sateren. Over the years, the repertoire has continued to expand, as have the venues. Under Hendrickson, the men’s ensemble known as the Cedar Singers performed Gregorian chant as the opening act for Monty Python’s Terry Jones during a talk about medieval history that he gave on campus. (Pie Jesu Domine, dona eius requiem … THWACK!)[8] The full Augsburg Choir served as the backup choir for Barry Manilow, when he performed at the Excel Center in Saint Paul. The annual Advent Vespers services continue, a pre-Christmas tradition—and a cash cow—for the music department. In 2005, the TPT broadcast of Advent Vespers, recorded in Central Lutheran Church, won a regional Emmy award.[9]

Back in 1937, over 100 students auditioned for the 50 spots in the Augsburg Choir. The demand was so great that a second choir, and a men’s chorus were created, both under the direction of Norman Myrvik.[10] Music had become so popular on campus that the makeshift rehearsal spaces of earlier days would no longer do. With the start of Bernhard Christensen’s administration, there was great anticipation that vigorous fundraising might bring a new music building. According to Myrvyk:

We seem to have come to a period in the growth of our college when visions of a glorious future in every field of activity prevails, and not least so in the department of music. With such an intense interest manifested in music, expansion has been necessary. Untold possibilities lie ahead. Perhaps Opseth’s prophetic statement of ‘singing ourselves out of the barns into a new palace’ will not seem as fantastic in the years to come as it does now.[11]

The choir did eventually sing itself out of barns, yet they didn’t exactly move into a palace. Instead, in 1947, they got the old Baptist Tabernacle Church, which once stood on 8th Street South, across from Murphy Square Park.

Like many colleges, Augsburg found it easier to use an old building rather than build a new one. In the case of the Baptist Tabernacle, there was nothing a little paint and remodeling couldn’t fix. The church was built of brick on a square plan, with two large central gables on either side of a tower, arched windows on the top stories and above exterior doors. Crosses decorated the central, horizontal panels in each of the large, two-story gable windows. The College remodeled the space to include large and small group practice rooms. They covered over the large, full-immersion baptismal font, and the platform thus created became a performance stage. Over time, Augsburg shortened the tower and whitewashed the brick exterior. After this, any historic integrity the building once had was significantly diminished. The Tabernacle was torn down after the 1978 completion of the new Music Building, which choral director Leland Sateren infamously proclaimed would never be built in his lifetime.[12] Sverdrup, Parcel, and Associates, who had designed the Urness Tower and the Christensen Center, also designed Music Hall.

In 2014, the College renamed the Music Building, the Charles S. Anderson Music Hall.

[3]“Hats Off to the Choir!” Echo 41:5 (19 March 1937), 2.

[2] Chrislock, From Fjord to Freeway, 107.

[3] Paul Maurice Glasoe, “A Singing Church” (vol. 13, p. 92) at NAHA online,

[4] Paul Benson, “A Cappella Choirs in the Scandinavian-American Lutheran Colleges” (1989), vol. 32, p. 221, NAHA online, at

[5] Benson, “A Cappella Choirs”

[6] Leland Sateren, A Brief History of Augsburg College and Its Choral Music (Edina, Minnesota, 1983), 4.

[7] Benson, “A Cappella Choirs.”

[8]  “Monty Python’s Terry Jones to Speak at Augsburg” Augsburg News Archives (26 September 2007),

[9] “Advent Vespers video wins Emmy,” Augsburg Now 68:2 (Winter 2005-2006), 2.

[10] “Second Choir,” Augsburgian (1937).

[11] Norman Myrvik, “Music Box,” Echo 41:12 (21 May 1937), 2.

[12] See STrib article about Sateren eating his words.


March 2010 Last Augsburgian Yearbook Published

On this day in Augsburg history… 2010 was the last year of The Augsburgian which was the name of Augsburg’s yearbook. You can visit Augsburg’s online archives to see digitized copies of these alumni relations treasures!

What follows is an excerpt edited for length and clarity from an earlier draft of “Hold Fast to What is Good,” the sesquicentennial history of Augsburg University, by Phil Adamo.

The Augsburgian

College Yearbook


YALE UNIVERSITY published the first college yearbook in 1806. Since practical commercial photography wasn’t invented until 1839, it had no photos of the graduating class, campus clubs, or anything else we’ve come to expect in yearbooks. In the 1880s, printing processes became faster and easier, and more schools started producing yearbooks, which they managed on a one-off basis. The 1930s saw the development of yearbook companies, such as Balfour, Jostens, and Herff Jones. These companies sent sales reps to schools to help college yearbook staffs with production, and even held camps for teenage students working on their high school yearbooks.[1]

Augsburg published its first yearbook, The Augsburgian, in 1916. That edition contained 112 pages, 16 of which in the back were filled with advertisements to help fund publication. The first photo on the inside was of a boyish-looking George Sverdrup, 37 years old, only six years into his presidency at the College. There followed photos of New Main, the Board of Trustees (all men), and Minnehaha Falls. Then came a full-page admonishment entitled “The Students’ Responsibility,” followed by a photo of Augsburg treasurer Ragna Sverdrup (George’s sister), showing her importance in the life of the College by her prominence in the yearbook. The faculty came next: professors, instructors, one librarian, and a registrar, totaling 19 (all men). Photos and information on seminary students came next, then those in the college and academy. The rest of the yearbook comprised page after page of student clubs and organizations. The first of these, naturally, was a composite photo of the Augsburgian staff itself, accompanied by a kind of mission statement from the editor of this first yearbook:

The “Augsburgian” will make us better Augsburgians. Every alumnus of our beloved institution will, we hope, be bound together more firmly into Augsburg’s brotherhood as this unpretentious volume is issued from time to time. And that is what Augsburg needs: a united body of active and aggressive Augsburgians. We ought to fall in line to a man and work for new equipment, a new dormitory, and more students. We Augsburgians must help make our school progress so as to meet the best demands of a live, twentieth century young man seeking a good education … A glance at the faces and places you were accustomed to see daily will bring back many fond reminiscences of happy days at Augsburg … We hope that this first volume will be but a herald of better ones to come. As years pass and time rolls on and each succeeding volume brings the news that the brotherhood of Augsburgians is growing larger, may they bring back to you, dear Alumnus, favorite thoughts— thoughts of peace, happiness, and aspiration.[2]

The yearbook was an alumni development tool. Its intent was to create cohorts of students who would remain loyal to their alma mater, and to evoke the “fond reminiscences of happy days” of college. Its intent was to inspire support and donations.

The Augsburgian began as a biennial publication, appearing in even years. At the start of the Great Depression, the College skipped a year, from 1932 to 1935, moving the biennial appearances to the odd years. The 1941 and 1942 issues appeared consecutively, but 1943 and 1944 were skipped during the war years, probably to ration paper. Starting in 1947, with post-war prosperity, the Augsburgian began to appear every year, and did so until its last issue in 2010. The only year missing is 1986, when the Augsburgian staff absconded with the funds, and did not produce the yearbook they were charged to create.[3] Though graphic styles changed, content was largely the same from year to year: photos, names, and titles of faculty, students, and staff; group shots of student organizations; the occasional poem or inspirational artwork; collages of students doing goofy stuff that students in every age always seem to do.

The Augsburgian was discontinued after 2010, in part due to funding issues, but also lack of interest. With students able to curate every moment of their own lives with their smart phones and Facebook accounts, they no longer needed anything so quaint as a yearbook. In 2007, a Washington Post article lamented the demise of the yearbook as a national trend:

College yearbooks have been slowly disappearing as campuses expand and diversify and students’ lives move online, away from paper records of their college memories. The thick volumes can cost as much as $100 each at a time when some students have difficulty paying for textbooks … campus historians gush about the importance of yearbooks, how they capture an academic year and preserve it for future generations.[4]

If for no other reason, they serve as a record of the bad haircuts and outrageous fashion choices of our youth.


[1] “The History of Yearbooks,” Balfour/Ohio Yearbooks, https://balfourohioyearbooks.wordpress

.com/2013/10/08/the-history-of-yearbooks/. For yearbook summer camps, see Herff Jones Signature Camps,

[2] Augsburgian (1916), 36.

[3] See Patty Lee, “Augsburgian staff upset over lack of leadership, pay” Echo 92:22 (9 May 1986), 1-2; and Devoney Looser, “Augsburgian issue—Senate pursues more evidence,” Echo 93:11 (12 December 1986), 3.

[4] Jenna Johnson, “Yearbooks ending at University of Virginia, other colleges,” Washington Post (27 January 2010), 10012602540.html.