1999 AAA Recipients
Dr. Curtis Baaken ‘56
“I’m a long-term optimist and a short term pessimist—every day is a good day!” As a child growing up in Hawley, MN, Dr. Curtis Bakken dreamed of becoming a doctor. The fact that he had little money didn’t stop him. After graduating from Concordia, he went on to medical school, graduating with honors. In 1980 the Mayo Clinic named him director of its financially struggling Medical Laboratories. Undaunted by the operation’s deficit balance, Curtis developed a proactive sales and marketing department that let the world know about the Mayo Clinic’s Laboratory services. When he retired 15 years later, Mayo’s Medical Laboratories was a profitable, renowned international operation. Known for his infectious enthusiasm and positive attitude, Curtis served on the Concordia Board of Regents and as president of the Alumni Board. He delights in bringing people together, he and his wife, Ruth, lead annual bicycle ours of Europe, sharing their adventurous spirit with people around the world. “I have a hand-carved plaque in my office of James 2:14 ‘What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?’ I think about that verse every single day.”
Joanne (Hanson) Negstad ‘58
“God leads us in ways we don’t always understand at the time, but when we look back it all makes sense.” Joanne Negstad marvels at the path her life has taken…and is profoundly grateful. President and chief executive officer of Lutheran Services in America, Joanne manages a nationwide network of Lutheran human service and long-term care programs that annually delivers more than $3 billion in services to two million people in 3,000 communities. Chair of the ELCA Churchwide Children’s Initiative, she is passionate about helping others, earning high praise for her ability to lead with integrity and compassion. “It is so important to support and coach the people with whom I work. People get a lot of energy if they are genuinely affirmed for what they are doing. In times of anxiety it’s also important to be a circuit breaker rather than a transformer.” Joanne’s strong desire to serve goes back to her childhood. Her father was a pastor; her other a leader in church activities. “Life is satisfying when I am really in tune with my walk with God. I want to continue to learn, to be in healthy relationships, and to continue doing work that contributes to the greater good.”
Ronald D. Offutt ‘64
“Failure is a momentary score—the final game outcome is your walk through life. No matter what happens, you can’t give up.” Ron Offutt has never given up, regardless of the challenge facing him. When the farm boy who couldn’t afford college was offered the chance to play football at Concordia—and a job washing socks to help pay tuition—he said yes and never looked back. Now that farm boy is the world’s leading potato grower, with 55,000 acres in nine states and a frozen foods plant that produces French fries for McDonalds, Burger King and other major restaurant chains; his RDO Equipment is the largest string of John Deere stores in the nation. Ron acknowledges it has been quite a journey. “Opportunity has presented itself in both the successes and failures—and the failures have brought wisdom.” Chair of the Concordia Board of Regents and co-chair of the 21st Century Fund, he has helped the college surpass the $60 million goal with a year left in the campaign; and he isn’t finished dreaming. “Every time you climb to the top of the hill and think you’re done, you look out and see there are other hills you would like to climb. With a combination of hard work, perseverance and a sense of fairness, you can do it.”
Al Siegle ‘57
It was a high school football team coach Al Siegle will never forget—and the players will never forget him. “At the beginning of the season those guys had no idea or concept of winning. But they worked hard, and got a little bit better every game. They never gave up. At the end of the season, those kids still hadn’t won a game, but they had gained so much insight about life. It was one of the best feelings I’ve had in coaching.” Al has had a profound influence on countless young lives during the 36-year career in teaching and coaching and administration. Named Pelican Rapids Teacher of the Year, he was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 1994 was named Minnesota Athletic Director of the Year. He has dedicated his life to bringing out the best in young people. When students needed a friend, they knew they could go to Al. “It’s important to be patient and be a good listener. You have to understand their life situations, and help them find solutions to their problems.” Al’s philosophy is simple. “Whatever situation you’re in, make the best of it. Ground yourself in a strong faith in your God, then go out and do the best you can.”
1998 AAA Recipients
Dr. Albert Anderson ’51
When Dr. Albert Anderson is asked to speak at high school and college commencements, his advice to the graduates is always the same. “Aim high and a little to the left.” In other words, dream big and think “outside of the box.”
Following that advice has worked for him - and countless students and numerous organizations throughout the country that reap the benefits of his expertise as a respected philosopher, theologian, teacher and administrator. His accomplished career includes chair of philosophy departments at Concordia and Augsburg; vice president of institutional advancement at Luther College; director of development at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; president of Lenoir-Rhyne College and Misericordia College; senior development officer for the University of Minnesota Foundation; and managing partner and founder of Anderson/Swenson Inc., Minneapolis. He also helped develop and served as the first provost of Tri-College University.
“We need to be fully open to the future. Embrace the changes and concentrate on developing the character that will see us through those changes. It is that development of character that comes before anything else.
Martha Maakestad ’65
Growing up a pastor’s daughter, moving every five or six years, Martha Maakestad learned early to make the most of every opportunity. When the talented nurse was hired at a small hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., she rose quickly to the challenge of working in a medical facility located in an economically depressed community. “I enjoy serving. I became hooked on this area because it is so diverse and seemed to be a place where there was a need.”
Martha is now one of the top administrators at Lutheran Medical Center, which has grown to a 520-bed medical facility. Vice president for patient care since 1976, she manages to hospital’s $50 million annual nursing budget and is responsible for all aspects of nursing budget and is responsible for all aspects of nursing services throughout the medical center and the Sunset Park Family Family Health Center Network. She also developed the medical center’s Women’s Health Partnership, and was honored as a Woman of Distinction by the YWCA of Brooklyn. “As it says in Luke 12:48, ‘. . .From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ I was given a lot in my life, and I think it’s necessary to give back.”
Dr. Larry Fleming ’60
Seven years ago Dr. Larry Fleming and wife, cut through the forest near Glacier National Park and found a bit of heaven on earth. Together they built a log cabin at the site - a quiet refuge where larry composes and edits the music he loves. Founder and director of the National Lutheran Choir, Larry has an intense passion for sacred choral music. “When you combine music with words and the Word - when it has meaning beyond what it would have by itself - music can awaken and evoke powerful thoughts and memories.”
During his career, the nationally respected educator, writer, arranger, performer, and conductor has led choirs at Concordia, Augsburg, Valparaiso University, Luther Seminary and University of Minnesota; conducted All-State Choirs; directed choirs and orchestras at many international concert halls and worship festivals; and published numerous musical compositions, including “Give Me Jesus,” a top seller for the past two decades and second only to “Beautiful Savior” in total all-time sales. However, Larry doesn’t dwell on past accomplishments, preferring to look ahead.
Dr. David K. Olson ’63
The familiar prayer has hung on the wall of Dr. David Olson’s study for 35 years: “God grant me the strength to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed; the courage to change what can and should be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.”
There is no question the professor of political science at the University of Washington in Seattle has had the courage and wisdom to foster change. Recipient of numerous distinguished teaching awards, he has published scores of articles and five books. He has earned an international reputation and groundbreaking research on distinguishing between the public and private sectors, and how the two can best work together to enhance a community, state or nation. A consultant for governing agencies and universities throughout the country and abroad, he is frequently called to give expert testimony in precedent-setting public policy cases.
He was also honored with the university’s prestigious Harry Bridges Endowed Chair in Labor Studies. The monetary award accompanying the endowed chair was directed to founding The Center for Labor Studies, which David established in ongoing efforts to link the university with the community.
1997 AAA Recipients
Miles “Mity” Johnson ‘51
No one quite remembers how the boy from Elbow Lake, Minn., came to be known as “Mity,” but that’s the nickname Miles Johnson has answered to since childhood, a time he remembers fondly. “I can’t imagine growing up in a better place. Even though my father died when I was only eight years old, it was like I had 50 fathers. Everyone in town looked out for the three Johnson boys.”
That community’s loving commitment to others lives on in this dedicated, gifted teacher of music. Retired after 37 years as the nationally renowned director of the St. Olaf Band, Mity has inspired students to reach for excellence in music and in their lives. “One of the most important jobs in the world is to be a teacher. No matter which course you teach, students must be taught the difference between right and wrong.”
When Mity retired in 1994, the governor proclaimed “Miles Johnson Day” in Minnesota, honoring the music director whose warmth and enthusiasm brought decades of joy to auditorium audiences and classroom rehearsals – an educator who never stops teaching…or learning.
Florence (Larson) Sponberg ‘37
There was a time when Florence Sponberg didn’t believe she had the strength or courage to make a significant impact in the quest for world peace. One day, during a chance meeting, a stranger offered this encouragement: “just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.”
Professor emeriti of English at Mankato State University, Florence is tireless in efforts to challenge and change destructive forces in the world. Florence and her husband, Raymond, established the MayDay! Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College, an annual event exploring the roads to a nuclear-free world and peace among nations. To underscore the importance of ethical thinking and behavior at home and in the community, the Sponbergs established a chair in ethics at Gustavus; the couple also received the Mankato Book of Golden Deeds Award in 1991.
“Even though there are so many problems today, we try to maintain a positive attitude and have faith that what we are doing will help,” says Florence. When asked how others can help make the world a better place, this dedicated advocate for peace and justice quotes a dear friend, who says “We should love God passionately, and love our neighbor compassionately.”
Coya (Cornelia Gjesdal) Knutson ‘34
“The word vindication never entered my vocabulary.” When Coya Knutson died in October 1996, an article in The Washington Post called her “a transformational figure in America.” In just two terms as the only woman elected to Congress from Minnesota, Knutson created legislation that led to what she called her proudest professional accomplishments: the student loan program and the first money for cystic fibrosis research. For years, those accomplishments were overshadowed by the infamous “Coya Come Home” letter allegedly written by an abusive, alcoholic husband at the urging of her political foes – what The Washington Post called “one of the more tawdry acts of political sabotage in history.”
Now, the shadow has lifted. Knutson’s remarkable story of courage, strength and dignity will be told in an NBC-TV movie scheduled in November; Oscar-nominated actress Glenn Close will play Coya.
“One of the greatest gifts my mother gave me was her strength of character and steadfastness in faith,” say her son, Terry. “I saw her quiet dignity through her many tragedies. She often said, ‘The world is made up of would haves, could haves, should haves, and maybes. The mark of maturity is making a decision and living with the consequences.”
Earl Stein Jr. ‘54
When Fargo-Moorhead community leaders, service groups and charitable organizations talk about Earl Stein Jr., one word comes up over and over again. That word is loyal.
Through his unwavering loyalty to family, church and community, Earl has distinguished himself as a business leader of the highest integrity. He has served as president of numerous organizations, including the Moorhead Area Chamber of Commerce, Fargo-Moorhead YMCA, North Dakota Reserve Officers Association and Moorhead Rotary Club. A board member at Norwest Bank, MeritCare Medical Center, and Moorhead Stat University Foundation, he also served as chair of Concordia board of regents and C-400. After 34 years in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Earl retired as captain.
As president of Stein’s Inc., Earl saw the family business expand from five employees to 34 at the time of his retirement in 1995. “It’s gratifying to see the company grow with employees who’ve been with us 10, 15, 20 years – they came here and stayed. I feel good about that.” That loyalty is no accident. “I always tried to be honest with them; the door was always open. Trust is very important.
1996 AAA Recipients
Dorothy Heieie ‘54
A green ceramic elephant sent by a friend from Vietnam sits on the floor next to one wall. An ornate brass urn from another part of Southeast Asia stands atop a shelf. A Made-in-America magnet on the refrigerator states simply “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
Dorothy Heieie’s south Fargo apartment is decorated with a lifetime of gifts and sentimental treasures from the many places where she has helped other bloom during her career as a home economist, teacher and compassionate volunteer.
“At the age of 25 I heard about International Voluntary Services. They told me they had a job in Laos. I didn’t even know where Laos was.” And so began a 17-year overseas journey that took Dorothy into village homes in Laos and Vietnam during the time of the Communist takeover of Laos and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. In countries torn apart by war, she helped develop home economics programs, primarily teaching women how to become leaders so they could help themselves, their families and their communities. When she returned to the United States, she dedicated her life to helping refugees from those countries adapt to life in their new home. “I know what it’s like to be a minority – a stranger in another land. That’s why I so strongly believe when refuges comes here, they should be treated as well as I was treated there.” An although she can’t display them on a shelf in her home, Dorothy treasures the many lessons learned from those strangers who became friends. “Their cultures and their way of life might be very different than ours, but in the things that really count, we are all the same.”
James Parke ‘68
“When I graduated from Concordia and joined General Electric in 1968, I never dreamed I would have the opportunities and successes I’ve had at GE.”
Today James Parke, a native of Glasgow, Mont., is chief financial officer of GE Capital, one of the largest financial services companies with $190 billion in assets and $2.5 billion in net income. Regarded as one of the nation’s top chief financial officers, he has motivated hundreds of individuals to strive for excellence while maintaining the highest ethical standards.
“Concordia reinforced and helped further develop my understanding of ethical behavior. We live in a world where the pressure to perform could result in compromised values. Fortunately I work for a company that tolerates no unethical behavior and hold its values at a very high level.”
Parke and his wife, Shirley (Anderson) ’68, have committed themselves to helping their community and are actively involved in efforts to educate the disadvantaged. Parke’s business and community relationships are characterized by a powerful ability to communicate with compassion and understanding, and a loyal dedication to helping others achieve their goals.
In a busy, competitive world, Parke believes there are three keys to success. “First, change is ongoing and with more speed than ever. Those who embrace change and see out its opportunities will succeed. Second, learning never stops – it only intensifies after college. Inquisitiveness leads to more knowledge, which triggers other alternatives and new ideas. And third, hard work is always a major ingredient in developing successful people.”
Mineyasu Sugita ‘60
“Many Cobbers invited me to their homes on weekends. There I learned how happy a family could be compared with those I had seen in my country.”
For more than three decades, Mineyasu Sugita has dedicated his life to helping Japanese men, women and children bring balance into their lives. Through his work as a professor of social work and clinical psychology at Fukuoka (Japan) Prefectural University, he has been instrumental in promoting a healthy approach to work and recreation in the intensely competitive Japanese society. In promoting a better social climate, this sought-after speaker and author of more than 20 books has led discussions for teachers, school administrators, health professionals, students, parents and citizen groups.
And always, at the center of his life, is his Christian faith. With his wife, Michiko, he was instrumental in organizing a new Lutheran church in Fukuoka.
“I have an unforgettable memory of my time at Concordia. During my third year at college, a huge typhoon hit the west coast of Japan’s mainland, killing and injuring many people. Concordia was so quick to help the victims by sending money and clothes. I saw the Christian spirit living among Cobbers, and it made my decision clear and concrete as to how I would work upon returning to Japan. Now I am a father of three grown-up children with one grandson. I certainly enjoyed raising my children with my wife, not as an authoritarian or workaholic father, like most of my colleagues. Thanks to Cobbers!”
1995 AAA Recipients
Dr. Loren J. Anderson ’67
“Dr. Anderson, what was your reaction when told about receiving the Concordia Alumni Achievement Award?” Without hesitation, the 12th president of Pacific Lutheran University replies, “Well, my first thought was the selection process is out of control!”
That humble spirit and ever-present sense of humor have played important roles in Anderson’s impressive career as a leader in higher education. From his days as a professor of speech and communication, to his administrative achievements on behalf of the national church, Concordia College and Pacific Lutheran University, this “small-town boy” from Rugby, N.D., has relied on a strong work ethic instilled in him as a child.
“There is no such this as a self-made person. We all gain strength from others,” says Anderson. “We all have wonderful responsibility to use our God-give gifts to the best of our ability, and to use those gifts to help others and our community.”
Anderson is often praised for his inspirational leadership skills and his ability to make dreams become reality. In just three years as president of PLU, Anderson has engineered a remarkable growth in the endowment fund and a 30 percent increase in freshman enrollment. “I believe a good leader in the 1990s must be able to identify talent and build that talent into a cohesive team that shares a common vision. The secret to success is to have the faith in others to let go of the leadership role, to find the courage to give away responsibility and let others excel. And then, a good leader must say thank you.”
Eunice (Nordby) Simonson ’52
“To be lovingly called Mama and Bibi (grandmother) by hundreds is one of my greats rewards.”
Eunice Simonson’s life is filled with love - the love she gives in ways too numerous to count; the love she receives in quantities too great to measure. Working side-by-side with her husband, the Rev. Dave Simonson ’51, this nurse-missionary has spent 40 years in Tanzania, helping establish maternal and childhealth education programs; and running her own “backdoor clinic” frequented by mothers and babies. She has reached deep into the hearts of the Maasai people and found joy.
“Our missionary work for the ELCA gives me a sense of awe and thankfulness,” says Eunice. “The lessons learned from difficulties always underline God’s faithfulness. And the lessons we have learned from our African brothers and sisters about faith, love, sharing and life are immeasurable.”
Eunice Simonson, mother of five, grandmother of 15, and Bibi to hundreds of men, women, and children in Africa, says her life has been blessed in many ways.
“Life is a gift, and we have received it in abundance. We have experienced this in relationships it in audience. We have experienced this in in relationships that have been established and nurtured through service to God and to each other. At Confirmation, my father gave me these verses, Psalm 139:23,24. They have been a prayer for me always: ‘Search me, O Lord, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there by any wicked ways in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’"
Joyce Monson Tsongas ’63
“It never occurred to me there might be barriers to reaching my goals. If there were, it would only be those barriers within me.”
As far back as Joyce Monson Tsongas can remember, high expectations and high ethical standards have been powerful guiding forces in her life. She says those values were all around her as a child, growing up on the Concordia campus, where her father was a longtime speech professor and where her mother worked in the placement office. Tsongas says her parents, Allwin ’38 and Dorothy (Nelson) Monson ’38, were inspiring role models. “What my parents form college - positive energy, commitment and intellectual curiosity - they passed on to the next generation.”
Today, the woman who began her professional career teaching high school speech and English and coaching debate and forensics, is president of Tsongas Associates in Portland, Ore., a nationally acclaimed trial consulting firm that has done jury research and consulting work in more than 35 states. Those who work with Tsongas on a professional level praise her pioneering skills and knowledge, ethical insight, compassion, sensitivity, and positive spirit. A tireless volunteer in her community, she believes in the importance of being proactive.
“It has been so rewarding to see how strong values can have an impact in the real world. I believe it is important to have high ethical standards in business because it is simply the right thing to do. But to see proof that having high ethical and competency standards in my profession is also good for business is truly gratifying.