2004 AAA Recipients
Richard L. Torgerson ‘64
President of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Torgerson grew up on a wheat farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. After graduating from Concordia in biology, he earned his master’s degree in entomology and doctorate in entomology and zoology at Washington State University. He then taught biology at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, and at Texas Lutheran College in Seguin. After 10 years at Texas Lutheran, Torgerson’s career concentration in administration began when he became vice president for academic affairs and dean of Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas. He took a similar position at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, where he was appointed academic dean, vice president and later, acting president. Seven years later, Torgerson became vice president for development at Wartburg, before joining Gustavus Adolphus, where he assumed the same position. He became Luther’s president in 1999.
Gordon L. Eid ‘66
Eid has had the opportunity to be an active ambassador for Concordia in his years as senior vice president and general counsel for American Express Financial Advisors in Minneapolis and in retirement. After receiving his law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1969, Eid joined IDS Financial Services (now American Express Financial Advisors), where he spent most of his career. A highly respected businessman and devoted man of faith, Eid is a long-time member of Calvary Lutheran Church of Golden Valley, MN. There, he has served on the early childhood committee, the outreach committee and the church council. He is a member of the Higher Education Study Committee of the Minnesota League of Citizens, formed at the request of Gov. Tim Pawlenty to make recommendations for supporting higher education in Minnesota. A member of the Foundation Board at Luther Seminary, Eid is also a former member and chair of the Concordia Board of Regents.
Judge John R. Tunheim ‘75
Judge John Tunheim is one of seven United States District Court judges in Minnesota. During his career, he has traveled around the world and to Concordia to share his knowledge and experience of the judicial system. Tunheim received a law degree from the University of Minnesota School of Law after graduating summa cum laude from Concordia in 1975. During the early years of his career, he gained recognition as a staff assistant for U.S. Senator Hubert H Humphrey, a law clerk for Senior U.S. District Judge Earl R. Wilson, and as an attorney at Oppenheimer, Wolff, Foster, Shepard & Donnelly. It was then that Tunheim embarked on a decade of distinguished service as Assistant Attorney General, Solicitor General and Chief Deputy Attorney General for the state of Minnesota. At the request of the State Department and Justice Department, Tunheim assisted the United Nations in establishing a judicial system in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. He has also worked to open government information to the public. Appointed by President Clinton in 1993 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1994, Tunheim served as chair of a federal agency that opened the classified files on the assassination of President Kennedy. Tunheim has served as president of Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, MN, as a member of the Minnesota Synod’s executive board and on the ELCA St. Paul synod Council.
Dr. Susan M. Vitalis ‘83
Dr. Susan Vitalis has frequently put herself in the face of danger during her career as a medical missionary. Whether in Kenya, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Bosnia, or Rwanda, she has confronted her fears with a strength and confidence she attributes to her faith. Vitalis has worked a short-term medical missionary for Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization, since the early 1990’s. Vitalis’ calling was redirected after a mission trip to Bosnia. Because of a serious knee injury, she returned to the United States where she learned that medical missionary work in disaster relief was no longer in her future. In 1999, she became the project administrator for the Samaritan’s Purse Children’s Heart Project. The project brings children in need of heart surgery from Bosnia, Kosovo and Mongolia to the United States where they benefit from the donated services of a hospital, host church and host family. She has made several campus visits to relate her experiences, speaking in chapel as well as at the Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium.
2003 AAA Recipients
Rev. Carl Lee ‘52
Carl Lee was born and raised on a farm near Badger, MN. After he graduated with honors from Concordia, he enrolled at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. He was ordained in 1956 and served congregations in Big Sandy and Box Elder, MT for five years. He accepted a call to be Concordia’s first campus pastor and began his ministry there in August 1961. In 1968-69 he was granted a leave of absence to study pastoral care and counseling. Returning to Concordia in 1969 he was named acting director of counseling and began teaching a few classes in addition to his pastoral duties. Pastor Carl was one of the founding members of the Fargo-Moorhead’s crisis HOTLINE. He served two terms on the ELCA’s National Board of Appeals and has served on numerous mental health and social issues boards and committees. Carl married Ann Teigen ’54, an elementary education major and teacher. They have two sons, both Cobbers, Michael ’79 (Mary Cotton ’79) and Ronald ’81 (Karen Flom). They have four grandchildren, Michelle and Mark, and Brianne and Kara.
Dr. James Nestingen ‘67
A 1967 graduate of Concordia, James Nestingen, is associate professor of church history at Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary. After graduating from Concordia, he studied at Luther Theological Seminary. In 1984, he received a Doctorate in Theology from St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. He served as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Coquille, Oregon from 1971-1974. He was curriculum editor for Augsburg Publishing House (1974-1978) and went to Luther Northwestern Seminary from 1976-1978, returning in 1980. He has devoted the last 23 years (this current as of 2003) to teaching at Luther Seminary. He served congregations in Oregon and Toronto. He also taught in Tanzania. James has published four books including “Martin Luther: His Life and His Writings” and written a number of articles published in professional journals.
Dr. Mark P. Johnson ‘76
Mark is the Director of Obstetrical Services in the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment at the world famous Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. An expert in diagnosing and treating birth defects, Mark is a part of a fetal team whose innovative work includes saving lives by performing surgery on unborn babies. After graduating from Concordia in 1976, Mark spent five years doing genetic research at the University of Minnesota, where he also earned his master’s and doctorate degrees. Upon the completion of his residency in OB/GYN at the University of Michigan, he took a clinical fellowship at Detroit Medical Center. Soon after he joined the faculty at Wayne State in the genetics program. He teamed with Dr. Mark Evans to develop one of the country’s premier centers for prenatal diagnosis and fetal therapy. Mark was invited to join the Philadelphia Fetal Team in 1998. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and has become a highly sought speaker at national and international meetings.
Myrna (Hanson) Johnson ‘50
Since she was a young girl, Myrna dreamed of taking her talents on stage as a singer, dancer and actor. She graduated from Concordia in 1950 with a B.A. in English and Drama. Her dreams have come true as she has compiled a countless cast of theatrical credits. She is a founding member of the Northfield Minnesota Arts Guild and has retired as its long-time artistic director. In her community, Myrna has directed over 100 plays and musicals (1959-1996) and has served as a choir director and organist for over 25 years.
2002 AAA Recipients
Esther H. (Gronhovd) Allen ‘55
Teaching is Esther Allen’s greatest passion. “There are many ways to teach, and nearly every activity I’ve ever been involved in has included teaching,” says Allen. “My abilities for organization and planning center on my interest in people. I have a passion for people and a compassion.” Allen’s unique skills of leadership, communication skills, problem solving and community building have served her well in every community where he has lived. While living in Bloomington, MN, she co-founded a chapter of Children with Learning Disabilities, coordinated an international convention of professionals who work with children with learning disabilities, and served on the school board. She later became administrative assistant to Minnesota Governor Albert Quie, and was the organizer and coordinator of Concordia’s Centennial celebration and the 1995 royal visit of King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway while serving as President Dovre’s assistant. “I’m definitely a person who likes to take full advantage of opportunities as they come. I feel comfortable talking to people and participating in everything. I believe one of my gifts is organization and the willingness and confidence to be a leader. To me, it’s a chance to teach and have fun. The bigger the challenge, the more fun it is for me.” One of Allen’s biggest honors was the establishment of the Esther H. Allen Humanitarian Award, created by MeritCare Health System of Fargo, to honor those best exemplifying community involvement. “These awards are very humbling because I feel I’m representative of many Concordia graduates who volunteer and work in organizations to keep things going. This Alumni Achievement award represents all of us who work to make our communities better places in which to live.”
Dr. Jeremy R. Torstveit, M.D. ‘69
Dr. Jeremy Torstveit is a board certified pediatric thoracic and cardiac surgeon practicing in Phoenix and president and co-founder of the Children’s Heart Project. Since 1991, he has made annual trips to Sri Lanka to perform heart surgeries, teach native doctors, and deliver much-needed medical supplies For this pioneering humanitarian work, Torsveit was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. “Almost every day I spend time on logistics or collecting supplies for Sri Lanka,” says Torstveit. “My antenna is out all the time because just a little bit goes a long way over there. Third World countries need the most basic things.” Torsveit is considered to be a model of the Christian healer-physician who gives of his time and skills to the less fortunate. “Concordia is a life experience for me. I grew up across the street from the campus, and the students and professors were my friends. I was exposed since my earliest days to Concordia what Christian service meant. I am so fortunate for that influence on me. I was exposed to ideas and the good things in life, like art and music, and the attitude that anything was reachable for me if I expended the effort. I lived a childhood of grace with no negatives. And when I entered medical school in New York City, I found out that I had been prepared better—decidedly better—than my Ivy League classmates. Concordia offered me an absolutely superb environment to prepare for life.”
Donald J. Gaetz ‘71
Don Gaetz has applied lessons learned at Concordia to his careers in his own distinctly individual style. “I never got a single job in my life because of my Concordia education. I could never have done a single job in my life—in public service, in business, in education—without my Concordia education. I admit that I forgot every lecture but have strained to remember and use every lesson—learned at Concordia.” Gaetz was national oratory champion in 1968 and student body president in 1970. He has since been a principal figure in the American hospital-based hospice, and in 1983, he incorporated Hospice Care, now VITAS Healthcare, with a capital investment of $3,600. Today, VITAS employs 4,000 healthcare workers and operates 23 hospice sites in eight states with annual revenues exceeding $250 million. In 1982, he chaired the effort that gained congressional passage of the Medicare Hospice Benefit, allowing hospice care as a fully reimbursed alternative to hospitalization. In 1985, the National Hospice Organization honored Gaetz as the individual most responsible for the establishment of hospice care within the American healthcare payment system. Now active in governance of the Okaloosa County School Board near his home in Florida, Gaetz led initiatives that resulted in passing historic bonding legislation for $88 million in new public school construction. Gaetz remembers four influential mentors: Dr. Paul Dovre taught me the values and methods of intellectual honesty and rigor; Professor Al Monson taught me to marshal my thoughts well enough to speak and write them; Dr. Ralph Hoppe taught me to delight in literature and conversation; and Pastor Carl Lee gently convinced generations of students that despite our failings, we could and must contribute something in service to God and man. Failing or succeeding in their eyes has always been more important to me than the judgment of any other audience, excepting only my family.”
Dr. Earl Lewis ‘78
A desire for adventure brought Earl Lewis to Concordia. “It was a time when I wanted to be someplace I didn’t know. Coming to the Red River Valley from coastal Virginia was about as different as it gets, but Concordia allowed me to grow in many different ways.” Lewis had intended to earn degrees in psychology and accounting, but after taking an African history class from Dr. David Sandgren, he decided to drop accounting and earn a second major in history. “That’s the beauty of a liberal arts curriculum like Concordia’s. I learned I could explore my possibilities, and during the mid-1970’s there was a sense of exploration on campus. Concordia was small enough so I could explore wherever my interests took me.” Lewis credits his senior research project with Dr. Carroll Engelhardt for helping prepare him for graduate school. “Concordia helped me come to terms with the person I would become. I developed my academic interests, and I found out I wasn’t limited to one field; I learned I could pursue interdisciplinary interest But primarily, my time at Concordia reminds me of the importance of community. I enjoyed working with others willing to take me in, and it was a time to learn about ourselves by accepting our differences.” A rising star in higher education administration, Lewis is dean of the graduate school and vice-provost at the University of Michigan. An active historian, he has published books on race, gender, and culture in American society, including “Love on Trial,” a study of race relations during the Harlem Renaissance. Under his guidance, the University of Michigan’s graduate program in African-American history and culture has recently been ranked first in the country. Lewis was a member of the history faculty at the University of California at Berkeley before joining the Department of History and Afro-American Studies at Michigan in 1989.
2001 AAA Recipients
Rev. Rolf Aaseng ’48
Even if you don’t know the Rev. Rolf Aaseng, chances are you’ve read something he’s written. A retired editor of 20 years with the Lutheran Teacher, The Lutheran Standard, and Augsburg Publishing House, Aaseng has authored 14 books and hundreds of articles for Christian publications. Aaseng graduated from Luther Seminary and received his master of sacred theology from New York Theological Seminary. He served parishes in Park Rapids (Minn.) and Dorset (Minn.) before moving from the pulpit to the pen as editor of Lutheran Teacher in 1958. In 1960 he began a 15-year stint as associate editor at Lutheran Standard. He then worked as curriculum editor at Augsburg Publishing House from 1974 to 1979. His best-selling book, “Sacred Sixty-Six,” originated as a series of devotionals written for The Lutheran Standard. It opened the Bible in a powerful way for churches and families everywhere. Three of Aaseng’s books - “Lift Up Your Heads,” “A Beginner’s Guide to Studying the Bible,” and “Reflections in a Mission Mirror” - are still in print. The latter two were inspired by his mission work in Umpumulo, South Africa, where he served as Bible teacher and acting vice principal at Lutheran Theological College from 1980 to 1988. Despite the tension and danger associated with the volatile political climate of the times, Aaseng cherished the opportunity. Aaseng’s love for writing was fostered during his days as editor of The Concordian. His Concordia career was interrupted in the middle of his sophomore year when he left for war service. He says he came back to college more mature and with a better idea of what the world needed. “The experience crystallized my plans to get into ministry. Concordia opened up all kinds of possibilities and the encouragement to try anything I wanted to do and see how it worked.”
Dr. Carl Bailey '40
Bailey is a brilliant scientist more than 60 years in the making. After graduating from Concordia, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Minnesota. His intriguing career included work in nuclear weapons development at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory from 1942 to 1946. He served on the advisory boards of both the United States Merchant Marine Academy and the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary SChools. In 1979, he was on the Minnesota governor’s commission on nuclear reactor safety. Driven not only by his profession but also by his deep Christian faith, Bailey brought his values to the classroom every day for more than 40 years as a professor of physics, from 1947 to 1988. That span also included 18 years as dean of the College, during a pivotal time in Concordia’s history. “The college was growing rapidly,” recalls Bailey, “and we had to keep pace in the academic realm. It wasn’t just a question of staff and facilities, but keeping the curriculum current and progressive.” Bailey relished the dual roles of dean and professor, and his enthusiasm for teaching and mentoring never waned. “I always appreciated the discipline and dedication of students in my classes,” he says. “They were always so good - not just intellectually, but also personally. Teaching people like that made my experience so rewarding.” Though he officially retired in 1988, Bailey hasn’t stopped teaching. Much of his work these days involves the famed microparticle accelerator he helped secure for the college. His recent F/M Communiversity course exploring the mystery of the atom was a smashing success.
Earl Strinden ’53
Earl Strinden had a motto that served him well during his three-decade career in politics. He thinks every politician should be reminded of it daily: “Fame is a vapor. Popularity is most often a mistake. It is strength of character that has true and lasting meaning.”
Strinden’s strength of character stood the test of time throughout his distinguished service in the North Dakota House of Representatives. Once tabbed “the finest legislative mind ever produced in North Dakota” by The (Fargo, N.D.) Forum, the longtime Republican Majority Leader captured 10 consecutive victories while serving the House from 1966 to 1988. He spearheaded key legislation in coal development, the creation of the State Department of Human Services, education, water projects and tax reform. Along the way, the former Marine picked up his share of battle scars. “I was never afraid of controversy, “ he says. “If someone was mad at me, that was just fine - it’s a natural part of the process. A good leader has to be out on the front lines taking the political shots when they come.”
A native of Litchville, N.D., Strinden earned his master’s degree at the University of North Dakota and taught briefly in Thief River Falls, Minn., before returning to Grand Forks as manager and part owner of his family’s hardware business. He landed a spot on the Grand Forks City Council before shifting to state politics and returning to UND. During most of his 31 years there, he served as executive vice president and chief executive officer of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation. During that time, UND assets grew from $1 million in 1978 to more than $130 million in 2000. “Time after time in development work you discover the goodness of people and their genuine desire to leave the world a better place. I believe everyone wants something standing that is noble and to make their life count for the benefit of others.”
Strinden’s fondness for Concordia, where son Tom ’84 earned his pre-medicine degree, also remains strong. “Concordia is a tremendous family. I made great friends there and I always had the highest regard for Dr. (Joseph) Knutson. You can’t help but be influenced by people you admire and respect, especially when you see the strength of their character.”
Dr. Dorothy M. Still Smoking ’73
Her grandparents raised her to be proud of her Blackfeet heritage. Today, Dorothy M. Still Smoking is sparking pride in a whole new generation of Blackfeet and showing them the power of education. In 1985, Still Smoking co-founded the Piegan Institute, a private, nonprofit organization designed to preserve, protect and promote Blackfeet language and culture. A key part of that effort is Blackfeet immersion schools for children in grade K-6, which is rapidly gaining popularity. In just six years, enrollment has reached 48 students and there is a long waiting list.
“I looked at what Concordia Language Villages does (through culture and language learning) and that gave me a lot of ideas,” says Still Smoking, who earned her doctorate in education at Montana State University. “I figure if Concordia’s programs could rejuvenate and institute language, so could we." It’s a much healthier picture than the one she saw in her earlier days as director of the Blackfeet Head Start program. “Children were being schooled in dilapidated trailers. You could see snow blowing under the doors into the classrooms and mice running across the floor. I couldn’t imagine parents keeping their children in that kind of environment.”
Still Smoking orchestrated a dramatic turnaround in her 11 years there. Every classroom was replaced, five new learning centers were established, staff expanded from 36 to 120, and student enrollment jumped from 200 to 500. Her efforts earned her 1994 Administrator of the Year honors from the National Head Start Association. Still Smoking’s never-ending commitment to education also included prominent roles at Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Mont., from academic dean and Native American studies faculty member to president. Her primary focus now is on consulting work for the Piegan Institute and her ongoing role as an adjunct faculty member at Oklahoma State University. Those who knew Still Smoking during her days as a student at Concordia would not be surprised by her leadership ability. She helped recruit 18 Indian students to campus and organized an impressive powwow at Memorial Auditorium. She also found abundant opportunities to enlighten and be enlightened.
2000 AAA Recipients
Nelle Wang ’31
Nelle Wang epitomizes the American work ethic. At 90-years young she puts in 35 hours a week as controller for Norman Jessen and Associates Inc., in Williston, N.D. “Going to work is therapy for me,” explains Wang. “I bond with people and keep in touch with what’s happening.” Born in a log house on her father’s homestead in Cartwright, N.D., she was the first in her township to graduate college. And she cherished her Cobber memories. She’ll never forget her first Concordia Homecoming weekend. “My athletic prowess was nil, but I did win freshmen-sophomore 100-yard dash that freed us freshmen from wearing our green beanies for another three weeks!” Most important, Concordia is where she met her husband, the late Gilman Wang ’32. Their commitment to Concordia lives on through the Nelle and Gilman Wang Scholarship Fund.
Nelle held several positions in the banking industry until 1942 when she and Gil returned to Cartwright to run her family farm for 15 years. In 1957, they accepted positions with Northwestern Federal Savings and Loan Association in Williston, where they worked together with Northwestern until moving on to her current position in 1976. Nelle’s résumé also includes countless contributions to church and community. She especially enjoyed her role as a board member of the Women’s Missionary Federation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She remains an active member of Williston Lutheran Church.
Willmar Thorkelson ’40
“Choose work you really enjoy and you’ll want to devote your whole life to it,” says Willmar Thorkelson. And he has done just that. Thorkelson has enjoyed a front-pew view of some of the world’s most significant events during a 60-year career as a religion writer. He’s met numerous religions leaders and share audiences with Pope John XXIII and Billy Graham. He credits Concordia for sparking his interest in religion. It’s also where he began his award-winning writing career. As editor of the Concordian, he led the student newspaper to its first All-America rating. That was only the beginning.
“I had the opportunity to cover eight assemblies of the World Council of Churches from its founding in Amsterdam in 1948, to its 50th anniversary celebration in Zimbabwe in 1998. I’ve also had the privilege of attending three of the Second Vatican Council gatherings in Rome.”
After Graduating from Concordia, Thorkelson accepted assignments with the Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune and Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune before landing a job with the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). He served as religion editor for most of his 40 years there and has 50 years of bylines in the Lutheran magazine and the Christian Century. He has also contributed to scores of national publications and he continues to freelance for Metro Lutheran, a monthly newspaper published in Minneapolis. His work has been honored by the Religion Newswriters Association; the Religious Public Relations Council; the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; and the Associated Church Press.
Randolph “Casey” Jones ’50
As an internationally respected choral conductor for 50 years, Randolph “Casey” Jones ’50 has strived to “reveal with convictions the profound thought of great composers.”
A member of the Colorado Music Educators Hall of Fame, Jones has served as conductor and music director of TheColorado Choir since 1977. He has directed 50 choirs in his brilliant career, conducting more than 1,200 concerts in 28 stated and 19 countries. Jones fostered his love of music at Concordia, singing in the choir for legendary conductor Paul J. Christiansen, one of his most memorable mentors.
The first stanza of Jones’ conducting career opened at Grafton (N.D.) Lutheran Church Choirs in 1950; he became minister of music at United Lutheran Church, Grand Forks, N.D., in 1954; and in 1958 he started nine choirs at Trinity Lutheran Church, Moorhead. He was a member of Concordia College faculty from 1960-62, where he conducted the Chapel Choir and Oratorio Chorus.
After receiving his master’s degree in music from Indiana University in 1964, Jones joined the faculty at Adams State College, Alamosa, Colo. He led the choral program for 21 years, wowing audiences worldwide with powerful performances of sacred music - music he promotes and defends with passion.
“When they outlawed sacred music in public high schools, it but a knife through vocal music,” says Jones. “They can’t sing the masters anymore.” He made sure that didn’t happen at Adams State. “I remember the chair of the English department complaining that we sang Bach too much,” says Jones. “He didn’t like all the religious music. I told him to be quiet about it ‘because if I can’t sing Bach, you can’t perform Shakespeare.’ He became my best supporter from that day on.”
David Hetland ’69
David Hetland had designs on becoming an artist since second grade. He never pictured Concordia playing such a prominent role in realizing that dream. Hetland says he came to Concordia “sort of unintentionally - passing on scholarship offers elsewhere so he could be closer to home during a time of family needs. Since 1979, Hetland has served as president of Hetland Ltd., Fargo, N.D. His firm specializes in graphic design, stained glass, mosaic and liturgical art for publications and architectural spaces. His current projects include commissions in seven states. No matter how much he takes on, Hetland never seems to run out of inspiration.
Hetland’s art interest blossomed at Concordia under the watchful eye of his teacher and mentor, Cy Running. Shortly after Hetland graduated from Concordia, Running hired him to work on a mosaic project he was doing for Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead. Hetland says that experience changed his life.
“It was like someone opened the door and turned on the light,” he says. “ I had worked with Cy on Christmas concert murals for several years, but that project was really the turning point. And I’ve never gone back. Cy still influences me every day. Every project I do I’m reminded of something we talked about or something he did.”
Hetland has produced hundreds of inspiring works of art - none more so than the masterful mural creations that have provided a breathtaking backdrop for Concordia Christmas concerts for three decades. Whimsical images hidden within those murals add to the audience’s delight. Hetland says he tried to keep the hidden images subtle so they don’t distract from the deeper meaning of the concert. “The rule I’ve lived by in the business-artistic world is to give people what they want and a little bit more,” he says. “When people see the mural, it creates a lasting image they can take home.”