Concordia Great: Margaret Nordlie

Posts from the Past: Margaret Nordlie assists students in the library, where she was responsible for starting the archive collection.

Margaret Nordlie was a very well-educated woman who had a love for books and travel that extended into her professional career. She began her career at Concordia College at the end of World War II when the college found itself in need of more staff to handle the influx of returning students. She worked in many facets while at Concordia including cataloging librarian, assistant professor of library sciences and archivist. She managed not only to influence Concordia and its students but also to influence students worldwide in her extensive travels to schools and libraries around the globe.

Nordlie was born Nov. 17, 1912, in Sun Prairie, Wis. She attended school in her hometown until she moved to Moorhead to attend college at Concordia. She was a member of the class of 1934 and, upon graduation, immediately enrolled in graduate school. She received a Bachelor of Arts in library studies from the University of Michigan and a Master of Arts from the University of Wisconsin. Nordlie went on to work teaching English at Killdeer High School and Waldorf College and serving in the public libraries in Michigan City, Miss., for six years before coming back to Concordia College in 1945.

She would go on to work at Concordia for 36 years as a cataloging librarian and professor of library sciences. She was also the force behind the founding of the Concordia College Archives and was its first archivist. During her time at Concordia, and even after, she traveled and taught abroad in multiple schools in South Africa and Hong Kong.

Nordlie always asserted that travel was her hobby. She traveled to many places around the world. In 1951, she took a three and a half year leave of absence in order to teach at an Evangelical Lutheran School in Zululand, South Africa. While she was there, she taught more than 100 students history, English, geography and scripture. When asked about the trip she stated that “I found it extremely interesting.” Even after completing her teaching assignment at the school, she spent many more months traveling to Egypt, Mount Kilimanjaro, Jordan, Jerusalem and many countries in Europe. This was not the only trip she took abroad. In 1961, she traveled the world. It was during this trip that she spent a month cataloging a library at the Taiwan Lutheran Theological Seminary. In 1977 and 1978, she traveled to Lae, Papua New Guinea, to work and teach at the Martin Luther Seminary, and to Hong Kong to work at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. It was after the trip to Hong Kong that Nordlie returned to Concordia to work on establishing the first formal archives for the campus.

While the Concordia library had always maintained an informal collection of archival materials on its third floor, there had been no one person designated to manage it until Nordlie volunteered in 1980. She began working 10 hours a week in October 1980 to organize and arrange the materials that had been gathered and to also begin collecting materials that should be saved. Space in the early archives was cramped which presented an interesting issue to her. She knew the new archives needed more materials from Concordia but could not handle a large volume of new documents all at once. To solve this issue, she created the slogan “Before you throw, let us know.” This strategy of receiving smaller donations of documents that were slated to be discarded helped to grow the archives in a manageable manner until it could be moved to its own space on the fourth floor of the library addition where it still resides today. Nordlie’s strategic planning set the groundwork for creating a successful repository for all historical college materials that continues to grow to this day.


Contributed by Allison Bundy, archives associate, Concordia College Archives