Nef Family Gift Creates Augustana’s First Endowed Faculty Chair

SIOUX FALLS - Rudy and Marilyn Nef of Milbank, S.D., have provided a leadership gift to create Augustana College’s second endowed faculty chair.

The Nef Family Chair of Political Economy will advance the study of market economies and representative democracies, both within the campus community and in the general public.

“We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to become associated with the Nef family and their legacy as successful business entrepreneurs, dedicated community leaders, and generous investors in South Dakota’s future,” said Jon Henkes, Vice President for Development at Augustana. “Their leadership gift is a blessing to Augustana that will live on to enrich many students and the region.”

Dr. Mark Braun, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College announced the appointment of Dr. Robert E. Wright (shown right), acclaimed writer and economic historian, as holder of the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy.

The Nef family is one of two founding families of Valley Queen Cheese, an award-winning, nationally recognized cheese production company. The enterprise was founded in 1929 by Rudy’s father, Alfred, and his friend, Alfred Gonzenbach, two Swiss immigrants with a knack for cheese-making and the drive to bring their version of the “Great American Dream” to life.

Valley Queen Cheese was named the 2009 South Dakota Business of the Year by the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry for its outstanding record of excellence, economic impact, job creation, growth potential, strategic planning, and community service.

Mr. Nef said his family sees in Augustana College some of those same qualities; strong leadership, visionary planning, an excellent workforce (the faculty and staff), outstanding academic reputation across disciplines, and a willingness to be entrepreneurial. “I’m impressed with President Rob Oliver’s stewardship of the College and vision to create the Augustana like never before,” he said.

"The Nefs have built a remarkable presence by embracing the basics. Vision, integrity and much hard work take you a long way along the path to success, regardless of the enterprise," said Augustana President Rob Oliver. "Today, we celebrate their success and the wonderful gift of the endowed Nef Chair of Political Economy."

Dr. Wright will draw on a breadth of experience to contribute recognized scholarship and enthusiastic, effective teaching to Augustana’s offerings in economics, political science and public policy.

Rudy and Marilyn Nef said: “Our family has been blessed through the years with business success and a record of accomplishment that speaks to the importance of a free society where excellence is a worthy and achievable goal. The Nef Family Chair is intended to rigorously investigate, teach and draw attention to this pathway to excellence in an increasingly complex global society.”

Dr. Wright currently serves as Clinical Associate Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business, New York University. He is also a guest curator for the Museum of American Finance. He received his BA in history from Buffalo State College in 1990, his MA in history from State University of New York at Buffalo in 1994, and his PhD from SUNY at Buffalo in 1997.

”The goal of this endowed chair is to make Dr. Wright a resource both for our students and for the greater business community as he teaches and organizes seminars on economics and the intersection of business and government,” said Dr. Braun.

Dr. Wright has written for Barron’s, The Chronicle of Higher Education,, and other prominent publications. He has appeared on National Public Radio, C-SPAN, and BBC.

“Dr. Wright is an economic historian,” said Dr. Braun. “In addition to his current teaching position at NYU, he has taught at the University of Virginia, Temple University, Gettysburg College and other fine institutions.” He has won a dozen fellowships, written 10 books, published more than 40 scholarly papers. He is much sought after by national media, having done 70 interviews in the past five years for such diverse media as The New York Times, Business Week, Fox News, and The Wall Street Journal. He has also been the curator of the Museum of American Finance.

“I am especially pleased that he has agreed to be the keynote speaker for the Ready to Rebound Business conference here at Augustana, which is co-sponsored by the Sioux Falls Business Journal on June 3,” Dr. Braun said.

In addition to editing three series of primary source documents for Pickering and Chatto Publishers, Dr. Wright has authored or co-authored ten books, including One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson and the History of What We Owe (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008), which explores the untold history of America’s first national debt, arising from the immense sums needed to conduct the American Revolution. Another title, Financial Founding Fathers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), is a compelling account of the nation’s early finances.

Bruce Conley
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