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In The News: 'Augustana Celebrates 150 Years'

On Saturday, alumni, students, faculty and staff and community members honored 15 decades of history at The Spark, the gala event to celebrate Augustana at 150. The event featured historic photo galleries, presentation of the Spirit of Augustana Awards, the premiere of 'Skol! Augustana at 150,' a documentary film, live music and dancing.

The following story appeared in the April 17 issue of the Argus Leader:

Augustana Celebrates 150 Years
By Peter Harriman

In a gala that brought a century-and-a-half of history to three levels of the Washington Pavilion on Saturday, Augustana College saluted its first 150 years and was challenged to make it a foundation for the future.

"A philosopher once said if you have more memories of the past than dreams for the future, the end is near," Augustana President Rob Oliver told students, friends of the college and alumni at the sesquicentennial celebration, The Spark.

          View photos from The Spark!

The contents of old yearbooks, campus newspapers and what appeared to be an attic or two were displayed throughout the Pavilion.
These and historical re-enactors strolling about in period clothing gave alumni and Augustana faculty some sense of the historical arc of their institution.

Live jazz and popular music and food representing various eras of cuisine additionally characterized Augustana through the decades.

Augustana College was founded in 1860 in Chicago and moved to Paxton, Ill., Marshal, Wis., Beloit, Iowa, and Canton before settling in Sioux Falls and merging with the Lutheran Normal School in 1918.

Alumni from various eras have common memories of the place.

Dennis Holzwarth, class of 1973, and Bob Thimjon, class of 1974, talked about the dedicated faculty and close-knit campus community of their era. Their remarks were echoed by Jonathan Toso, class of 1989, and his wife Mary, class of 1990, and by current Augie freshman Rachael Tinker of Spirit Lake, Iowa, who says she and her roommate have become such friends they plan to continue the arrangement next year.

As her Augie education progresses, this is what she might have to look forward to.

"I met the best people, my best friends forever," Holzwarth said.

"I came out of Augustana prepared for a career with a great education, and that was where I met my wife," Thimjon added. "I feel I owe an awful lot to Augie."

Mary Toso, now the Augustana alumni director, said she hears regularly from alumni of all eras about the relationships they built and their memories of a caring faculty.

"There is the Augustana 'Hi.' Everybody across campus tells you 'Hi.' People who were there 30 and 40 years ago remember the same thing," she said.

Her husband said the school has a more diverse student body now and it has many new facilities - the Elmen Center was built his senior year - but the kinds of relationships that knit the place together persist.

"I don't think that has changed at all," he said.

"It's not that Augustana has changed, but I have," joked Glernda Sehested, a sociology professor who has taught at Augustana 36 years.

"The school is smaller than when I came," she remembers. "It got smaller, but it came back."

She said the school has fit into the larger Sioux Falls community comfortably since it settled here 93 years ago. She found that a welcome change from the University of Iowa, where she had previously been.

"There was a lot of town and gown controversy," she said.

As Augustana heads toward the future, Oliver said the college now is "on a pretty good trajectory of controlled, quality growth."

He said he wants to position the institution to be able to continue to meet the needs of its 21st-century students. That means retaining a high quality faculty able to challenge students who draw from the legacy of Augustana's relationship with the Lutheran Church and its liberal arts tradition to develop their own ability to fulfill their dreams.

In the gala program, Oliver wrote the event "is about much more than simply honoring 150 years of history. Tonight we also pay tribute to the very essence of this institution and to the spirit of those who have graced its campus ... We celebrate The Spark - the curiosity we all have deep down that kindles our souls and lights the fire we need to do something. Something more."