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Augustana Announces $2.5 Million Gift for Scholarships

Augustana today announced the largest-ever gift for endowed scholarships in the College’s 152-year history.

An estate gift of $2.5 million from alumnus Dick Niebuhr, class of 1966, a native of Huron, S.D., and longtime resident of Aberdeen, S.D., will be used to support scholarships for Augustana’s top incoming students beginning in the 2014-15 academic year.

Niebuhr, a former member of the Augustana Board of Trustees, died in 2009 at the age of 64.

“On behalf of the Augustana community, I extend our deepest thanks and most sincere gratitude to our dear friend, spirited alumnus and tenacious advocate Dick Niebuhr,” said Rob Oliver, president. “His transformational gift is one that will continue to give for all time. The Niebuhr Scholarships will no doubt change the lives of some of the world’s most talented, creative and innovative young people by enabling them to achieve their full potential as students in preparation for lives as global citizens. The word ‘thankful’ simply doesn’t do justice to how we’re feeling today. We are humbled beyond measure.”

The estate gift is Niebuhr’s second major gift to Augustana. In 1998, he donated $100,000 to endow the Vernon and Mildred Niebuhr Faculty Excellence Award, an annual award to recognize excellence in teaching. It is named in honor of his parents because, Niebuhr said, “they loved Augustana College dearly and because they were my first and best teachers.”

Humble Beginnings
Former Augustana President Dr. Bruce Halverson ’66, first met Niebuhr before his senior year in high school at Boys State, an annual civics/government experience for high school students held at the State Capitol in Pierre, S.D.

The two became friends during the event and Halverson said he was happy to see Niebuhr among his fellow freshmen the following fall at Augustana.

“I was surprised and delighted when we started at Augustana together in the fall of 1962. He was incredibly smart. I knew he came from a humble family who obviously made sacrifices in order to send their kids to Augustana,” he said.

A history and philosophy major at Augustana, after graduation Niebuhr earned a scholarship to Rice University and went on to earn a master’s degree in European history in 1968. While at Augustana, he served on the Commons Advisory Board and was named to “Who’s Who among Students in American Universities and Colleges.”

“Dick was really active in college life – he helped make things happen on campus. That same kind of attitude kept him going and enabled him to make things happen later in life as well. I’m not surprised he left Augustana a significant gift because he was a guy that was committed every day to the well-being of the College. He lived a large life, but underneath that was a true commitment to his church, to Augustana and to the state of South Dakota. He wanted to do everything he could to make sure students could get an education,” Halverson said.

Returning to South Dakota
After serving as assistant professor of history at Southern Arkansas University from 1969-1973, Niebuhr returned to South Dakota and managed John G. Kinnard & Company in Aberdeen from 1973-1977. He spent the remainder of his career working as co-manager of AG Edwards Investments.

His business partner, Craig Golz, worked with Niebuhr for more than 30 years and offered him counsel as he organized his estate plans.

“Dick was always a strong believer in a liberal arts education and always believed in the instruments of the church. Those things all came together at Augustana,” Golz said. “Augustana was a building block for him and a cornerstone for his life. He gave Augustana a lot of credit for allowing him to accomplish what he did in his life financially. He viewed his experience at Augustana as life-changing.”

Golz said Niebuhr was a firm believer in “educating the brightest kids to the highest level possible.” To that end, he shared the value of an Augustana education with high school students any chance he could.

Niebuhr was the main reason Nathan Golz ’03, Craig’s son, decided to visit campus and ultimately enroll, as well as his brothers, Nick '02, and Jason '04.

“To me, he was Uncle Dick. He was like a second dad to me. He was at our house for dinner two nights a week for my entire life. From my perspective, he is the reason why I and both of my brothers are Augie grads,” Nathan Golz said. “He loved the school. He constantly talked about how wonderful the campus was and how wonderful the education was. He started putting the bug in my ear when I was six years old. He’d traveled all over the world, but Augie was still first in his heart.”

“He was always proud of the fact that so many incredibly bright, talented people ended up at Augustana. He wanted to make a gift that ensured that Augustana would be able to continue to acknowledge the best and the brightest.”

A Respect for the Intellect
Niebuhr was a member of the Augustana Fellows, served on the Alumni Council, and was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1978-1990. 

Former Augustana president Dr. Ralph Wagoner knew Niebuhr well.

“He was as well-read and well-traveled as anyone I know,” Wagoner remembers. “He had a great respect for smart people and a great respect for the intellectual efforts the faculty put forward.”

“He was a man who loved his alma mater but the thing that always stood out for me was his respect for good teaching. It simply goes without saying ... he just loved Augustana.”

Former men’s basketball coach and longtime Development Officer Mel Klein agreed.

“In all my visits with him, he never wavered as far as his interests, his loyalty and his support. He was always interested in the College and what was going on here,” Klein said. “And, he always had ideas on ways the College could be strengthened. He was always asking how he could help.”