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Alumni Profiles

Running to see the world

Award-winner Hanssen '91 at home in radio

Johnson-Ollenburger siblings triple family's school spirit


Great Wall of China one of the marathon sites.

Running to see the world

Excerpt from Hanna's blog on her website.

"The race started...the first 3/4 mile was complete mud! After the mud we had about a mile of hills. (I thought they were kidding me when they said the course was hilly...boy did I have a rude awakening!) After the hills we ran on a very rocky beach until we reached the Glacier...yes, that's right, the Glacier...1 mile up! By the time I got to the bottom I had in my head that I could not do the Glacier again (yes, we had to trek it twice). My mental attitude started to decline....David continued to encourage me. 

At about mile 8, I told David to go ahead and run ahead of me so that he could make the cut-off at mile 13 to finish the marathon. I told him if I made it in time I would complete the marathon, but if not I was ok with just doing the half...he told me he would not go ahead of me (we have this argument every race :)...he told me that we would just come back in 2009 to complete it. Well, I was not coming back in 2009...so I just buckled down and kept going!"

Cynthia Salmonson '90 Hanna waits at the starting line in Antarctica.The couple crossed the finish line together in 7 hours 54 minutes, their worst time by far for a marathon, but they were thrilled. Finishing the 26-mile course in such unforgiving conditions and seeing the magnificent landscapes and the seals, skuas and penguins in their native habitat are reasons why Hanna describes it as the toughest and most amazingly beautiful adventure she's ever experienced.

Hanna is no stranger to adventure. She has raced in Kenya where sharpshooters in helicopters protected the marathoners from giraffes, elephants and warthogs-but not from the scorching heat. There was China's Great Wall, with its steep, slippery steps that forced runners to go single-file. In southern Argentina's Ushuaia, sometimes considered the southernmost city in the world, she encountered wind unlike anything she had experienced before, making it impossible to run on part of the course.

Not ones to be detoured, Cynthia and David Hanna went on to run a comparably uneventful marathon in Australia last summer to complete their tour of the seven continents. "Life is short, and we're not getting any younger so in order to stay in shape, see the world...what better way to do this than to run a marathon on every continent!" Hanna says.

Since 2003, the Hannas have completed 15 marathons and several half-marathons in the United States and beyond. They became partners in marriage, as well, in 2004. Hanna notes today's high divorce rate and feels that taking on these challenges as a couple strengthens the bond between them.

Embracing challenges is nothing new for Hanna. At Augustana, she didn't compete in track or cross country, as she was raising three children while attending school full-time. The business administration major was president of the college's Business Club and honored as the Outstanding Business Student of the Year during her senior year.

Hanna and Rachel Zimmerman '92 Gustafson, associate director of admissions at Augustana, were in the same business and German classes. "Cindy was never a traditional student in any way," Gustafson remembers. "She managed to be so involved on campus, even with raising three kids and working part-time. I really admired her and her energy so of course it didn't surprise me that she was running marathons on every continent-especially since she tried to talk me into running with her the whole time I knew her. She was incredibly positive and wanted to get the most out of the opportunities she was given, even if-or especially because-she had arrived at Augie by a slightly different path than most of her peers."

Today Hanna is an education account manager for Microsoft in Mason, Ohio, and serves higher education institutions in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. She provides strategic direction to help universities implement technologies and solutions that enhance the teaching experience for faculty and learning experience for students. Working out of her home provides some flexibility in her training. Typically, Hanna trains early in the morning before her workday begins. She usually logs about 18 miles a week and strength-trains three times a week.

Cynthia Salmonson '90 Hanna and her husband, DavidWhat's next now that she and David have run a marathon on every continent? "All 50 states," Hanna says. "No specific timeframe...just enjoy traveling and seeing the country. We'll probably do the seven continents again as we want to visit other countries within the continents. We even plan on doing Antarctica again in two years or so!"

Editor's note: Cynthia Hanna may not be the only Augustana graduate on the starting line in Antarctica. Thea Needham '99 Neumann and Ken Neumann '98 plan to run the Antarctica marathon in 2011 or 2012 to complete their own tour of seven continents. Thea's father, Doug Needham, will join them. It was Thea and her father who, in 2001, set out to run a marathon on every continent together. [Back to Top]


Award-winner Hanssen '91 at home in radio

In the early days of WVIK, Augustana's National Public Radio station, students were sometimes hired for evening announcer shifts. This didn't work out well, according to WVIK founder Don Wooten, as few students had the background for classical radio. They were replaced with professionals.

A few years later, a couple of students stopped by Wooten's office, hoping to find a job at WVIK. One of them was Tiffany Hanssen '91.

"Tiffany was a promising cello student who really knew classical composers," Wooten remembers. "I gave her a Sunday night shift, and her work was immediately on a par with our professionals. She had a personal quality that translated well on the air, and the listeners were as delighted with her as we were. We hated to see her leave, but she carried her new love for radio with her and has used it to build a great career in St. Paul. We still listen to hear her name in the show's closing credits and remember when she was a standout in the WVIK lineup."

The show Wooten refers to is one of radio's landmark programs, "A Prairie Home Companion" with Garrison Keillor, which first aired in 1974. More than four million listeners hear the show each week on some 580 public radio stations, and abroad on American One and the Armed Forces Networks in Europe and the Far East. Produced live every Saturday night, "A Prairie Home Companion" features comedy sketches, music and Keillor's signature monologue, The News from Lake Wobegon.

Tiffany Hanssen '91Hanssen first came to "A Prairie Home Companion" as its marketing director. "The nature of the program is such, however, that all people involved are ultimately responsible for the broadcast," she says. "I transitioned into a producer position after a few years and began-with Garrison as the executive producer-to produce a show called ‘Comedy College,' hosted by Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart and others. I'm quite proud of that first endeavor."

Today, as senior producer at Keillor's production house, Prairie Home Productions, Hanssen is responsible for most new program development and is currently developing an animated series for children based on Keillor's radio program. Hanssen, along with her husband Jason Keillor, produce all rebroadcasts of "A Prairie Home Companion" and the international broadcasts to Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

In addition to their work at Prairie Home Productions, the couple owns a digital audio and video production company-ELM Productions-that is involved in a variety of branded entertainment projects, including Barnes & Noble's online interview series, of which Hanssen is the executive producer.

Recently, Hanssen won a coveted Gracie Allen Award from American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT) for her work as executive producer of More magazine's XM Satellite Radio program. Competing in the outstanding magazine category, the program was recognized for superior quality in writing, production and programming. AWRT presents the Gracie Awards annually to recognize exemplary programming created by, produced for and about women, as well as individuals who have contributed to the industry. The award is the radio industry's equivalent to an Emmy or Oscar.

Gracie Allen Award statue"It is quite an honor," Hanssen says, "but, honestly, I don't think much about the awards or accolades. I just keep looking to the future. There is no glory in resting upon past accomplishments, not when there is so much left to do."

At Augustana, Hanssen majored in French and developed a strong passion for chemistry, all while playing the cello and hosting the classical music program at WVIK. She embraced the opportunities of a liberal arts college, and yet, like many students before and after her, wasn't exactly sure what she would do after graduation. "All I knew was that I had a base of knowledge upon which to draw, regardless of my career path," she says. "At Augie I learned that if you are smart and committed, there isn't anything you can't do. It's where I adopted my ‘how hard can it be' attitude. I learned to be curious about our world, to learn with passion and to make bold choices."

Her experience at WVIK, as it turns out, was crucial to where she is today. "The people I worked with there were encouraging, and the knowledge I gained there was invaluable," she says. "Besides that, I realized how much I love radio. It is a fantastic medium."

How has radio changed since Hanssen walked into WVIK nearly 20 years ago?

"The one thing I've realized is that the more it changes, the more it stays the same," Hanssen says. "I love that radio engages the mind and imagination in a way that video just can't. I love that radio is transient, but transformative and fluid. Those properties will never change, whether you listen to a satellite channel or an HD channel or a heritage AM station."

"Good radio takes you somewhere that you never intended to go, or draws you closer to where you want to be," she adds. "It's powerful. Especially public radio. The things that you can hear on your public radio station are unique and important and funny and moving all at the same time. That's not something you can say about most commercial stations."

Hanssen visits campus when she can, and keeps in touch with Augustana's Dr. Janina Ehrlich, who was her cello teacher from ninth grade through senior year at Augustana. "My connection with her and with Dr. [Daniel] Culver through the Quad-City Youth Symphony ultimately led to my decision to attend Augustana," Hanssen says. "In addition to Augie, I considered other liberal arts colleges-St. Olaf-and larger universities-Duke. And yes, in retrospect, I do think I made the right choice. The campus was small enough so that I felt supported, but diverse enough that I could spread my wings and explore all sorts of opportunities."

Ehrlich says she encouraged Hanssen to come to Augustana because she was confident Hanssen-an independent thinker who was serious about her studies-would thrive in a liberal arts environment. "She was a real asset to this college when she was here," Ehrlich says, "and she continues to honor her educational legacy by her high achievements as a professional."

Not only does Ehrlich stay in touch with her former student, she and Hanssen's mother correspond regularly. Ehrlich even has a photo album dedicated to Hanssen's two young sons, Freddie and Charlie. "I don't get to see the family too often-the last time was this past summer when they all came for a visit-but when I do, it's like old times," Ehrlich says. [Back to Top]


Johnson-Ollenburger
siblings triple family's school spirit

Last fall, 1983 graduates Kris and Tom Ollenburger's not-so-secret wish came true. All three of their children are literally walking in their footsteps as Augustana students.

"We didn't pressure them, even though inside we were hoping they would choose Augustana, but it had to be their choice," says the former Kris Johnson.

For Jorie, a junior and the Ollenburgers' oldest child, she was initially reluctant to attend her parents' alma mater but after visiting several colleges, she narrowed her search to Augustana and a small, private college in Wisconsin. Attending a class at each of the two schools gave Jorie her answer.

"I sat in on an honors class with Dr. Jon Clauss during winter term of 2005-2006," she remembers. "Part of the reason why I enjoyed the class-although I admit I had no idea what was going on-was because Dr. Clauss integrated me into the classroom discussion even though I wasn't officially part of the class. I thought that was pretty impressive. It showed how much professors really do care. I wasn't just a prospective student, but I was someone whose thoughts and opinions mattered."

Kris says Jorie called home after her third day on campus to tell her parents they had been right, and choosing Augustana was the best decision she had ever made.

One down, two to go.

From left, Tom, Jorie, Grant, Greta and Kris OllenburgerKris and Tom's twins, Greta and Grant, accompanied Jorie on most of her college visits since they would be making the same decision just two years later. That, Kris says, helped them find favorites much more quickly when it was their turn. In the end, they followed their older sister to Augustana.

"It didn't take them long to feel comfortable," Kris says of her twins, now official members of the Class of 2012. "All of the kids are interested in different things-football, softball, sorority, service...and they're finding what they're looking for." The Ollenburgers' academic interests include political science, sociology, communication sciences and disorders, and business.

The family is especially excited that Grant is a member of the Vikings football team, playing on the same field Kris' father, Ernfrid Johnson '47, played on more than 60 years ago. In fact, Augustana is where Kris' parents met. Johnson says he noticed Virginia Beechler '46 walking across campus one day and just knew he wanted to get to know her. One of his buddies introduced them, and they started dating.

Many years have passed since the first- and second-generation Johnsons attended Augustana. Kris says for her the biggest change is the look of the campus. Whereas she remembers a more open view, the construction of academic buildings and more mature trees-and more trees in general-have made it difficult to see across the quad but it's "still as beautiful as it ever was." She also remembers, but doesn't miss, the wooden stairs connecting the upper and lower campuses that were dismantled when the Thomas Tredway Library was built. She, along with most of her classmates, slipped and fell on those icy planks more than a few times during the winter months.

What hasn't changed, Kris says, is the feeling of family on campus. "The caring of the staff and faculty is just the same. How the school encourages the kids by giving them their wings but guiding them at the same time...it's still such a personal experience."

Kris focused on French and business while attending Augustana, and Tom majored in political science and public administration. She is now president and Tom is vice president of H&R Johnson Brothers, Inc., a union carpenter contractor and general contractor based in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park.

With all three children living away from home for the first time, Tom and Kris now have only their activities to negotiate. "We certainly miss the children, however, there is a new freedom for us to go on ‘dates' again without feeling guilty for not including the kids," Tom says. "I have a feeling we may be taking a few three-day weekend trips to destinations other than Augustana." [Back to Top]