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Eight Presidents in 150 Years

Increasing dissatisfaction and division within the Scandina-vian Synod of Northern Illinois motivated 49 Swedish and Norwegian congregations to establish the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in June 1860. Those gathered at this historic meeting, including Lars Paul Esbjörn, created a Synod constitution that called for, among other things, a theological seminary to train pastors and congregational teachers. Augustana-in reverence to the Augsburg Confession (Confesio Augustana in Latin)-was the name chosen for the Synod, as well as the school.

The Rev. T.N. Hasselquist, the popular pastor of a Swedish congregation in Galesburg, Ill., was named president of this new Synod. He had emigrated from Sweden to the United States in 1852 in response to Esbjörn's request for help in a letter a year earlier.

As outlined in the Synod's constitution, the Augustana Seminary was divided into two departments: preparatory and theological. The preparatory department provided instruction in the Scandinavian, English, German and Latin languages as well as some Hebrew and Greek; history and geography; mathematics; and the natural sciences. Augustana's theological department was composed of two sections: theoretical and practical.

Three professors-one Swedish, one Norwegian and one English-would provide this instruction, according to the constitution. The instructors would take turns serving as the seminary's president. The Synod founders, however, were a bit ambitious regarding professorships. Their limited funding wasn't enough to support three professors that first year. Esbjörn, who had briefly served as chair of Scandinavian language and literature at The Illinois State University in Springfield, Ill., continued his professorship and opened the Augustana Seminary in a Chicago church schoolhouse on September 1, 1860.

As the seminary's first president and only professor, Esbjörn took on the task of instructing 21 young men in the subjects named in the constitution. "The diverse preparation of the students, some of whom had attended secondary school in Sweden, some just off the farms of the immigrants, made individual attention necessary," noted Conrad Bergen-doff in Augustana: A Profession of Faith. Esbjörn enlisted the help of his advanced students as tutors. Two Norwegian pastors, when they could find time, assisted with the lessons in theology.

In the summer of 1862, a weary Esbjörn visited Sweden to raise funds for the seminary, and to request a parish in his home country. In the fall, he was back in Chicago to teach 14 students. Although fewer in number due in part to the Civil War, the students continued to require individual attention, and new courses in trigonometry and physics created additional work for Esbjörn.

Then came the news he so wanted to hear. He had been appointed to serve a church in his home diocese of Uppsala. Esbjörn returned to Sweden the following spring, 14 years after he and his family led a group of Swedish emigrants to America. His first wife, then his second wife, and four of his six children had died in America. His is a story of sacrifice common among the college's early leaders.

The president of the Augustana Synod, the Rev. T.N. Hasselquist, assumed the presidency of the seminary in 1863 after Esbjörn's departure. It wasn't until the fall of 1864 that the Augustana Seminary-now located in Paxton, lll.-could afford to hire a second instructor and double its faculty.

Hasselquist championed the move out of Chicago and worked tirelessly for the school's success in Paxton. He increased enrollment to 81 in 1873, and the faculty from two to four, plus two tutors. But as early as 1870, Hasselquist knew in his heart that the school was not thriving in Paxton, so far from the stream of Swedish immigration. This was the same year Esbjörn died at the age of 61 in Sweden. He had opposed any move of the seminary away from Chicago and "dragged out in the country." In the spring of 1873, nearly 19 acres were purchased in Rock Island, Ill., for the new site of Augustana. Considering Rock Island's prolific industrial and transportation opportunities and rapidly growing Scandinavian population, it's likely Esbjörn would have been pleased.

Significant revisions to the Synod constitution at this time included changing the school's name to Augustana College and Theological Seminary. The institution also was divided into three departments: preparatory, collegiate and theological. Preparatory sought to prepare students "for various branches of business" and for entering college.
By the time of his death in 1891, Hasselquist had indelibly shaped Augustana. He emphasized the importance of retaining the curriculum as it had first been conceived-which included the classics, language, religion, science and mathematics-and had introduced physical education, music and a "commercial" course covering bookkeeping and commercial accounts. Known for his love of music, Hasselquist wholly supported the idea of a conservatory to train organists and music teachers.

Hasselquist welcomed the presence of women on campus, and attended the graduation of the first woman, Ines Rundstrom, in 1885. With relentless devotion, he worked for 28 years to develop a school that would educate men, and now women, to lead productive lives of service in America. "More than any other leader," Bergendoff noted, "he had sensed the need to adapt to conditions in this land.... Augustana was not to be a Swedish institution, but it was to transplant the love of learning and the art of sound scholarship to a generation now trying to find itself in America."

Following Hasselquist's death, the Rev. Olof Olsson was named the school's third president, three years after he resigned as a professor. He accepted the call, reluctantly, because of his tenuous health and the significant challenge he faced with the increasing competition from colleges in maturing Swedish immigrant communities in Minnesota, Kansas and New Jersey.

Though wary of assuming strenuous administrative duties, Olsson met his new assignment with optimism and determination. Augustana faced insufficient financial support, varying standards of teaching, and pressures to expand and liberalize the curriculum by offering electives. In response, Olsson oversaw the revision of the curriculum, which, while emphasizing the original plan of teaching the classics, language, history, religion, science and mathematics, now offered two tracks, either a classical or a scientific, plus an opportunity to choose electives. He led the effort to strengthen athletics by building a gymnasium; introduced the first in a series of library publications; and, above all, encouraged the growth of literary societies and of music. Olsson also brought to the presidency a strong emphasis on academic freedom, which was a catalyst to Augustana's development as a liberal arts college.

Olsson's successor in 1901, Dr. Gustav Andreen, became Augustana's youngest president at 37 years old. He was the first alumnus to serve as president, having graduated in 1881, as well as the first to have his doctorate from an American institution, Yale University. Andreen was the first American-born president of Augustana as well.

During his 35-year tenure, Andreen devoted himself to securing the fiscal health of Augustana. This included a $250,000 gift from the children of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick C.A. Denkmann in 1910 to fund construction of the Denkmann Memorial Library. Five buildings were added to thecampus during the Andreen years, and an endowment was established. In the last years of his presidency, Augustana risked losing its accreditation due to substandard science facilities. But, in spite of the Great Depression, Andreen obtained funding for the Wallberg Hall of Science. With a more secure financial foundation and a dedication to excellent teaching in appropriate facilities, Andreen kept Augustana on course well into the 20th century.

A 1915 Augustana alumnus, the Rev. Dr. Conrad Bergendoff, succeeded Andreen and guided the college for 27 years, from 1935 to 1962. His presidency was highlighted by dramatic growth of the campus physical plant, the financial base, student enrollment, programming and strength of the faculty. Six major buildings were erected during Bergendoff's presidency, but no achievement was of greater satisfaction to him than securing an Augustana chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1949. Today, roughly a tenth of American colleges and universities can boast the Phi Beta Kappa distinction.

Augustana had reached some tremendous milestones when it celebrated its centennial year in 1960. Alumni and other friends of the college had boosted the endowment over $3 million and raised scholarship funds to $350,000. Enrollment exceeded 1,200, and the college faculty numbered 90. The library held more than 100,000 volumes, and the $1.15 million Centennial Hall opened in time for the celebration of the college's first 100 years.

In 1962, the Augustana Synod merged with three Lutheran churches to form the larger, more ecumenical Lutheran Church in America (LCA), one of the predecessors to today's Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). That same year, the Augustana Seminary (which had separated from the college in 1948) merged with three other seminaries to form the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Also in 1962, Dr. Clarence Woodrow Sorensen became Augustana's sixth president.
During Sorensen's 13 years in office, Augustana's enroll-ment doubled in size and several buildings were added, including the Roy J. Carver Center for Physical Education and the John Deere Planetarium. Working with key faculty, Sorensen established a system of governance that widened the faculty's role in administrative matters. The Faculty Senate, established under Sorensen's leadership, continues today.

Dr. Thomas Tredway, a 1957 alumnus, became the college's seventh president in 1975, after having served for five years as dean of the college and 11 years as a member of the history faculty. While his presidency may be remembered for the unprecedented growth of academic facilities-including the library, the Science Building, and the Franklin W. Olin Center for Educational Technology-a more lasting legacy is the strengthening of Augustana's faculty and academic program as well as of the college's endowment. As Tredway observed in a president's report from the 1990s, "No amount of new construction or success in fundraising will compensate for an inferior academic program. We do well to remember that a college is really about teaching and learning, about faculty and curriculum and students."

The college's current president, Steven Bahls, came to Augustana in 2003. Since then, Bahls has overseen the development and adoption of an ambitious strategic plan designed to advance the college's position among the nation's premier liberal arts colleges. The plan's title, "Authentically Augustana," was chosen in part, according to Bahls, because "the primary and clarion values of Augustana are the values associated with authenticity-truthfulness, excellence, genuineness and faithfulness."

Within the first years of Bahls' presidency, the Five Faith Commit-ments document [see page 24] was created to articulate the historic and ongoing relationship between the college and the Lutheran Church. Curricular enhancements included the Senior Inquiry capstone initiative; the Augie Choice program to help students fund experiential learning; and a comprehensive transformation of Augustana's general education program.

In 2008, Bahls and a group of Augustana alumni traveled to Sweden in conjunction with a tour by the Augustana Choir. The choir and their fellow travelers made the trip to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the college's first president, the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn.

As interesting as it is to think of what the college's early visionaries-Esbjörn, Hasselquist and Olsson-would say of the success Augustana has experienced, it's tempting to consider how the college will grow on the way to its 200th anniversary. However the story goes, the beginning remains the same. And Augustana will continue to be what it always has been: an institution that builds "the love of learning and the art of sound scholarship" for generations.