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Right at home on May tour stops


Steve Bahls and Augustana alumni check out a sculpture made entirely of buttons at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

StAugustana alumni check out a sculpture made entirely of buttons at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Milwaukee Jane and I have looked forward to all of the occasions to visit with alumni, parents and friends during the 10th anniversary tour. But we were especially looking forward to Milwaukee, having lived there from 1979 to 1985, when I practiced law at the firm of Frisch, Dudek and Slattery (now part of Whyte, Hirschboeck, Dudek). Jane taught religion at Milwaukee’s Alverno College.

Our event was held at the spectacular Milwaukee Art Museum with more than 50 graduates, alumni and friends. We were treated to a tour of the museum by the most energetic tour guide I’ve ever seen.

We last held an event at the museum 10 years ago when I’d first arrived at Augustana. I marvel at how much has changed since then. Not only has Milwaukee gotten better and better, but it is now a “hot spot” for young professionals.

The Augie group in Milwaukee is considerably younger than at the prior visit. I recall 10 years ago, one alumna greeting me in the Swedish language in order to test my Swedish credentials. Today, alumni and parents are looking ahead, asking how Augustana’s core and longstanding values can shape a new generation of young people in a rapidly changing world. Although the campus and the demographic composition of our students may change, our values are as important as when the college was founded more than 150 years ago. We train students to grow in mind, spirit and body for lives of service.


Steve and Jane pause for a photo with alumni and friends at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford.

Steve and Jane pause for a photo with alumni and friends at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford.

Rockford — Jane and I have always received such a warm welcome from Rockford-area alumni, and this event, at the Anderson Japanese Gardens, was no exception. Though it rained lightly during our tour, the gardens were in their full spring glory.

The Rockford area is an important place for Augustana. The Augustana Synod, from which we came, was founded near Rockford in Jefferson Prairie, Wisconsin, in 1860. It was the vision of these courageous pioneers, many with Rockford connections, that made the college possible.

I am privileged to serve as only the eighth president in 153 years. I so much appreciate the support of alumni and friends who have facilitated making connections for Augustana throughout the region and providing financial support for the great things happening in Rock Island.

Alumni enjoy a tram tour of the Morton Arboretum.

Alumni enjoy a tram tour of the Morton Arboretum.

Lisle, Ill. — Chicago-area events are always fun and well attended. And what an evening we had at the Morton Arboretum! The highlight of the evening was a tram tour of the grounds of the Arboretum, with thousands of daffodils in full bloom. I wish our Chicago-area alumni could see Founder’s Hill at Augustana, also with a grand display of thousands of daffodils.

Augustana enjoys a great reputation in Chicago. Most do not know that Augustana held its first classes on the near North side of Chicago, before moving to Paxton, Ill. To the families of prospective students in Chicago, we are a “hot, up and coming” school. For many of our alumni from Chicago, visiting Augustana is easy. Some feel Augustana is still their “home away from home.”   This year, we opened a recruiting office in Chicago, so all indications are that these ties will continue to grow stronger.

Augustana loves Chicago and Chicago loves Augustana!

Latest stops bring out alumni, faculty passion


Steve Bahls addresses the crowd in Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jane and I enjoyed visiting with alumni in downtown Washington, D.C. Though a member of our staff usually introduces me, this time the task fell to Lindsay Daniels from the Class of 2003. Lindsay graduated right before I came on board at Augustana. She was president of the student body and a member of the search committee. Brenda Barnes, who was chair of the Augustana board at the time, still comments on how well Lindsay represented the student body in the search.


Steve Bahls with Lindsay Daniels ’03

Lindsay is from Waverly, Iowa, and now works on immigration policy for a large advocacy organization. It is always satisfying to visit with graduates, and learn the ways in which a class or a professor fanned a spark of interest into a passion bright enough to light a lifetime. Lindsay is one of the thousands of alumni of Augustana who are making a difference in the world, and I am grateful for the chance this tour gave to catch up with her.

Our alumni in Washington, D.C., represent a very nice mix. But whether they’re recent graduates starting out with various government offices or more senior alumni with accomplished careers, our Washington, D.C., alumni share a love for Augustana and their experiences here. Several mentioned that they will be returning for homecoming to see the new Center for Student Life, the renovated Old Main and the Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex.


Steve Bahls proudly points out Augustana’s name on a list of ranked colleges in track and field at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Our Indianapolis event was appropriately held at the NCAA Hall of Champions.

As I greeted the group, I talked about the NCAA Division III slogan: Discover, Develop, Dedicate.

One third of our students are Division III student-athletes. We work with them and all of our students to discover not only knowledge of the world, but knowledge of the self, as they discover who they are through growth in mind, spirit and body. Similarly, we urge our students to discern their calling and develop their skills in ways that enable them to pursue their passions. And finally, we urge our students to dedicate themselves to making a better world by connecting their skills and passions with the world’s deep needs.

In Indianapolis, I asked our alumni to reflect on who their favorite professors were and why. Some are still at Augustana and some have retired. There is a comforting commonality of experience, however, as these former students of various decades share the refrain of transformation. Whether they mention Parkander or Peters, Radloff or Jakielkski, our alumni describe faculty mentors who understood well what Oliver Wendell Holmes meant when he said “A mind stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions.”

PB&J Tour heads to West Coast

snowmanEarly on the morning of March 8, Jane and I left a snowy Rock Island for the West Coast. This winter’s snow was late to the Quad Cities. We’ve enjoyed watching the 9-foot-tall snowman in front of the Dahl President’s Home slowly bow down over the past weeks. We wondered whether our return would find a toppled snowman among the first signs of spring. (It did).
This four-day trip involved three receptions in three days — in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle! That meant six plane rides, counting connections, and four very early mornings. Remarkably, everything went as scheduled.

At the San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles, Augustana alumni enjoy wine tasting, which was not among approved campus activities when they were students.

At the San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles, Augustana alumni enjoy wine tasting, which was not among approved campus activities when they were students.

We had very good attendance for our Los Angeles event, held at the historic San Antonio Winery near downtown LA. It was good to see both recent graduates of the college and alumni from the 1950s and 1960s. One of our more recent graduates termed the tour the PB&J Tour (President Bahls and Jane)!
We were pleasantly surprised when Eric Lindberg joined us. Eric is a trustee of the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, which is funding the Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex at Augustana. The complex, which will include the football field, a new locker room, football offices, south-facing seating, suites, a sports club and viewing deck, will be finished before our first home game in September.  Eric explained that the vision for the stadium was to create an engaging and lively game-day atmosphere for the college and mentioned that other colleges were already interested in exploring the concept for their campuses.  Division III athletics has long been an important part of Augustana, and we are grateful for the vision of the Knowlton Foundation in helping continue to enhance our football program in this way.

Alumni in San Francisco get a look at the plans for the Center for Student Life, which will be completed in August.

Alumni in San Francisco get a look at the plans for the Center for Student Life, which will be completed in August.

We next traveled to San Francisco, where we hosted 40 alumni and friends at The Winery on Treasure Island, off the Bay Bridge.  An engaging tour guide led us through the winery, where we sampled wine from oak barrels as it was nearly  completed, and then the same type of wine when it was finished.  What a difference between the two! Kind of like our students in their sophomore year compared to their senior year.
One of our alums asked a good question about the size of our endowment compared to other schools.  Our endowment has grown nicely, thanks to generous gifts and market growth. Our endowment is used to sustain faculty and support student scholarships. While we are pleased with our endowment growth, it is still about half the size of the endowments at St. Olaf and Illinois Wesleyan.
Growing our endowment to double its current size is one of our top priorities.  Each year we admit hundreds of students who decline due to financial reasons. Keeping with our traditions of accessibility, we must increase our endowment in order to increase the amount of scholarships we can award to deserving, highly motivated students.
We completed our tour with a visit to the Seattle Art Museum, where a docent led a tour of paintings by Rembrandt and his peers. We were pleased with a strong turnout of about 30 alumni and friends, including several who are teachers, either at the K-12 or college level. We engaged in quite a discussion of the difference between teaching and learning. When we teach, we convey information, but when students learn, they absorb and integrate the information into their lives. I observed that too many people consider the purpose of higher education to convey information to prepare students for jobs. College must be more than that. It is about learning – learning the skills for first jobs and last jobs, learning to be ethical citizens and preparing to respond to life’s disappointments.

Kelly Noack

Kelly Noack

It was a good, but very full, weekend. Jane and I are indebted to Kelly Noack, director of alumni and parent relations, for her excellent work in organizing this tour so well, and to Lynn Jackson, vice president for advancement, for her outstanding leadership. We have such a wonderful team at Augustana!

Enjoying artistic, natural beauty out West

mainDENVER — We took our “road show” out West to visit with alumni, parents and friends in Denver and in Phoenix. My father and mother lived near both of these communities shortly after their marriage, and we often visited both areas when I was a child. I always look forward to returning.

Alumni catch up at the Denver Museum of Art.

Alumni catch up at the Denver Museum of Art.

About 50 guests joined us at the Denver Art Museum. We started the evening with a docent-led tour of the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. The exhibit featured O’Keeffe’s work from her years in New Mexico, along with some of the Hopi katsina dolls that she used in her work, as well as paintings by others whom she influenced. It was interesting to watch the Augustana graduates who are geologists comment on which of the pieces seemed to present the authentic geology of the region and which were more abstract.

During our discussion, the group was quite interested in the escalating cost of a college education. I agree that Augustana must do all it can to contain costs, but I’m also convinced that we must make raising money for endowment a higher priority, considering that Augustana has a relatively modest endowment for a college of its quality. The earnings on endowment provide needed scholarships for students, and doubling our endowment would help ensure that Augustana is accessible to all promising students.

Alumni learned about the survival strategies of desert plants from a docent at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Alumni learned about the survival strategies of desert plants at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

PHOENIX — Our Phoenix event began with guided tours of the Desert Botanical Gardens, which were among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. We learned about cacti and other desert plants and their strategies for survival. Alumni and friends then gathered for a reception and program in an outdoor pavilion.

One of our alums commented that Grand Canyon University in the Phoenix area was once a small college, but had grown into a huge university due to the addition of online and evening options. He asked whether I thought Augustana might go in that direction. I was pleased to report that there is no desire among our board, administration or faculty to go in this direction. One of Augustana’s strengths is the consensus that exists in support of our mission as a residential liberal arts college. While online courses might be good at conveying information, professor to student education is best at helping our students become wise, ethical citizens motivated to make a difference in today’s world.

Coping with winter travel

We’ve been traveling quite a bit this winter and had enjoyed remarkably smooth travels until this trip. Our initial flight out of Moline was canceled due to last week’s anticipated snow storm, so Jane and I accelerated our travel by a day to beat the storm. And our flight home from Phoenix was canceled due to a major snowstorm in Denver, our connecting city, delaying our return by a day.

Having to spend an extra day in Arizona in February was really a treat. Jane and I immediately agreed to take a twilight hike in the Superstition Wilderness, about an hour’s drive east of Phoenix. It was an outstanding walk. The desert colors were spectacular in late afternoon, and became even better as the sun set, creating a warm orange glow over the high desert as the temperature dropped.

Jane and I are drawn to the wilderness, but most of our wilderness experience has been in the Northern Rockies and Canada. I agree with Charles Lindbergh who observed, “In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” I feel the same way — in the wilderness I see the beauty of creation uncomplicated by the challenges of everyday life. The wilderness renews my soul and my energy. It helps me have a positive and grateful frame of mind where I view challenges as opportunities. We are looking forward to another wilderness trip next summer, when we raft the Alsek River through spectacular mountains in the Yukon and Alaska.

But first, we’ll complete our 10th Anniversary Tour. On to Los Angeles!

Let the tour begin

While in Naples, Fla., for the first stop on his 10th anniversary tour, Augustana President Steve Bahls attended a performance by the Augustana choir, which is on its spring break tour.

While in Naples, Fla., for the first stop on his 10th anniversary tour, Augustana President Steve Bahls attended a performance by the Augustana choir, which is on its spring break tour.

Naples, Fla. — Jane and I have been looking forward to our 10th anniversary tour, and now it’s finally begun. We’re both looking forward to the opportunities these visits will provide for reflection on Augustana — its recent past, its present and its future.
We had a large crowd in Naples for dinner and an even larger crowd for our concert. The musical talent of our students never ceases to amaze me.  In 10 years, I have probably attended a few dozen Augustana choir performances.  I enjoyed last night’s selections the best. I appreciated the grouping around the various themes. And the performance of a relatively new setting of Amazing Grace was heavenly.

Augustana President Steve Bahls addresses alumni at the Naples tour stop.

Augustana President Steve Bahls addresses alumni at the Naples tour stop.

Atlanta — We had about 30 alumni, friends and parents for dinner at Livingston Restaurant near downtown in Atlanta. Apparently, we brought the icy weather from the Quad Cities, with the temperature dipping below freezing!

The evening started with comments from Lynn Jackson, our vice president for advancement, and then Jane and me. Lynn is gracious in saying that Augustana has changed for the better over the last 10 years and I am quick to give credit for that change where it is due — to our faculty, trustees and staff.

Jane Bahls poses with 90-year-old Doris Pells in Naples, Fla. Pells' sons and late husband are Augustana alumni.

Jane Bahls poses with 90-year-old Doris Pells in Naples, Fla. Doris’ sons and late husband are Augustana alumni.

I was particularly touched by one comment about change that was made by an alumna. She mentioned to me that we had only met twice, the first time being 10 years ago when I was first introduced at a similar reception in Atlanta. She commented on how much Augustana had changed me in 10 years — from an earnest, newly appointed president from outside the traditional liberal arts’ fold, to a spokesperson not just for the liberal arts and sciences, but for the Augustana tradition, as well. What an honor it is to be at Augustana!

Next tour stops

  • Friday, Feb. 22 — Denver Museum of Art
  • Saturday, Feb. 23 — Phoenix Botanical Gardens

Full tour schedule


Ten years and counting

Augustana President Steve Bahls in 2003.

It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since I arrived at Augustana in the summer of 2003. Later this week, Jane and I will begin a coast-to-coast tour of the country that will give me an opportunity to thank Augustana alumni for their support.

In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of the past 10 years, I also hope to share what’s ahead for the college. I plan to discuss some of the critical challenges the college faces in the years ahead and how our next strategic planning process will address these challenges. I also want to share the personal goals I have identified that will guide my leadership of the college in the future. When we are in your area, I hope you will be able to join us.