Torgerson Center

Maren Johnson
Director / Endowed Chair
Assistant Professor of Nordic Studies

700 College Drive
Decorah, IA  52101

Office: Olin 337

Phone: 563-387-1570

Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies

The Richard L. and Judith A. Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies honors Luther College’s legacy as the first college in the United States founded by Norwegian immigrants. Its mission is to foster connections with today’s Nordic region through innovative programs and partnerships. It is the only endowed undergraduate Nordic Studies Center in the United States.

Programs and Initiatives

The Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies provides funding for Luther College faculty or staff interested in developing courses or other academic opportunities (e.g., internships) focused on Nordic-related topics. Stipends can also be used for individual faculty research projects. The application process is administered through the Office of the Provost.

Vesterheim Museum Internships¬†‚ÄstThe Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum¬†is a rich laboratory for Luther College‚Äôs Museum Studies minor. The Torgerson Center supports paid¬†internships¬†to assist the museum while providing valuable learning experiences for students.

An outgrowth of the former Nobel Peace Prize Forum and affiliated with five other Norwegian-American colleges, the Peace Scholars program sends two Luther College students to Norway for a seven-week academic immersion in Lillehammer and Oslo, Norway. The program is designed to deepen students’ understanding of the central issues and theories regarding conflict resolution, war and peace.


The Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies has funding to bring a visiting scholar to campus to expand the Luther community’s understanding of modern scientific, economic, social, environmental and cultural issues in the Nordic region.

Faculty interested in bringing a scholar to campus for a J-term, semester, or academic year should contact Torgerson Center director Maren Johnson.

The Tomson Family Endowed Chair in Norwegian Language and Modern Nordic Culture serves as the academic foundation of the Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies, providing oversight for academic and co-curricular programs, preserving existing partnerships, and creating new collaborative initiatives with educational institutions and scholars in Norway.

The endowed chair was established thanks to the generosity of O. Jay and Patricia A. Tomson, long-time friends of the college, and Marti (Tomson) Rodamaker, Luther class of 1984 and Regent Emerita.

Institutional Ties to Norway

Ties to Norway have shaped Luther College from its founding in 1861 to the present day. This¬†paper¬†by professor emeritus John R. Christianson provides a summary of the college’s history.

Members of the Norwegian royal family have visited Luther College and Decorah eight times:

  • Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha: May 6-7, 1939
  • Crown Prince Harald: Oct. 6, 1965
  • King Olav V: May 4, 1968
  • King Olav V: Oct. 14, 1975
  • King Olav V: Nov. 28, 1987
  • King Harald V and Queen Sonja: Oct. 19, 1995
  • Crown Prince Haakon: June 10, 1999
  • King Harald V and Queen Sonja: Oct. 13, 2011

Norway has also recognized several members of the Luther community with Orders and Awards.

Most nations throughout the world have an honours system, in which heads of state confer orders and medals on their citizens and foreign nationals as a reward for their outstanding contribution to the greater good of society. Each year individuals are recognized by His Majesty The King for their service to Norway and Norwegian society.

Norwegian Decorations and their Order of Precedence. (Those in bold have been bestowed upon members of the Luther College community.)

  1. War Cross with swords
  2. Medal for Outstanding Civic Achievement
  3. The Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav
  4. The Royal Norwegian Order of Merit
  5. Haakon VIIs Freedom Cross
  6. St Olav’s medal with Oak Branch
  7. Medal for Heroism in Gold
  8. The Kings Medal of Merit in Gold
  9. The Medal of St Olav
  10. War Medal

Most recent Luther College honorees:

  1. The Order of St. Olav
    President Elwin D. Farwell, Knight First Class 1976 (now only granted to Norwegian citizens.)
    President H. George Anderson, Knight First Class 1989
  2. The Order of Merit
    President Richard L. Torgerson, Commander 2013
    Professor John R. Christianson, Knight 1995
  3. The Medal of St. Olav
    Professor Harley Refsal, 1996
    Professor Weston Noble, 1999
    Professor Kathleen Stokker, <em”>2004
    Professor David Judisch, 2015

Regionally, Luther faculty and administrators have been recognized for their service in the interest of Norway.¬†Norway House, based in Minneapolis, confers the¬†Going Viking Awards¬†to those ‚Äúwho embody the adventuresome and bold spirit of the Vikings by inspiring their communities to explore and discover new frontiers with courage and determination.‚ÄĚ In 2019, Luther College President Paula Carlson was one of the honorees. In 2018, Dr. Maren Johnson received the Going Viking Young Professional Award.

About the Center

The Richard L. and Judith A. Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies is an endowed program established in 2018 with the appointment of its first director. The Center promotes Luther College’s relationship with modern Norway and other Nordic countries; provides transformative learning opportunities for students and faculty; and collaborates on programming with the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. The Center works in tandem with the college’s Nordic Studies program to provide excellent education in language, history, politics and literature.

With the generous support of a lead gift from O. Jay and Patricia A. Tomson, the Torgerson Center was established in recognition of the Luther College sesquicentennial and to honor former Luther College President Richard L. Torgerson and Mrs. Judith Torgerson for their 14 years of exceptional leadership. The Tomsons are long-time friends of the college and are the parents of Marti (Tomson) Rodamaker, Luther class of 1984 and Regent Emerita.

The work of the Torgerson Center is guided by the following Core Values:

  • Rooted and forward-thinking¬†– The Torgerson Center honors Luther College‚Äôs Norwegian heritage while commending the Nordic region‚Äôs status as a contemporary global leader in its emphasis on the common good.
  • Global education¬†– As a community of learners, Luther students and faculty benefit greatly from cross-cultural study, and the Torgerson Center facilitates such learning in the Nordic region.
  • Partnerships¬†– On campus, in Decorah, nationally, and abroad, the Center fosters collaborative relationships.
  • Place¬†–¬†Decorah, a town with a strong Norwegian heritage and home to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, makes Luther College uniquely positioned to support an exceptional Center for Nordic Studies.

Torgerson Center

Maren Johnson
Director / Endowed Chair
Assistant Professor of Nordic Studies

700 College Drive
Decorah, IA  52101

Office: Olin 337

Phone: 563-387-1570