Class of 1953 Fall 2017 Letter

Fall 2017

Dear Luther College Class of 1953,

A lot of things have come together in recent weeks to remind me how the world has turned in the 68 years since we registered as freshmen at Luther College in Fall 1949. A lot of things in our memory banks count as experience for us but as history for the first year students who registered in fall 2017. Are we the wiser for it, or the more wounded? Can we see the world through the eyes of today’s first-year students, or they through ours?

In the summer after that first year the men among us took a test to determine whether we deserved to be deferred from the military draft to continue our studies, a response to the outbreak of war in Korea. In the autumn of our senior year Dwight Eisenhower campaigned for the presidency with the promise to end the Korean War. Which he did, sort of. Now, 68 years later, the war continues as a war of words with a nuclear ambitious North Korea.

In the 1960s we faced, simultaneously, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the women’s movement for equality of opportunity.

Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War, stretching through three presidencies, from Eisenhower through Kennedy and Nixon, reawakened the pain of that tragedy. At the time it stirred passions on college and university campuses almost to the breaking point. I wondered, as I sat through all ten episodes, how students of today respond to these films. Probably in a way similar to our response to the history of World War I, which ravaged a generation of the young men of European nations. For several years now, a cohort of young students from Vietnam have graduated from Luther College, including, several years ago, a young man from Hanoi who was first-chair cellist in our orchestra while here. An example of reconciliation that breaks the bounds of reason and offers hope.

As I recall, Asibong Okon ’54, who came from Nigeria in 1952, was the first student “of color” to study at Luther College. By the early 1970s there were dozens of African-American students at Luther. With the increase in the number of international students in recent years, to about 150, students “of color” abound. Can students of today possibly understand the limits of the social and global experience of most of us 68 years ago, with students from all over the world among them and study away experiences in many parts of the world available to them?

Homecoming weekend the Phi Beta Kappa Symposium featured a presentation on Biblical interpretation by Katherine Shaner ’98. I recalled Kat as a student in a Greek class; she subsequently earned a doctorate in New Testament Studies at Harvard and currently teaches at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. The presentation was superb. What riches we enjoy as a consequence of the opening of all professions to women. As I write this in late October, the evidence continues to appear on campus. Last week a Luther graduate of 2001 reported on her work as a journalist in Salt Lake City for which she earned a Pulitzer Prize last year. Tomorrow four women graduates, who occupy major executive positions, will appear in a forum on campus. The world of opportunities in 2017 looks very different from the world we occupied in the 1950s. The college is doing a great job of presenting this new world to students of both genders.

The expansion of opportunities for students comes at a cost. This is true at both public and independent institutions. The costs of education, especially as they apply to students and their parents, are in the news regularly. I don’t need to inform you about that. Less clear through the news media are the reasons for the costs and the potential for alleviation of costs to students. On the one hand, colleges and universities have improved the number and quality of opportunities available to students. On the other hand, all institutions, but independent institutions in particular, provide substantial assistance in meeting the costs. From my perspective, the value at Luther College matches the cost.

Talk about these things when you visit with young people seeking a college. They deserve to be fully informed. And, this is the inevitable closing, participate in meeting the costs yourselves through gifting to Luther College. I do, with pleasure.


Will Bunge
1953 Class Agent
[email protected]


Rodger Nelson of Berlin, Conn., died Feb. 26, 2017, at age 83. Born in Little Falls, Minn., he attended Luther for two years before continuing his education at the University of Minnesota, where he graduated from medical school in 1959. Rodger completed his residency at Mayo Graduate School of Medicine in 1968; he served in the U.S. Navy as a flight surgeon on the USS Coral Sea CVN-43. While making rounds at St. Albans Military Hospital, he met his future wife, Rose Marie, an RN. For 30 years, Rodger worked as a pediatrician at Grove Hill Medical Center. Passionate about high quality education for all students, he served on the Berlin Board of Education for many years. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Rose Marie Nelson; son, Theodore Nelson (fiancé, Monica); two daughters, Stephanie Hale (Karl) and Lynae Brescia (Vincent); several grandchildren; sister, Myrtle Nelson; and extended family and friends.

George Schenck of Burlington, N.C., died Jan. 3, 2017, at age 85. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he majored in biology and chemistry at Luther and was employed with IBM for more than 25 years. George was also an avid sailor and reader, who loved to travel and spend time with his family. A Rotarian for many years and life-long member of the Lutheran Church, from 1993-98 he served Luther as a class agent. George is survived by his wife, Charlotte Schenck; four children, Alice Wolfe, Bill Schenck ’78, David Schenck, and Jean Glick; 17 grandchildren; and a sister, Lois Torrey.

Waldo “Wally” Varberg of Neenah, Wis., died May 25, 2015, at age 83. Born in Minot, N.D., he graduated from Minot High School in 1949, having served as senior class president and receiving statewide recognition in football and basketball. After attending Luther for two years, Wally graduated from the University of North Dakota in June 1953. He attended medical schools at the University of North Dakota and University of Oregon, receiving a medical doctorate in July 1957. Wally served an internship at Milwaukee County General Hospital, and he joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps from July 1958-July 1961, serving as a captain and stationed at Fort Lawton Army Hospital in Seattle. After his honorable discharge in 1961, Wally completed a medical residency at Marquette University School of Medicine, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, in 1965. He established a private practice in Neenah—the Orthopedic Clinic of Neenah—and years later he established a practice with Dr. Jan Sarnecki, before retiring in 1991.During his tenure as an orthopedic surgeon, Wally chaired various departments at Theda Clark Hospital and held memberships in many medical societies, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Wisconsin State Medical Society, and Wisconsin Orthopedic Society. He married his high school classmate, Mary Meyer, in July 1953, and they enjoyed and celebrated 61 years of marriage. Wally is survived by his wife, Mary; four children, Mark, Dan (Nancy), Vicky and Ted (Tammy); and nine grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Bernie Varberg.