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Lydia Slattery
Media Relations Specialist

Phone: 563-387-1417

Luther awards eight alumni Distinguished Service Awards

Luther College President Paula Carlson will present the Luther Distinguished Service Award to eight alumni at the college’s annual Homecoming Alumni Dinner, set for 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, in Peace Dining Room on the Luther campus.

The Distinguished Service Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the college, is given in recognition of success and achievement in professional fields, service to society, contributions to community, and loyalty and service to Luther.

Recipients of the 2017 Luther Distinguished Service Award are Susan (Brown) English, Decorah, Iowa, retired caregiver specialist at Northeast Iowa Agency on Aging, Luther class of 1982; Janice (Engle) Gray, Excelsior, Minnesota, retired social worker, program manager and volunteer, Luther class of 1962; Michael Harman, Decorah, Iowa, owner of Harman Realty, LLC, Luther class of 1987; John Helgeland, Fargo, North Dakota, professor emeritus of religion and history at North Dakota State University, Luther class of 1962; Sheldon Hermanson, Aurora, Colorado, retired chaplain/Colonel for the United States Air Force, Luther class of 1952; Sujay Lama, Denton, Texas, head women’s tennis coach at the University of North Texas, Luther class of 1992; Larrie Wanberg, Grand Forks, North Dakota, owner/research and development executive for Vanberia, LLC and curator at Dakota Heritage Institute, Luther class of 1952; and Julie (Braastad) Wurtzel, Decorah, Iowa, director for alumni giving and annual giving for Northeast Iowa Community College, Luther class of 1977.

Susan (Brown) English

Susan English graduated from Luther in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education and an emphasis on speech and theatre.

English remains involved in the Luther community as a member of the Luther College Woman’s Club. She is on the reunion committee for the Luther class of 1982. She also welcomes Luther students who can’t go home for the holidays to her home. She and her late husband Professor Emeritus Cliff English headed up the college’s Malta program and taught several years with Luther’s Lutherlag event. She is stepmother to Lesley (English) Cameron, Luther alumna; The Rev. Tristan English and Jane English, and mother to Leah McCrea, employed by Luther; Glenn Livingston; Jim Livingston and Brittany O’Malley.

After graduation, English was a fourth and fifth grade teacher and speech coach in Wall Lake, Iowa, from 1982-88. She moved back to the Decorah area to work at the Northland Agency on Aging, now known as Northeast Iowa Agency on Aging. She began her career at the Northland Agency on Aging as a case worker, making sure the elderly had what they needed to stay in their homes. She eventually moved into marketing and publication for the agency. At the time of her retirement in 2010, she was the resource coordinator and had served in several capacities over 20 years with the agency. She continues to serve as a home-delivered meal volunteer for NEIAA.

In her retirement, English volunteers with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, First Lutheran Church Pantry and for the Alzheimer’s Walk. She is on the United Way Board, the Elks Club Foundation Committee, is a member of the Friends of Pool 9, works as a substitute lunch lady for Decorah Schools and has volunteered to drive people to La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Rochester, Minnesota, for cancer treatments.

Janice (Engle) Gray

Introduced to Luther College during a Luther League program at her home parish in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Jan Gray graduated from Luther in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts in social work. She completed continuing education classes in social work, including licensed school social workers, human relations and a seminar in chemical dependency.

Jan and her husband, John Gray, have been active supporters of Luther as campaign leaders for the New Century Campaign and members of the Twin Cities Advisory Board. Together they founded the John P. and Jan (Engle) Gray Scholarship in 1997. Jan was a class agent and member of the campaign cabinet for the “A Higher Calling” campaign.

Upon graduation from Luther, Gray was employed as a social worker for Anoka County Human Services in Anoka, Minnesota, from 1962-65. She spent the next 20 years as a stay-at-home mom. During that time, she was a “professional” volunteer, serving as the president of the Minnetonka Montessori School, tutoring for the Bucket Brigade, spending nine years as a Girl Scout leader and chairing the PAR program, a drug abuse/use program for elementary students.

Gray later served as the senior service program manager for the Minnetonka School District from 1985 until she retired in 1995. She and John also ran an office supply company for many years.

In her retirement, Gray continues to volunteer. She is active in her church and community, being presented the “Volunteer Exceptional Award” by the city of Greenwood and the Pat Mullen Award for being on the task force that help fund, build and opened the SouthShore Senior Community Center. She was awarded the Hero Award from the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce in 2010 for “relentless volunteer spirit and undying passionate commitment to serve the senior community.”

Michael Harman

Mike Harman is a 1987 graduate of Luther College, with a Bachelor of Arts in management. He spent four years in the United States Air Force from 1981-85, going to school part time at Northern Michigan University. He graduated from the Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, Colorado, in 1997.

Harman spent four years as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force, being stationed at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While in the air force, he studied at Northern Michigan University. From 1986-2005, Harman held several positions at Decorah State Bank/Community First Bank, including compliance officer, mortgage lender, commercial lender, senior lender and president.

In 2005, Mike and his brother Mark started Harman Realty, LLC. The full-service real estate firm works in residential, commercial and land sales.

Harman is actively involved in the Decorah community. He’s been a board member on Decorah Jobs for 20 years, served on the Decorah Downtown Betterment Committee for approximately 20 years and has been on the Winneshiek County Development board since 1991. He’s helped lead several fundraising efforts, including the $3.2 million St. Benedict Church capital campaign, $1.8 million Trout Run Trail project and $185,000 Water Street Park fundraiser.  He was named the Business Professional of the Year by the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce in 2009 and the Volunteer of the Year by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs in 2010.

Harman and his wife Sandy reside in Decorah.         

John Helgeland

John Helgeland graduated from Luther with a Bachelor of Arts in Greek in 1962. He went on to earn a Master of Divinity from the Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1966. Helgeland garnered a master’s in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago in 1969 and a Ph.D. in early church history in 1973.

Helgeland taught at Luther in the spring of 1972. He taught at St. John’s University and Divinity School in Collegeville, Minnesota, from 1972-77. He joined the staff at North Dakota State University in 1977, where he was the chair of religious studies from 1977-2015. Since 2015, he’s been a professor emeritus in religion and history at North Dakota State.

Inspired by Luther’s Computer Round Table, Helgeland founded the Group Decision Center at NDSU in 1990. He also founded the Northern Plains Ethics Institute in 1991, serving as the director from 1991-2010. He currently is the co-director and board chair. He’s been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, encyclopedias and book reviews, being cited more than 1,400 times in professional literature.

Helgeland is a consultant to the FBI, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and local law officials. He was the Blue Key Honor Society, NDSU, distinguished educator for 1982 and was given the service award from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at NDSU in 1998. He’s served as the class agent for the class of 1962 since 2003. He and his wife, Susan, are members of the Heritage Club.

Sheldon Hermanson

Sheldon Hermanson, a 1952 graduate of Luther, earned a Bachelor of Arts in history and sociology and continued his education as a candidate of theology at the Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1965, he completed a Master of Theology from Duke University Divinity School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Hermanson had a 30-year career as an Air Force chaplain. While serving as the base chaplain at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona, from 1967-73, the Chief of Air Force Chaplains named Hermanson’s chaplain team the Finest Chapel Team for Ministry and Community Outreach Team in the Air Force. They were awarded the Edward R. Chess Award for “demonstrating the most comprehensive pastoral concerns for human needs.”

Hermanson was awarded three Meritorious Service Awards from the Air Force, three Outstanding Unity Awards and two Legion of Merit Awards. In addition, he was presented the National Defense Service Medal and Churchmanship Award from the San Antonio, Texas, Council of Churches.

In retirement, Hermanson served as the bishop of the Southwestern Texas-Louisiana Synod and consultant to the bishop from 1986-2000. He and his wife, Renee, class of 1954, are members of the Heritage Club and life members of the President’s Council. In addition, they served as a Lutherlag Host Family in 2006.

Sujay Lama

A 1992 graduate of Luther, Sujay Lama earned a double major in political science and public communication. He was inducted into the Luther College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002.

Upon graduation, Lama served as a senior professional for Van Der Meer Tennis at Hilton Head, South Carolina, until 1995. He was an assistant women’s tennis coach at the University of Florida from 1995-98, where he was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s South Region National Assistant Coach of the Year in 1997. From 1998-2006, Lama was the head women’s tennis coach at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. He produced an overall record of 108-84, with a Big Ten mark of 60-34. His team was named ITA All-Academic all eight seasons, advancing to the NCAA team tournament five times. They finished in the top-five in all eight campaigns.

Since 2006, Lama has been the head women’s tennis coach at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. He has an overall mark of 139-113 at North Texas. The “Mean Green” were the Sun Belt Conference champions in 2010, 2012 and 2013, with Lama named the Coach of the Year each of those three seasons. He was the Professional Tennis Registry National College Coach of the Year in 2013 and United States Professional Tennis Association Texas Collegiate Coach of the Year for 2009 and 2014.

Lama is the founder and director of the charity organization PROJECT NEPAL, which provides funds for schools of poor and orphaned children of Nepal, and is married to Lynne Tan-Lama, class of 1990.

Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg is a 1952 graduate of Luther, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and sociology. He went on to receive a Master of Social Work from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1954 and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Denver in 1973. He was a Fullbright Fellow from 1957-58, studying at the University of Oslo in Norway.

Wanberg had a 20-year career as a social work officer/Colonel in the United States Army Medical Service Corps, retiring in 1981. He received the Legion of Merit award from the U.S. Army Medical Services in 1981. In addition, Wanberg had a 45-year career in education, teaching at the Washington University School of Medicine, the University of Maryland, the University of North Dakota, Schiller International University in Strasbourg, France, and the European Institute of International Communications at Castle Well, among others. He served as the Dean of School of Hotel Management and Tourism of ISU in Strasbourg.

Wanberg is the owner and research and development executive for Vanberia, LLC, a research and development company in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In addition, he’s a curator at the Dakota Heritage Institute in Northwood, North Dakota, and is a features editor for “The Norwegian American” and columnist for “Scandinavian Press Magazine.”

Wanberg’s father, Richard Wanberg, class of 1914, received the Distinguished Service Award from Luther in 1964. His wife, the late Bjorg Lahlum Wanberg, is a 1959 graduate of Luther and was a Fulbright student.

Julie (Braastad) Wurtzel

Graduating in 1977, Julie Wurtzel graduated with a double major in psychology and religion. She earned a certificate from the Iowa School of Banking through the University of Iowa in 1983 and a Master of Education from Iowa State University in 2008.

Wurtzel has held numerous positions at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, Iowa, since 2005, most recently as the executive director for alumni giving and annual giving. She also serves as the legislative liaison to the Iowa General Assembly, representing the college. She has also been NICC’s executive director for college advancement, executive director of the NICC Foundation and director of continuing education. Prior to joining the staff at NICC, she served in several capacities at various banks in Decorah, including as the assistant vice president for retail banking and marketing at Community First National Bank from 1996-2004.

Wurtzel has served on several boards in the county, including Nordic Fest, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and the Decorah Sesquicentennial Committee. She’s a member of Winneshiek County Development, Inc., the Winneshiek County Community Foundation, Decorah Community School District Foundation and a charter member of the 100+ Women Who Care. She remains active in the Luther community in the Luther College Woman’s Club.

Both in 2015 and 2016, Wurtzel was presented with the Northeast Iowa Community College Innovation of the Year Award.

She and her husband Don, a 1974 graduate, reside in Decorah.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,050, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website:

Contact Information

Lydia Slattery
Media Relations Specialist

Phone: 563-387-1417