Luther College receives $2 million gift from Birkestrand family for Regents Center renovations
DECORAH, IOWA—Luther College celebrated a $2 million gift from Dennis and Suzanne Birkestrand to support renovations within the college’s Regents Center Gymnasium.
In recognition of the family’s generosity, the court will be renamed the Birkestrand Family Court.
“On behalf of all of Luther College, I want to say thank you to Suzanne and Dennis for their ongoing support,” President Jenifer K. Ward said at the announcement event. “They have already endowed the Birkestrand Economics and Management Chair and provided a lead gift to the Legacy Field project. We are so fortunate and blessed to have alumni and friends like the Birkestrands who are making investments in the future of Luther College.”
The gift ranks among the largest individual gifts to Luther College, which provides a substantial investment in the ongoing renovations at Regents Center.
As a student-athlete at Luther, Dennis, class of 1964, played football as well as ran track. The Bikestrands’ son Bjorn, class of 1998, played basketball for Luther in his first year, later following his passion for music by participating in Nordic Choir.
Last week, the Birkestrands sent greetings to the campus from their home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Luther was a major contributor to my life story, and as a result, I want to give back to Luther what they gave me,” Dennis Birkestrand said. “Athletics is what brought me to Luther. They showed an interest in me when I was a high school player, and without that, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. I feel strongly about encouraging Luther to always have a very strong athletic program.”
Dennis met his wife, Suzanne, when the two worked for the Maytag Corporation. While not a Luther alum, she has become keenly aware of the impact the college has on its graduates.
“I went to a Big Ten school, but it did not compare to the lasting friendships Denny has experienced and continues to experience from his time at Luther,” Suzanne Birkestrand said. “As an alumnus, he has remained interested and committed to going back, both in promoting sports and promoting business classes that explore all sides of an issue.”
Athletic Director Renae Hartl spoke on behalf of the coaches who will benefit from the renovations within the gymnasium space.
“All our teams that practice and compete here in the Regents Center gym are excited for what these changes will mean to them,” Hartl said. “From volleyball to both basketball teams and our wrestling program, they all send their profound thanks to Dennis and Suzanne for this gift.”
The initial plans for the gymnasium space will create an arena atmosphere with seating that surrounds all sides of the primary court.
Matthew Franzen, a senior basketball player for the Norse, also spoke at the livestreamed announcement event.
“On behalf of all the athletes who practice and compete in this space, we want to say thank you to the Birkestrands,” he said. “While as a senior I won’t have the opportunity to play on this new court space, I know what it will mean to the generations of Norse that will follow.”
It was Dennis’ hope that his family’s support for the new court and renovations would touch all students at Luther.
“Hopefully the whole project is going to make the whole school much more attractive to all students, not just student-athletes,” Dennis Birkestrand said. “While my desire is to always open the Sunday paper and see Luther’s success being published in the sports section. I’m hopeful this will be one of the engines that will make that happen.”
Franzen agreed the changes will elevate Luther.
“Knowing that an alum like Mr. Birkestrand and his family are committed to supporting those of us who are here now and make us very proud to represent Luther,” Franzen said. “This will make one of the loudest home courts in the conference into an even tougher place for opponents.”
The $2 million Birkestrand gift comes just months after the dedication of the renovation of the Robert and Ann Naslund Sports and Recreational Center. The $1.2 million renovation included dedication of the overall space along with the Oertel/Leake Courts for indoor tennis and the Neubauer Indoor Track, both named to honor legendary former Luther head coaches.
“The Birkestand family’s support isn’t just continuing the momentum at Luther, I believe it is helping us accelerate,” Ward said. “It was almost one year ago when we opened the doors on the Naslund Sports and Recreational Center. And now, here we are preparing to transform another part of campus. We are excited about the impact these renovations will have for our students, and the community at large that comes to the Regents Center almost daily for events or to utilize the facilities.”
The Birkestrands spent 22 years in marketing and sales with Maytag before starting a distribution business in 1988 for the Jenn-Air brand of appliances that was headquartered in Kansas City. They then founded Factory Direct Appliance in 1993, which offered a range of appliances to homebuilders and remodelers for 21 years. They sold the business in 2014, and endowed the Birkestrand Economics and Management Chair at Luther with a $1.5 million gift in spring 2016.
“We are so appreciative of the Birkestrands and the way they have been advocates for all things Luther,” Ward said. “Their thoughtful support has been uplifting for the entire student experience.”
About Luther College
At Luther College in beautiful Decorah, Iowa, students explore big questions and take action to benefit people, communities and society. Our academic programs, experiential approach to learning and welcoming community inspire students to learn actively, live purposefully and lead courageously for a lifetime of impact. Learn more at luther.edu.