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Watertown Public Opinion: Nefs Endow Augie Chair

MILBANK -- A family that is a local business success story has established the first endowed faculty chair at Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

The college announced late last week that the Rudy and Marilyn Nef family of Milbank has provided the financial gift to the school to create the “Nef Family Chair of Political Economy.”

In a release, college officials said the endowment will advance the study of market economies and representative democracies.

The Nef family owns Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank, a business established in 1929 by Rudy Nef’s father, Alfred, and his partner, Alfred Gonzenbach. Rudy Nef and Max Gonzenbach took over the business many years ago, having since retired and passed the business on to the third generation of the families.

The college, a Lutheran faith-based school, said the endowment will be a welcome addition to its curriculum.

“We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to become associated with the Nef family and their legacy as successful business entrepreneurs, dedicated community leaders and generous investors in South Dakota’s future,” said Jon Henkes, vice president for development at Augustana.

The school also announced that Dr. Robert E. Wright, a writer and economic historian, has been appointed to the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy.

Speaking with the Public Opinion on Friday, Rudy Nef said the family considered a number of factors when they chose to make the gift to Augustana, a gift that is designed to last in perpetuity.

“One of the key things is I really identify with (Augustana president) Rob Oliver,” said Nef, who has also been a member of the state’s Board of Regents. “He brings something to the school from outside academia.

“Between my wife and I and our family, it was the right thing to do.”

The outspoken Nef - who has also served as mayor of Milbank and as a Grant County commissioner over the last few decades - strongly believes in independent business without a lot of government interference. That is something he hopes the endowment at Augustana will inspire in young people just beginning their careers.

“Government often throws up economic roadblocks, too much interference,” Nef said. “It limits business opportunities.

“One goal is to have people better understand the business role and the government role.”

Nef looked to the birth and growth of Valley Queen Cheese in determining what the goal of the new program at the college will be.

The “Two Alfreds,” as they are sometimes referred to, were Swiss immigrants who built the cheese-making business from the ground up and passed it to their children and grandchildren.

The company now employs more than 150 people and was recently named the 2009 South Dakota Business of the Year.

“Our family has been blessed through the years with business success and a record of accomplishment that speaks to the importance of a free society where excellence is a worthy and achievable goal,” Nef and his wife said. “The basic goal is economic freedom.

“The Nef Family Chair is intended to rigorously investigate, teach and draw attention to this pathway to excellence in an increasingly complex global society.”

“The Nefs have built a remarkable presence by embracing the basics,” Oliver said. “Vision, integrity and much hard work take you a long way along the path to success, regardless of the enterprise.”

Dr. Mark Braun, senior vice president for academic affairs at Augustana, said he hopes the new program will reach beyond the college campus.

“The goal of this endowed chair is to make Dr. Wright a resource both for our students and for the greater business community as he teaches and organizes seminars on economics and the intersection of business and government,” Braun said in the release.

Wright currently serves as clinical associate professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University. Nef said he has not met Wright at this point, but one of the couple’s five daughters took part in interviews for the position.

“This has been going on for a couple of years in discussions and was approved a couple months ago and they (Augustana) did the hire,” Nef said.

Nef said he envisions the program stimulating students and others toward independent business development and independent thinking.

“It’s basically designed to help students get a good education and teaching them how to think and get along in the world,” he said.

The lifelong Milbank resident has long been a strong supporter of keeping and growing business in South Dakota, something he said played into the decision to partner with Augustana rather than another college outside the state.

“Absolutely,” Nef said. “One of our goals is to keep things in South Dakota, keep things local.”

 

Source: Watertown Public Opinion