Alumnus Gives $250,000 for Science Facility, Donates Artwork to CWS

Augustana College today announced the receipt of a $250,000 naming gift in support of its planned new science center project.

The “Paul Mohrman Family Lab” inside the new facility will focus on ecological research, an initiative alumnus Paul Mohrman, class of 1972, and his wife, Julie, hold close to their hearts.

“The reality is, we have finite resources. We need to tell our children about the importance of conservation and recycling. We need to be good stewards of our environment. It starts with our young people,” Mohrman said in an interview from his home in Jacksonville, Fla.

In addition to their gift to the new science center project, the Mohrmans also donated 29 bronze sculptures by noted artist C.A. Pardell, valued at approximately $50,000, to the Center for Western Studies.

“When the science project came up and I remembered how many classes I took inside the Gilbert Science Center, I just knew. I saw the opportunity for the environmental lab.
That’s near and dear to my heart.”

Paul Mohrman, Class of 1972

“The great physicist Albert Einstein once said ‘Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.’ In our friend Paul Mohrman, we have an example of a professionally successful man and a man of true value and honor,” said Rob Oliver, president. “Paul understands the value of investing in education and the significance of supporting both the natural sciences and the humanities at Augustana. Through their gifts, Paul and Julie are ensuring that future generations of young scholars have the opportunity to study and learn how to make our world even better. Augustana is incredibly grateful for their generosity.”

Plans for the new $40 million science facility feature eco-friendly classrooms and laboratories to support the College’s growing number of natural science majors. The complex will include additional research laboratories to accommodate student-faculty research initiatives.

Today, of the 1,750 full-time students enrolled during the 2011-2012 academic year, 40 percent identified themselves as natural science majors, most of whom plan to pursue graduate and professional school training upon their graduation. For the 2010-2011 academic year, the College reported 265 biology majors (a 52 percent increase from five years prior); 84 chemistry majors (a 40 percent increase); and 41 physics majors (a 31 percent increase).

This summer, 69 Augustana students conducted scientific and biomedical research and/or completed internships or volunteer positions at facilities throughout the U.S. as part of the College's Summer Research Program, an initiative that places undergraduates in the field at laboratories, hospitals and study tanks throughout the U.S.

‘I was looking for an Opportunity’

A native of Dell Rapids, S.D., and mathematics major at Augustana, Mohrman spent his career in corporate development for LiftPower Inc., a Florida-based forklift equipment distributorship owned by the Mohrman family. After retiring in 2009, he began working for South Atlantic Systems Group Inc (SASG), an affiliate of LiftPower.

He remembers Augustana as a place where his professors knew him, engaged with him and supported him in his academic endeavors.

“One of my professors once pulled me aside and said, ‘Paul, I understand you work in the food service, washing dishes. You’ve done a good job in math. We’re wondering if you’d like to work for us next year in the math department.’ I was floored,” Mohrman said. “That experience is symbolic of Augustana for me. Augustana allowed me to feel how it feels when someone gives you their time. That carried through in my life.”

He took the professor up on the offer and served as a mathematics tutor while a student. After graduation, he went to law school before deciding to join the family business in 1974.

In addition to the logarithms and algorithms of mathematics, Mohrman said above all, his time at Augustana taught him how to think critically, reason and analyze.

“I was the only guy in my law school interview who was a math major. [The legal scholars] asked me why I thought a math major would prepare me for a law degree. I told them that because of my math major, I had learned logic, reasoning and problem solving. Immediately, I saw that I’d answered their question well. That’s what Augustana does for its students. Regardless of your subject matter – you learn how to break down problems and solve them, one piece at a time.”

After his retirement, Mohrman said he was looking for an opportunity to give back.

“Throughout my career, I tried to do it right along the way and set aside money for a rainy day. The reality is you retire, you have a party and, after the party’s over, you look around and say ‘I made it – I’ll be OK.’”

“In my case, I felt other things could use my help. I was looking for an opportunity. I’d never done anything like that before,” he said. “When the science project came up and I remembered how many classes I took inside the Gilbert Science Center, I just knew. I saw the opportunity for the environmental lab. That’s near and dear to my heart.”

Mohrman said he hopes his gift will inspire other Augustana alumni to support the project as well.

“The hope is that everything happening [with the new science center project] is from many grads who have chipped in based on their experiences at Augustana. I hope to see a lot of plaques [in the new facility],” he said. “Sometimes it’s easier to turn around when you’re retired to see what you can give than when you’re working. When you come to retire, hopefully you can look around and see what’s there.”

In addition to supporting the new science center project, the Mohrmans are consistent supporters of the Augustana Fund, the pool for unrestricted giving that supports scholarships and financial aid, faculty recruitment and technology on an annual basis.

“Day-in and day-out, there are always things to be done in every organization. It’s like with a car. Yes, you need to save up for the engine re-haul but, on a day-to-day basis, there’s gas, oil changes and so on. It’s very nice when you can pledge a gift but the reality is, the bigger gifts can be enjoyed more if the Augustana Fund continues to be replenished.”

Supporting the Center for Western Studies

Avid collectors of American Indian art, the Mohrmans were looking to downsize after retirement.

They saw the Center for Western Studies, and its mission to preserve and interpret the history and cultures of the Northern Plains, as a perfect new home for their Pardell collection.

"Augustana's Center for Western Studies is honored to be the recipient of the generous gift from Paul and Julie Mohrman of bronze sculptures by the noted artist C.A. Pardell. All 29 pieces, in various sizes, feature an American Indian theme – and most of the bronzes represent figures and life-ways of the Plains Indian,” said Dr. Harry Thompson, executive director of the Center. “One piece, entitled ‘First Coup,’ demonstrates the bravery of a warrior who uses his lance to touch but not attack another warrior. One of the two large sculptures, entitled ‘Visionary’ depicts a Plains warrior on horseback with rifle in hand and bow and arrows over his shoulder. Chris Pardell is known for the historical accuracy of his work, so this gift by the Mohrmans is particularly appropriate for the Center for Western Studies."

“We’re looking forward to seeing them on display. Now they’re in a place where they’ll serve a purpose – heightening awareness for Native Americans – we appreciate that,” Mohrman said.

Looking ahead, Mohrman said he is enjoying retirement. He’s planning a few trips and will continue his work as a Sergeant at Arms for his local Rotary Club, where he has served for the last 30 years.

“I’m proud to be a Rotarian. To sit down with a group of morally and ethically conscious people and give back every week, and learn to from then – that’s really shaped me as an adult,” he said.