Augustana Receives Record $5 Million Gift for Student Scholarships

Mike and Altie Domsitz

An estate gift from alumni Myron (Mike) and Altie Domsitz will support scholarships for students. 

Augustana University today announced receipt of a $5 million estate gift from alumni Myron (Mike) and Altie Domsitz. The gift, designed specifically to support scholarships for students, is the largest of its kind in Augustana’s 155-year history.

Mike Domsitz, Augustana class of 1933, died in 2005. His wife, Altie (Sterud) Domsitz, class of 1936, passed away this summer.

According to a family member, the couple kept Augustana close to their hearts throughout their lives.

“Mike would always talk about Augustana, and so would Altie,” said their nephew, Dan Sterud. “I think for them, it was more than a special place."

"Mike received a scholarship to attend Augustana. They really wanted [their estate] to support scholarships for students. They both had a real spot in their hearts for helping others in need, with no expectation in return, and they believed in Augustana’s mission as a school of the Church,” he said.

Augustana President Rob Oliver called the gift a blessing.

“On behalf of Augustana, I extend our most heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Mike and Altie – two individuals whose generosity will change the lives of men and women who hope and dream for higher education,” Oliver said. “Mike and Altie’s trust in Augustana, their belief in our mission, and their faith in the power of possibility is altogether humbling and inspiring.”

“Augustana is known as ‘the place for possibilities’ for many reasons – one of which is our commitment to making quality higher education affordable. This gift will enable us to award even more scholarships to deserving students. And for that, we are eternally thankful.”
– Rob Oliver
President of Augustana University

Students interested in learning more about scholarships at Augustana should visit www.augie.edu/scholarships.

About the Donors

A native of Sioux Falls and a graduate of Washington High School, Mike Domsitz majored in chemistry at Augustana. After graduation, he pursued his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Iowa.

He began his career as a geophysicist with an oil well surveying corporation in Corpus Christi, Texas. In 1942, during the early stages of World War II, he was appointed to the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C.

While there, and under top security clearance, Domsitz was among the scientists who developed the radio proximity fuse used with the first atomic bombs.  

Clipping from The Daily Argus LeaderAn archived article from The Daily Argus Leader, now known as the Argus Leader, chronicled Domsitz’s service. Headlined “Sioux Falls Scientist Among Experts Behind War’s 2nd Secret Weapon,” the story reported on the government’s release “from its top secret files” of scientists behind the radio proximity fuse.

Among the names on the list: M.G. Domsitz.

“The story behind the radio proximity fuse, as released by Washington, is one of a secret well kept, a race between Germany and the United States for perfection of the device, and an outstanding chapter in the U.S. record of cooperation between science, industry and the military,” the article said. “… without its perfection, the atomic bomb could never have been carried in the B-29 ‘end of war’ raid on Japan.”

In 1983, Augustana honored Mike Domsitz and his contributions to the field of scientific exploration and discovery with an Alumni Achievement Award.

‘He Was Just Kind of a Normal Guy’

Growing up, Sterud said he never fully realized his uncle was involved in such a history-making project.

“Mike was just kind of a normal guy. He loved, loved, loved to fish and they both loved to garden. Mike was fairly serious, but he could and would talk with anyone. Altie was more outgoing. She could walk into a room full of strangers and within half an hour would know most of them and be liked by everybody,” Sterud said.

A Luverne (Minnesota) High School graduate, Altie Domsitz grew up with three brothers and was active in the debate club. She graduated from Augustana in 1936.

Throughout their lives, the couple lived in Iowa City, Iowa; Corpus Christi, Texas; Terry Town, New York; Potomac, Maryland; Brookings, South Dakota; and Sioux Falls.

Former Augustana Presidents Dr. Ralph Wagoner and Dr. Bruce Halverson both knew the couple well and spoke of their generosity and love for Augustana.

“They were such gracious supporters and were a joy to work with,” said Wagoner, who served as Augustana’s 21st president from 1993-2000. “What just takes me aback is this: here’s a couple without children of their own, who are thinking about how to impact other kids and future generations.”

Halverson agreed.

“Our many conversations revealed their caring commitment to Augie's students, and I'm grateful their lives will be celebrated and honored with scholarships for future generations,” said Halverson, who served as Augustana’s 22nd president from 2000-2006. 

The $5 million estate gift will combine with the couple’s previous gifts to Augustana of nearly $247,000 to support the Myron and Altie Domsitz Grant.

Initially established by the couple in 1999, the Myron and Altie Domsitz Grant was made “in recognition of the value of educational opportunities in a Christian environment, and in appreciation of the quality academic program and preparation in the liberal arts provided by Augustana … it is the hope of the donors that this grant will allow average students the opportunity to attend and graduate from Augustana who could not afford the tuition and fees.”