The Gift of Friendship

Augustana University at the Center of Strong Bond Between Three Couples
By Keeley Meier '20 | January 06, 2023
Six Amigos

It all started in a residence hall — as many college friendships do. But, for three Sioux Falls couples, the friendship has become lifelong, with Augustana University still at its center. 

Denny Holzwarth ‘73, Pat McNerney ‘74 and Bob Thimjon ‘74 met on the second floor of Bergsaker Hall. With shared majors, they quickly formed a strong friendship. Soon, Holzwarth met Patsy (Larson) ‘74 and Thimjon met Joan (Budahl) ‘74. Along with McNerney and his high school sweetheart, Kay, the three couples kept in touch after graduation, despite being scattered across the Midwest. 

Their friendship evolved into regular visits, road trips with their kids and a number of Augustana athletic events. Now, as retirees, the couples have formed an even greater bond — traveling together often, with annual trips to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and attending Viking Football and Basketball home games together as season ticket holders. 

The Holzwarths, McNerneys and Thimjons say their ties to Augustana made them who they are, and have inspired their ambitions to give back to their alma mater. When Denny, Patsy, Bob, Joan and Pat graduated from Augustana, it marked the end of an era, but it also kicked off a new journey of giving, friendship and Viking pride. 

The Holzwarths

Augustana was an easy choice for both Denny and Patsy Holzwarth. For Denny, after touring a few other schools in the state, AU won by a long shot. Augustana won Patsy over with a little help from her high school band director, the late Dr. Earl Sherburne ‘67, who later finished his conducting career at Augustana. 

Holzwarth's Engagement

“He was incredible,” Patsy said. “He took both my older sister and me to the band festival here, and that’s what made me really interested in going to Augie. Then, after the ‘Big Sis, Little Sis Weekend’ I thought, ‘This is where I want to go.’”

Patsy was a music major, alto saxophone player, student conductor of The Augustana Band and Viking advisor. Denny, a business administration major, was on the Union Board of Governors (UBG), Inter-Society Board and Viking Days Committee.

The two met up with friends at an Augustana dance during Patsy’s junior and Denny’s senior year, which later led to Denny asking Patsy to Frosh Varieties and the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.

“He had no interest (in going to the symphony), but he thought, because I was a music major, that I would,” Patsy said.

“I played all my cards,” Denny added. 

In 1974, Patsy took her last final at Augustana on a Thursday. The next day, she and Denny were married at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church by former Campus Pastor A. Richard Petersen (Pastor Pete). On Saturday, the Holzwarths attended the Thimjons’ wedding. And, on Sunday, Patsy graduated from Augustana. 

Denny, an Aberdeen, South Dakota, native, graduated the previous year and pursued his master’s degree at the University of South Dakota while waiting for his bride to finish school. After Patsy, of LeRoy, Minnesota, graduated, the two settled down in Sioux Falls. Denny landed a job at U.S. Bank, where he worked as an investment manager for almost 40 years before retiring in 2013. Patsy began as an instrumental music teacher in Canton, South Dakota, and later taught at Christ the King School while transitioning to private lessons — something she still does today.

“I’ve had a lot of students that have made the South Dakota All-State Band and many that have come here (to Augustana),” Patsy said. 

The Holzwarths knew they wanted to give back to AU right away, and while music education has always been a top priority, one of their first major gifts was for the Huether Tennis Centre — built in 2009, and located just west of Solberg Hall.

Holzwarths“Both our sons played tennis, and Steve (‘07) played here at Augie,” Patsy said. “We also played a lot of tennis ourselves.”

“Tennis rackets were our first wedding anniversary gift to each other,” Denny added.

From there, the Holzwarths continued to give — supporting A-Club, the Froiland Science Complex, renovations of Fryxell Humanities Center and Bowden Field, as well as additional campaigns.

For Patsy, their most important gift is an endowed music scholarship for students who play saxophone or clarinet, regardless of their major. 

“I just feel like I had a great music education here, and it’s important for me to pass that on to more students,” said Patsy. 

For the Holzwarths, AU’s strategic plan, Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030, has also been an important way to see constant progress on a campus they love, that brought them lifelong friendships and each other.

“I’d hate to see what I’d be without her,” Denny said of Patsy. 

The couple remain an active part of AU’s alumni network and say they’ve only missed one Viking Days in almost 50 years. And, their favorite tradition as alumni includes the McNerneys and Thimjons: tailgating together at every Viking football home game.

“We’re one of the first cars in the parking lot,” said Denny.

The McNerneys

Pat and Kay McNerney were high school sweethearts in Fairmont, Minnesota. When Pat began to go on recruiting trips to find the university he would play football for, he realized Augustana was different.

McNerney's College

“They actually put me with some of the athletes in their dorm room on my recruiting trip — at other schools, they put you in a hotel,” Pat said. “Mike Daly (‘71) and Rick Burkhardt (‘72), also from Fairmont, were already on the football roster, and coming down the hallway was Bill Gross (‘73), and I thought, ‘If Mike, Rick and Bill Gross are going to school here, I ought to give it some serious consideration.’”

During Pat’s time as an offensive tackle with the Viking Football Program, the business administration major was named Augustana’s first Academic All-American in 1972, and received the award again in 1973. By the end of his career, he was one of the team’s captains and had earned three varsity letters and honorable mentions on both the All-North Central Conference and All-Lutheran College teams.

But, for Pat, the awards are far down the list of what he most appreciated about the program.

“I just had fun playing football,” Pat said. “I met a lot of really great guys — some of whom I’ve stayed in contact with over all these years — and it was a really great experience.”

Kay, who attended St. Cloud State University and Alexandria Technical & Community College in Minnesota and earned a degree as a medical laboratory technician, was welcomed to Augustana with open arms every time she visited Pat — which, she said, was all the time.

“I’ve felt a part of this school for so long,” Kay said. “Nobody here ever said or made me feel like I didn’t belong. I just felt like part of the group — football friends, wives and girlfriends.”


The couple got married in 1972 during Thanksgiving break, right after football season Pat’s junior year. After Augustana, the couple moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where Pat landed a job as a commercial lender at a bank and Kay as a laboratory technician at the Red Cross. During their time in Minnesota, they welcomed their son, Aaron. 

In 1977, the McNerneys made the move back to Sioux Falls, where Pat took a job at Western State Bank and Kay became a life insurance underwriter. Soon after, Pat was recruited by a bank in Des Moines, Iowa, where he worked until 1996. Pat then joined NCMIC Group as executive vice president of their financial services subsidiary. He retired in 2017 as chief executive officer.

For the McNerneys, giving back to Augustana has always been an easy choice to make. Throughout the years, the McNerneys have supported the Mikkelsen Library, Froiland Science Complex, A-Club, installation of the new turf on Jim Heinitz Field at Kirkeby-Over Stadium, as well as the Elmen Center, including the WEBS Weight Room. Pat even has the naming rights to his former locker, No. 72, in the football complex.

“Between the financial aid I received as a student-athlete and the extraordinary education, I thought it was important I continue that process of repeating the cycle,” Pat said. “If I knew what made Augustana special, I would patent it and sell it. It’s intangible — but if it wasn’t special, every school would be able to do it.”

“If I knew what made Augustana special, I would patent it and sell it. It’s intangible."

“A few years ago, Pat commented that he had the opportunity to go to a lot of different schools, but thought that he couldn't have gotten a better education anywhere else,” Kay added. 

Now, in their “go-go years,” as the McNerneys say, the couple enjoys pursuing their personal quest of visiting the national parks, as well as traveling with the Holzwarths and Thimjons — carefully scheduling any fall trips so as not to miss a home football game. 

“That's something that most people don't understand — even all of our kids — that the six of us still do all the things that we do,” said Kay. “We still have fun together after all these years, and these are friends that you know are always there for you.”

The Thimjons

Bob and Joan Thimjon had opposite experiences when beginning their Augustana journeys. Joan, a Sioux Falls native and nursing major, had been familiar with the school her entire life, so it was a natural choice. Bob, of Wahpeton, North Dakota, transferred to AU his sophomore year from Wahpeton School of Science (now North Dakota State College of Science). The business administration and accounting double major was initially intimidated by Augustana’s academic rigor, but was soon drawn in by its welcoming community.

Thimjons Edda 1974

The couple met through mutual friends, hit it off and “have been together ever since.” They got married at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church the day before they graduated in 1974, and the day after attending the Holzwarth’s wedding. 

Just two weeks after tying the knot, the Thimjons moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Bob began working as a certified public accountant (CPA) with Deloitte, and Joan as a night-shift nurse at Lutheran Deaconess Hospital — becoming the head nurse of orthopedics after just one year. After four years, the couple moved back to Sioux Falls.

“We decided this is where we wanted to raise a family, and I think we made the right decision,” Joan said.

For the Thimjons, raising a family in Sioux Falls also meant even stronger ties to their alma mater. 

“Our oldest daughter took voice lessons here, attended All-State Choir here and even went to her first Augie basketball game at six weeks old,” Bob said. 

Just one year after moving back to Sioux Falls, Bob was asked to teach a class at Augustana in the business department. He agreed, thinking he’d just do it for a semester.


“Then it was another semester and another, and I ended up as an adjunct faculty (member) for 22 years,” said Bob, who taught Intermediate Accounting, Principles of Accounting and Auditing. 

Joan continued her nursing career for almost 40 years, working at Sioux Valley Hospital (now Sanford Health) for 12 years, and later at an internal medicine clinic. In 1980, Bob jumped into the hotel business, and finished his career as president and CEO of The Ramkota Companies, Inc. 

The Thimjons attribute their professional success to what they learned at Augustana, and knew they wanted to help others learn here, too.

“It gave us a great foundation, not only academically, but spiritually and with our worldviews,” said Joan. “It really helped me as a nurse to have that well-rounded education and experience. So, I was thankful everyday that Augie and my professors were there encouraging me.”

The couple established the Joan Budahl Thimjon Nursing Endowed Scholarship and Bob Thimjon Endowed Accounting/Business Administration Scholarship. They’ve also supported the Froiland Science Complex, Madsen Social Science Center and Augustana Fund.

“As you go along in life, it isn't so much what you can do for yourself — it's what you can do to make a difference in the lives of others,” Bob added. “A scholarship could make a difference.”

For the Thimjons, supporting Augustana alongside their best friends, the Holzwarths and McNerneys, is another special way they can give back — participating in golf tournament fundraisers for Augustana Athletics, holding football and basketball season tickets and attending alumni events. 

“Everything in my life comes back to Augustana,” Bob said. “It’s where I met Joan, it prepared me for a career, I met Denny and Pat and it introduced me to Sioux Falls. So, we’re just trying to do the same thing here with helping others.”

“To let them experience it, too,” added Joan.

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