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ISSUE 119 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/28/2006

Thomforde reflects on favorites, accomplishments

By Jean Mullins
News Editor

Friday, April 28, 2006

When President Christopher Thomforde came to St. Olaf from Bethany College in Kansas in January 2001, several things immediately struck him: he admired the beauty of the campus and its general atmosphere.

"The whole life of the college was so filled with promise," he said. "I felt that St. Olaf could be an exemplary institution."

Thomforde said that he felt the potential to make St. Olaf the exemplary educational institution of the Lutheran Church, much like Notre Dame is for the Roman Catholic Church. He explained that one of his accomplishments while president was to strengthen ties with the Lutheran Church.

Once he arrived and adjusted to the scope and size of St. Olaf (he explained that Bethany is a much smaller college with a smaller reputation), Thomforde set forth to mend the tensions between faculty, staff and students that existed when he arrived. He said that now he sees general trust and kinship between members of the campus community.

Thomforde feels good about increasing the diversity at St. Olaf. He explained that there is a balancing act between preserving the College’s Norwegian Lutheran heritage and welcoming people of other religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, political affiliations and sexual orientations.

However, some have not been welcoming to the discussion of diversity, and others have been resistant to it. Increasing diversity is "important to continue because our nation is such a diverse place," Thomforde said.

The college has also enjoyed increased financial viability since Thomforde arrived. One example is the endowment, which has increased by $100 million.

Thomforde has a great love for St. Olaf, which is evident in the things he enjoys about the college.

When asked why he thinks St. Olaf is unique, Thomforde explained that St. Olaf has many highways converging, each highway being a different discipline at which St. Olaf excels. One highway would be music, one would be arts, one would be international studies, one would be service, one would be the Lutheran Church and another would be math and science.

While each comes from a different place and is heading to another place, they momentarily converge into one highway at St. Olaf. St. Olaf is unique, he explained, because it brings all those different highways together and yet excels at all of them.

The chime tower is a favorite place for Thomforde, as he knew some of the students whom the chimes represent from his time at St. Olaf and even before. He also enjoys the Reference Room in Rolvaag Memorial Library for its sunlight and big windows and pictures of past presidents. Finally, he enjoys walking in the prairie behind Skoglund Athletic Center, describing it as a "green belt around campus."

As for his multicolored house, Thomforde said that initially "it was quite shocking," but he has grown to like it. Comparing the bright colors to the "bright" natures of St. Olaf students, he said he cannot think of his house as any other color. He would not want a beige or a pastel house, just like he would not want students to exhibit "beige" qualities.

Thomforde said he will miss many things at St. Olaf, especially the staff members. He explained that they have bonded over the last few years, and they can laugh together, argue and wrestle with problems.

"I admire them," Thomforde said.

He will also miss the students.

"I am amazed by them," he said.

And, finally, Thomforde will miss winter.

"One can really experience winter here," he said.

Stay tuned for next week's installment of Thomforde: A last look where Thomforde discusses his plans for the future.

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