Augsburg Entrepreneur Bill Urseth '71 Honors Grandfather's Legacy

Donor Photo

Bill Urseth (© 2014 Sheila Mattson)

Business leader and entrepreneur Bill Urseth '71 says he grew up knowing "I was always going to college, and I was always going to Augsburg." He was living a legacy that he and his wife, Kathy, will pass down to future generations through a $1.5 million estate gift designed in a revocable trust to the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR).

But unlike many such legacies, his skipped a generation. His parents, who didn't attend college because they lacked the means, nevertheless instilled in him honor and respect for the grandfather he never met.

Hans Andreas Urseth was a substantial figure in Augsburg's formative years. His name will grace the CSBR's main hallway: Urseth Hall. "I wish I had known him," Bill says. "He died in 1909, when he was 42 and my father was less than a year old. He was a very dynamic gentleman who had the ability to bring people together and ignite them in a positive way."

Carrying tradition, shifting his language

Hans emigrated from Norway as a teenager and settled with his family near Crookston. A bright young man for whom Red River Valley farming lacked appeal, he moved to the Twin Cities in 1890, attending Augsburg Seminary and becoming a popular pastor at Trinity, then the Cities' largest Lutheran church. There he made a crucial decision: to quit preaching in Norwegian. "Americans speak English, so we should speak English" was his refrain; he'd picked it up easily and spoke with little accent.

Returning to Augsburg to teach theology, Hans become a "welcoming committee of one" to Norwegian students, according to historical records. He liked poetry, wrote hymns, and was a "visible and successful teacher right away. Students flocked to him, partly because there wasn't much of an age gap," says Bill. "He seemed to be good at almost anything. That versatility gives a person confidence, and when you have confidence you can shine."

In 1905 Hans ventured into administration; he was named dean of students, then acting president in 1907. Two years later, a rare disease—cancer, perhaps—took his life, leaving behind his widow and five children. They had no financial safety net; only the youngest two could skip working to finish high school.

Roots in the Milling District

Bill's father, the baby of the family, sold Pillsbury flour, fought in World War II, and worked at the post office to support his own family. Bill grew up in south Minneapolis playing football with six best friends, including A-club president Bruce Nelson ‘71 and future business partner Corky Hall ‘71, who all became Auggies. A political science major, Bill planned to enter law school, but his admission test got lost in the mail, forcing a year's hiatus that shaped his future.

Learning how to learn

"Augsburg taught me how to learn. If you have that, you can do a lot of things," he says. His lot included launching U.S. Communications, a national promotion and marketing firm whose clients included General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Apple, and Microsoft. He has authored books, co-hosted a TV show, and owned several popular restaurants. Currently president of Strategic Research & Marketing, he is a general partner of the Minnesota Horse & Hunt Club, where he pursues his outdoor enthusiast passions and works with youth, heading The Youth Hunting Club of Minnesota.

Augsburg, where he served on the Board of Regents from 1986 to 1998, has remained close to his heart. He describes the CSBR as an "excellent facility for the students and faculty. It will help create a great future for young people. That's what I care about," says Bill, who looks for real genius and talent, not wealthy networks, in his friends and associates.

Pathways lead to the future

"Augsburg has always been best at creating pathways and educational opportunities for people who are bright and ambitious but not necessarily connected, not necessarily mainstream, not necessarily affluent. It goes back to my grandfather's day, when those pathways were mostly for young Norwegian men who wanted to get an education," he says. Today those pathways extend to disparate others, perhaps those with disabilities, or who delayed college until mid-adulthood, or whose full-time jobs required weekend classes.

"That's what Augsburg is for. It has managed to penetrate those markets," he says. "Let's create an opportunity for these people."

You can help Augsburg create opportunities

To learn more about how you can support future leaders while honoring loved ones through a gift to Augsburg, contact Amy Alkire at 612-330-1188 or alkirea@augsburg.edu today.

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