I attended Dr. Charles S. Anderson’s funeral a couple of weeks ago and was flooded with memories of our special relationship while I served as Augsburg’s American Indian Student Support Program Director from 1978 to 1996. We served on an “Advisory Board” in 1977 when he was the Dean of the College and I was employed by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe’s Talent Search Program.
Our primary goal was to create a stronger American Indian presence on the campus which is located within blocks of the 3rd largest urban Native community in the country (The Phillips Neighborhood).
The committee was a product of the Honeywell Foundation and Augsburg
College, and while he and I disagreed on many philosophical, political
and educational issues he made it clear that he wanted to address the
poor college admission, retention and graduation rates of American
With a huge thank you to Dr. Andre Lewis, President of the Honeywell
Foundation at that time, we were approved for a 3 year grant. A job
description was created and posted for a Director, several candidates
were interviewed and the position was offered to a local Native MSW who
was involved with the National Indian Lutheran Board. The Advisory
Committee and Dr. Anderson were pleased with the selection and he began
Two days later Dr. Anderson contacted me to tell me the person resigned the position as he wanted to return to school. I suggested we offer it to the second person who was also a Native MSW, and an excellent candidate. I was very surprised when he said “no, I don’t think that will work either”…. long story short, he asked me to fill the position.
After some time to consider I finally agreed to come over to Augsburg for one year, get the program started, and do outreach and recruitment. I stayed almost 20 years.
Shortly, after I started he became the President and held his promise of me reporting directly to him. My loyalty to Augsburg continued to develop as I realized how sincere this President was to our community. He understood sovereignty, he understood and publicly supported our identity of being a political entity of the US Government through treaties and NEVER forced the American Indian Program to identify or be under the umbrella of a “multicultural” or “racial ethnic” program as so many colleges did back in the 70s and 80s.
He allowed me, as the Director of our student support program, to administer and implement our goals and objectives in a culturally appropriate manner.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times I was “called in”, mostly in regards to budgetary issues or specific policies I probably violated. I don’t recall ever leaving his office after one of these discussions angry or upset. To the contrary I always learned something and these sessions helped me become more professional and responsible.
Anderson and I attended every Twin City American Indian Graduation Banquet together and on May 8, 1997, while he was undergoing horrendous chemo treatments for colon cancer, he was the first College President to be honored for perfect attendance by the Advisory Committee. He was presented with a beautiful Pendleton Blanket and Plaque.
He was overwhelmed and almost speechless as Rev. Marlene Helgemo, Tony Genia Sr. and Flo Wiger offered words of praise, gratefulness and of course, prayers for recovery. He later told me it was one of the most memorable events of his life.
The other “memorable event” we shared was the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Hearings that were held in various locations across the country. In 1993 Augsburg College was selected as one of the midwest hearing sites by Senator Paul Wellstone and Senator Daniel Inouye and it was an incredible honor to welcome over a thousand Native people to our campus with numerous Native spiritual practitioners giving testimony. These people were the most eloquent speakers I have ever heard. President Anderson and I were both totally enthralled for this 3 day event.
About two weeks later he called me into his office and said “I thought we Lutherans drank a lot of coffee but look at this coffee bill….I’m pretty sure you agreed this would come out of the President’s budget, right?” We both laughed.
He beat cancer but what was lying in the shadows was dementia and this is it took the life of my dear friend. I’m now in my 7th year as a Regent and would never have agreed to serve had he not mentored me all those years.
In 2012 his family brought him to Commencement and it was the last time I saw him. I feared he would not recognize me but when I approached him in full Commencement regalia he smiled and said, “Well, Bonnie, look at you, a Regent now.” I wept, so did others who were standing by and he turned and looked forward and I knew my special moment had abruptly ended. He was back in his own world.
This is only a small sampling of my thoughts and memories. I had promised him one year, which eventually led to almost 20 years and the graduation of 100 Native students.
The American Indian Student Support Program recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary and I believe it is the only homogeneous program of its kind that remains in the Minnesota private college sector. I can only offer a humble Chi Miigwetch to Charles S. Anderson for all his good work and to also offer my sincere condolences to his family and the entire Augsburg Community.
For me, both professionally and personally, and I hope all the Augsburg American Indian student graduates, faculty, staff and our Native community, he has earned the title of Honorary Ogichidaa.