$2 milliongift will allow for CLA chair

Sarah Hallonquist

A recent $2 million gift to the University will help resurrect the school’s religious studies program as it enters the next century.
Alumni couple Leland and Louise Sundet and their family presented their gift in late December. $1.5 million will be used to fund the Sundet Family Chair in New Testament and Christian Studies, and $500,000 is designated toward an addition to the main entryway of the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.
Sundet, a 1951 graduate of the College of Agriculture, has owned several manufacturing companies. He and his wife both attended the University, as well as three of the their four children. The Sundets are active community volunteers involved with education, prison fellowship and people with disabilities, and are devout Lutherans with an interest in youth ministry.
“Whatever we have is the gift of God and we just do the best we can with God’s gift,” Sundet said of his family’s beliefs. “So we always give as much as we can; that’s number one.”
The endowment comes after over a year of searching for a donor to complement a gift the College of Liberal Arts received in November 1996. Alumnus Lyle Berman, chairman and chief executive officer of Grand Casinos, Inc., and his family donated $2 million for the creation of a chair in Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies. Bernard Levinson, currently a fellow at Princeton University, will begin teaching courses at the University in fall 1998 as the Berman family chair’s professor.
The Sundet chair is the 22nd endowed chair in CLA and the 244th at the University. An endowment of this size will support a full-time senior faculty member in a department. CLA endowments currently total more than $50 million, and so far this fiscal year $6 million has been collected by the college.
In the case of the religious studies program, the endowment will fund positions that the college cannot. The program was severely trimmed down in 1990 by then-CLA interim dean Craig Swan during an annual budgeting process. Since then, the program has struggled with limited resources and faculty members and reduced its course offerings.
“It nearly came to an end,” said William Malandra, chairman of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, which houses religious studies.
About the same time the program was cut from CLA’s budget, campus ministers were germinating the idea for an endowment campaign in religious studies.
But the idea never took shape until about a year and a half ago, Malandra said.
“There was a real sense of cooperation among the Lutherans and the Catholics and very soon the other denominations in the campus ministries were involved,” he said.
Herbert Chilstrom, a retired bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and John Roach, retired archbishop of the metro area Catholic dioceses, served as campaign co-chairs for both endowments.
“The combined efforts of these two very distinguished religious leaders have succeeded in engendering broad, ecumenical support for the scholarly study of a Christian tradition that, along with the Judaic tradition, underlies much of Western thought,” said CLA dean Steven Rosenstone in a press release. “Support of this magnitude is quite extraordinary.”
Malandra said if the Sundets had not come forward when they did, the campaign would have grown more aggressive in the next year.
With both the positions, the religious studies program will be able to replace several courses lost in the 1990 cuts and begin to build a broad interdisciplinary focus.
“I think that we now have a very, very solid foundation on which to build real excellence in religious studies — and particularly in Judaism and Christianity,” said Malandra, who is looking to hire a professor to tentatively start in fall 1999.
“We’re just very grateful, not just as a department, but as a University to have alumni who are so devoted to the interests of the U.'”