The year: 1972.
The Godfather dominated on the big screen. M*A*S*H made its first TV splash. And Atari launched Pong®. Many people started out the year singing “American Pie” and “Lean on Me,” and ended it with dirges for Jackie Robinson and Harry Truman. And while U.S. troops were withdrawing from Vietnam, CAT scans, digital watches and e-mail were just starting to arrive back home.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Northwestern College, “A Christian College of Bible, Arts, Sciences & Vocational Training,” marshaled its resources under the visionary leadership of President Bill Berntsen to prepare for a grand reopening on its new suburban St. Paul campus.
They called it the “New Northwestern.”
Looking back through the lens of biblical 20/20 hindsight, one could view the six years the college was closed as a time God allowed the land to go fallow, so that He could cultivate new soil on which an even greater harvest would come.
Forty years later, the harvest continues.
The tapestry of people, events and experiences that have shaped Northwestern over the last 40 years include innumerable defining moments—from the personal to the practical to the global. These significant yet swift highlights reveal a fraction of moments that have refined, defined— and redefined—the New Northwestern.
Reopening the “New
Second only to the school’s founding in 1902 by Dr. William Bell Riley, the process of reopening Northwestern College in 1972 on the Nazareth Hall campus in Roseville/Arden Hills is the key defining moment of the last 40 years.
In 1966, Northwestern was on the verge of becoming history when it closed its Minneapolis Loring Park campus, keeping alive only a handful of evening classes. Enrollment had plunged from a height of more than 1,100 in 1950 (largely due to President Billy Graham) down to around 206 in 1965.
According to Northwestern’s Self-Study Report for accreditation in 1977, enrollment declined after a major reorganization in 1957, in which the “Northwestern Schools” discontinued its separate seminary, Bible College, Bible School, and Conservatory. The report noted, “This fundamental change in the philosophy and mission of the College….created the conditions for deterioration.” The ensuing lack of students and financial support led to a fiscal crisis and prompted the closing.
But Dr. William B. Berntsen, then chair of the music conservatory, was determined to see Northwestern reborn and agreed to accept the presidency of an institution on life support. Berntsen’s wife, Beryl, often shared that her husband was deeply inspired by the legacy of martyr Roger Youderian ’50, whom he had known. Pointing to Youderian’s photo, he emotionally declared, “That’s the reason Northwestern is not going to die.”
Plymouth? No, St. Paul!
With common references to the “Old Northwestern” and “New Northwestern,” the story of the college almost reads like the biblical canon—with “old” (1902 to 1966) and “new” (1972 to today) sections. And then there are those “quiet” years, an intertestamental period of sorts, in which a lot happened, but few people know.
During the search for a home in the late 1960s, Northwestern almost constructed a new campus in Plymouth. Through a series of serendipitous connections, the Board of Trustees signed an agreement on June 3, 1968, to purchase 117 acres of land in Plymouth Village, whose city officials had openly welcomed the prospect of a college campus on the empty property.
Architects drafted plans and all roads seemed to point to a new home. The next step was raising money. While the Plymouth plans were under way, President Berntsen received a letter that would ultimately point the way to the college’s future. In his letter, former trustee William Murk ’26 included a P.S., saying:
"I understand that a Roman Catholic Seminary on North Snelling Avenue may be closed. I know nothing about specifics… but it occurs to me you should investigate the property to determine whether Northwestern could indeed make use of it and, if so, make contact with their officials."
When God closes a door…He opens a campus
Berntsen mentally noted the tip and later drove through the Nazareth Hall property over Christmas in 1969, but he considered it insignificant until June 22, 1970, when Plymouth officials abruptly had a change of heart and shut the door on Northwestern’s plan to build there.
The next day at 8 a.m., Northwestern leaders and the trustees of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis entered into negotiations for the purchase of Nazareth Hall.
Exactly five months later, Northwestern had a new campus to call home. A dedicated group of the college faithful spent two years and $1.4 million converting the Nazareth Hall campus to prepare for a new generation of students.
Pivotal Court Decision
When NWC reopened, the City of Arden Hills imposed an enrollment restriction of 1,250 students and ruled that the college could continue to operate, but not expand.
But God seemed to have different plans as enrollment continued to climb. So in 1977 the college entered into a lawsuit against the City of Arden Hills that went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court granted Northwestern permission to expand, opening the door for new facilities.
Every new building redefines the life, landscape and interaction of the campus community.
Since 1972, Northwestern has constructed or acquired 12 buildings.
1972 – Moyer Hall
The first residence hall built by Northwestern to house new students.
1980 – Knutson/Hartill Residences and Robertson Student Center
The college strategically built these residence halls as efficiency apartments, equipped with a personal bathroom and kitchenette, to accommodate summer guests and short-term lodgers and provide an additional revenue stream.
Pizza Money Builds Building
Frozen pizza pioneer Rose Totino sold her business to Pillsbury in 1975 for $20 million, which propelled her into philanthropy. After dedicating her life to the Lord through the ministry of KTIS radio, she connected with Northwestern and President Berntsen.
The story goes that after attending an acoustically appalling music performance in the Riley Gym in the 1970s, Mrs. Totino was moved to do something about it—writing a check for $1,000 and eventually donating nearly $4 million to build the Fine Arts Center that bears her name.
1982 – Totino Fine Arts Center
Music students made an even more joyful noise to the Lord when band practices moved out of the Powerhouse and concerts relocated from the Riley Gym to the 1,400-seat Maranatha Hall.
1992 – Berntsen Resource Center
When it opened, students, staff and faculty formed a book brigade to move the library contents from 4th floor of Nazareth Hall to the new library.
1996 – Ericksen Health & Physical Education Center
The completion of this much-needed venue for athletics and physical education paved the way for renovation and academic use of the old Riley Gym.
2003 – Mel Johnson Media Center
The MJMC extended the campus footprint across Lydia Avenue and brought state of- the-art facilities for the Department of Communication, Northwestern Media and KTIS radio headquarters.
2011 – Billy Graham Community Life Commons
A defining point for the Graham Commons was receiving a $750,000 challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation.
The Purchase of “Paul’s Place”
In 1992, Northwestern acquired Paul’s Place and Rib Joint, which consisted of a motel, restaurant and meeting center on what is now the area where South Residence, Mel Johnson Media Center, the Child Development Center, EagleCrest and the Country Inn & Suites now stand.
The property had become an eyesore in the neighborhood, but President Don Ericksen built a relationship with its owner, whose family did not want him to sell the property to NWC. Yet one week before his death, the owner contacted Ericksen and transacted the sale of Paul’s Place, giving Northwestern the opportunity to redeem the property—in more ways than one.
Acquisition of existing buildings
To accommodate student housing and office needs, Northwestern has purchased neighboring buildings to alleviate space on campus. These properties include South, Southeast, Snelling Terrace, Antioch and the Northwestern Office Center.
30 Credits of Bible
“That was one of the things that made the New Northwestern really unique.” –Barb Lindman
Requiring 30 credits of Bible within its academic program was one of the hallmarks of the New Northwestern. Bachelor’s degree programs were initially five-year programs until the credits were later woven into the core curriculum, fully integrating the liberal arts and biblical worldview education—a distinctive that continues to set Northwestern apart today.
“This feature alone made a Northwestern College education special.” –Rick Blatchley ’79
Requiring daily chapel from day one was a key decision that created opportunities for many defining moments in the lives of students. Some of the chapel favorites through the last 40 years include Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, Corrie ten Boom, Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, Charles Price, Tony Campolo, Evelyn Christenson, Chuck Swindoll, Child Development Center Christmas pageant, Richard Allen Farmer, Becky Tirabassi, praise chapels and more.
Billy Graham helps NWC celebrate 75 years
In October 1978, Northwestern marked its 75th anniversary with the Diamond Jubilee celebration on campus. Over 3,000 people attended to hear keynote speaker Billy Graham, who returned to see the new campus, congratulate those who made it happen and praise God for His faithfulness.
Performance in the Capitol
On January 21, 1981, after 444 days under Iranian captivity in Tehran, the 52 U.S. hostages were released. That same day, Northwestern’s Rhapsody in Praise music ensemble, under the direction of President Berntsen, performed in Washington, D.C., at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. The students’ performance of Rejoice, Rejoice, My Son is Coming Home brought the 4,000 delegates to a standing ovation.
September 11, 2001
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, students, like the rest of the world, started out the day as normal and quickly experienced events unlike any other. Jackie Sommers ’04, a sophomore at the time, wrote a recent blog post about that day, commemorating the 11th anniversary of the tragedy:
"Everyone was transfixed. …In chapel, they had a live news feed playing.... The student body watched, cried, prayed. …It was incredible to grieve with a community that both loved and trusted God’s sovereignty in spite of the destruction and sadness."
100 years old!
The centennial year in 2002 brought a year of celebrations, beginning with the inauguration of eighth president Alan Cureton.
YOUR DEFINING MOMENTS
"Every person has left their mark." – Monica Groves ’85
Whether you are an alum, a student, a faculty member, an employee, a retiree, a parent, a donor or friend of the college–you have influenced Northwestern and its people with your presence, participation and investment of your time and resources.
So what would you add to the list? What were your defining moments?
Join the conversation on Twitter. @NorthwesternMN with hashtags #definingmoment #Pilot