Advancing student life, inclusion through giving

Bill Etnyre ’69 and Michael Lonesome-Etnyre

Bill Etnyre and Michael Lonesome-Etnyre

Bill Etnyre '69 (left) and Michael Lonesome-Etnyre

Together with his 40-member team, St. Olaf College Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrison loves bringing people of difference together to enhance the educational, cultural, and professional environment, and advance institutional change, across every area of campus life on the Hill.

This work has included leading the creation of the Glenn and Myretta Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, which fosters an inclusive environment across the intersections of race, nationality, gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation that students bring to campus.

When Morrison started working at St. Olaf last fall, he was surprised to learn that his position was to be endowed.

"It's very much an honor," says Morrison. "I don't know of many other administrators here or at other institutions whose positions are endowed. To me, it means that this role and division are greatly valued by the college and our alumni."

In December, Bill Etnyre '69 and his husband Michael Lonesome-Etnyre established an endowed fund to undergird the vice president of student life position at St. Olaf. They also established two additional endowed funds to advance financial aid for underrepresented students and to support the services and programs of the Taylor Center. The college is matching earnings generated by these funds for these initiatives. These endowments, and an existing scholarship supporting social work majors, will be additionally supported by future gifts through Etnyre's estate.

"I am still in awe of the change this will make," Morrison says. "I am very appreciative and honored to know Bill cared enough to do that. I could tell he gave this gift with his heart."

For Etnyre, these gifts come as a reflection of his love for the college but also a desire to help it ensure that students from many backgrounds succeed and flourish. The gifts that Bill Etnyre '69 (left) and Michael Lonesome-Etnyre made possible will strengthen inclusion and student life at St. Olaf.

"I really liked my experience at St. Olaf," says Etnyre. "It was a very positive point in my life. I was involved with the track team, had some great classes and professors, and some good friends. But it was also mixed because I was recognizing that I was gay, which was considered a bad thing. I lived in fear and hiding — that affected my experience there."

Following his graduation from St. Olaf, Etnyre served in the U.S. Air Force, completed graduate study at the University of Washington, and earned his Ph.D. at Smith College. He then pursued a 40-year career as a clinical social worker including counseling and teaching at both Smith and the University of Washington, where he retired as a clinical professor. There he met his husband, Michael Lonesome-Etnyre. Both now live in Salt Lake City. Etnyre continues to volunteer in social work and was program co-chair for his St. Olaf 50th Reunion. "I just would like to see people of all kinds of backgrounds do well," says Etnyre. "I know that sometimes if you're one of very few people like you, it's difficult. Being able to see more people like you, and having support services to help you, make it much more possible and likely that you're going to succeed."

The gifts come at a time that the Taylor Center is working to strengthen inclusion and support of Oles across their identities. Among other initiatives, it has initiated graduation celebrations honoring the accomplishments of students of color, international students, and LGBTQIA+ students, and is reshaping ally, dialogue, and cultural activities as well as first-year orientation and continuing mentoring programs. The Etnyres' gifts will add resources for these endeavors and more in the years ahead.

Members of the Taylor Center Advisory Committee gather in front of a mural students created this year. Top row, from left: Tashonna Douglas '21, Tamira Fuentes '19, Melissa Cervantes-Moreno '21, Camila Avila-Martinez '21, Kgomotso Magagula '21, and Taylor Center Director María Pabón Gautier; bottom row, from left: Taylor Center Program Coordinator Norma Charlton, DeA Brown '21, and Ricardo Johnson III '19.

"My hope, my vision for the Taylor Center is that we continue to create more intentional spaces where students can be their authentic selves," says Taylor Center Director María Pabón Gautier. "We are grateful for these gifts that will help us do that."

"St. Olaf has adopted an aspirational mission that speaks to the values of inclusion and diversity," says Etnyre. "The Taylor Center and Student Life are among new systems and structures that are chipping away at the consequences of inequality. I am glad that I can play a part in St. Olaf's commitment."