Graduate Part of Long Legacy at Gustavus

Posted on June 5th, 2007 by

2007 Graduate Michael Lynch (Photo by John Cross - Mankato Free Press)

2007 Graduate Michael Lynch (Photo by John Cross - Mankato Free Press)

By Robb Murray
Mankato Free Press

You won’t find Michael Lynch going around and bragging to all his Gustie buddies about how, when he walks across the stage Sunday to pick up his diploma, he’ll probably have the most interesting historical tie to the college — he’s just not that kind of guy.

But odds are that he does.

It works like this: In 1907, the son of Swedish immigrant farmers who lived in St. James was preparing for his own graduation from Gustavus Adolphus College.

His name — and we’re not making this up — was Gustav Adolph Torkelson, who received his degree, went back to the family farm and started a Torkelson family tradition that has been carried on by many descendants since then.

On Sunday, exactly 100 years after Gustav Adolph picked up his college degree, Lynch, his great-grandson, will do the same.

Between Gustav and Michael, at least 10 other Torkelson descendants have picked up Gustavus degrees.

Lynch, meanwhile, has only recently become aware of the full history.

“It was pretty impressive to hear about it all,” he said Thursday, just days before his Gustavus career comes to an end. “It feels weird, sometimes, living in the shadow of others.”

Lynch’s road to Gustavus began when he was growing up in Wisconsin. Conventional wisdom pushes most high schoolers to pursue higher education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison or one of its sister institutions.

But Lynch wanted a small-school, liberal arts education. And one of the schools he’d heard a little bit about was Gustavus, his mom’s alma mater.

“She never said ‘You should go here,'” Lynch said. “But she was certainly instrumental in me hearing about Gustavus.”

During his first semester here, he took a class taught by a professor who was his mother’s adviser during the 1970s.

Mom, Ruth Lynch, spent her Gustavus days studying social sciences. She also delved into her Swedish heritage, studying abroad for a year in Sweden, and she lived in a campus housing unit known as the Swedish House.

Today, she teaches graduate-level classes at UW-Madison, although at the moment she’s on sabbatical.

“Gustavus has meant a great deal to our family,” she said.

Michael also heard about Gustavus from his great-aunt Lorraine Torkelson, who during the 1940s became the first woman to graduate from Gustavus and go on to medical school.

For now, Lynch is just excited to be done with undergraduate work. After commencement Sunday, he’ll head back to Wisconsin for a summer of work.

Then it’s off to the University of Minnesota-Duluth to pursue a graduate degree.

As for that Torkelson family legacy…It ain’t over yet.

Lynch’s sister, Laura, will be a junior next year at Gustavus.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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