Edgar Carlson’s Legacy Celebrated with New Book

Bold Visions, Daring Dreams covers the former Gustavus President’s life and accomplishments on the hill and beyond.
Posted on November 26th, 2018 by

Former Gustavus President Edgar M. Carlson (photo courtesy of the Gustavus Adolphus College and Lutheran Church Archives.)

A new book celebrates the life and legacy of Edgar M. Carlson, Gustavus Adolphus College’s legendary president, who served from 1944-1968. Bold Visions, Daring Dreams, authored by his daughter, 1964 Gustavus graduate Joanna Carlson Swanson, explores Carlson’s term at Gustavus as president and active theologian, his subsequent work for the Minnesota Private College Council, and his impact on higher education nationwide.

“Gustavus Adolphus College helped shape young Edgar Carlson into the leader he would become and today’s Gustavus has been forever shaped by the leader he was,” Gustavus President Rebecca M. Bergman said. “As a highly principled and respected theologian and educator, Dr. Carlson embodied the values of peace, excellence, inclusion, and faith, which we continue to live on campus every day.”

The book can be purchased online or at the Gustavus Book Mark.

A 1930 graduate of Gustavus, Carlson continued his study at Augustana Seminary and earned the doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Chicago. It was under his watch as president that Gustavus developed the campus framework that generations of students and staff recognize today, including notable building projects such as Anderson Hall (originally the first library), the Nobel Hall of Science, and Christ Chapel. Other achievements involved a revitalization of the College’s connection with Sweden, the creation of the Nobel Conference, the implementation of the January Interim Experience, and a larger, more diverse student body.

For Swanson, writing the book introduced her to more complex facets of her father’s leadership as he guided the College.  “There was such a close relationship between the Augustana Synod and the College. The Church was really committed to making a good college experience possible and was very generous,” she explains, noting that Carlson’s work as a theologian informed his leadership as president.

“He encouraged students and faculty to perform for the benefit of others, to seek the common good,” Swanson continues. “The area of theology that was most prominent when he was studying had to do with how God calls us into service. He believed that colleges of the Church provide an arena where people can gain education, insight, and skills to become effective in their vocations.”

Bold Visions, Daring Dreams goes on to recount Carlson’s leadership at the Minnesota Private College Council, where he advocated for student financial aid programs, including the Minnesota State Grant and the federal Pell Grant, and strategies to strengthen Minnesota’s private colleges.

“The book deals with the three worlds that he lived in: the church as a leading theologian and church leader, Gustavus as president, and higher education as an advocate, effective lobbyist, and visionary,” Swanson says. “It was my impression that most audiences knew some areas, but only some knew all.”

Carlson’s legacy on the Gustavus campus lives beyond his exceptional work – today the administration building bears his name, as does the College’s highest award for faculty teaching excellence.

“The College experienced transformational growth on his watch,” President Bergman said. “We are eternally grateful for the many ways he advanced the reputation and quality of a Gustavus Adolphus College education.”

Bold Visions, Daring Dreams retails for $24.95 and can be ordered online or purchased in the Gustavus Book Mark, located on the lower level of the Jackson Campus Center. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be directed to the College’s Edgar and Ebba Carlson Scholarship Fund and the Christ Chapel Endowment.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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