St. Olaf College

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St. Olaf College
Motto Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmenn (Nynorsk)
Motto in English
Forward! Forward! Men of Christ, Men of the Cross
Established 1874
Type Private liberal arts college
Endowment $446.8 million (2014)[1]
President David R. Anderson '74, Ph.D.
Undergraduates 3,034 (Fall 2014)[2]
Location Northfield, Minnesota, United States
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Campus 3.72 km2 (1.44 sq mi)
or 372 ha (920 acres)[3]
Colors Black and Gold          
Nickname "Oles" /ˈlz/ OH-leez
Mascot St. Olaf Lion
Affiliations MIAC, ELCA

St. Olaf College is a coeducational, residential, four-year, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, United States. It was founded in 1874 by a group of Norwegian-American immigrant pastors and farmers, led by Pastor Bernt Julius Muus. The college is named after the King and the Patron Saint Olaf II of Norway and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.


Herman Amberg Preus, (1825–1894), a key figure in organizing the Norwegian Synod.

Seal and motto

The seal of the St. Olaf College displays the Coat of arms of Norway, which includes the axe of St. Olaf.

The motto Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmenn, written in New Norwegian, is adapted from the Old Norse battle cry of King Olaf. It means "Forward! Forward! Men of Christ, Men of the Cross".


Many Norwegian immigrants arrived in Rice County, Minnesota, and the surrounding area in the late 19th century. With nearly all the immigrants being Lutheran Christians, they desired a non-secular post-secondary institution in the Lutheran tradition that offered classes in all subjects in both Norwegian and English. The catalyst for founding St. Olaf was the Reverend Bernt Julius Muus, he sought out the help of the Rev. N. A. Quammen and H. Thorson. Together they petitioned their parishes and others to raise money in order to buy a plot of land on which to build this new institution. The three men succeeded in receiving around $10,000 in pledges, and thus went on to form a corporation and to buy a plot of land and four buildings (old Northfield schoolhouses) for accommodations for the school.[4][5]

St. Olaf, then called St. Olaf's School, opened on January 8, 1875, at its first site under the leadership of its first president, Thorbjorn N. Mohn, a graduate of Luther College. Herman Amberg Preus, President of the Norwegian Synod, laid this foundation stone of the St. Olaf School on July 4, 1877. During 1887 the Manitou Messenger was founded as a campus magazine and has since evolved into the college's student newspaper.[6]


Old Main, St. Olaf College
Old Main
Location St. Olaf College campus, Northfield, Minnesota
Area less than one acre
Built 1877
Architectural style Gothic
NRHP Reference # 76001073[7]
Added to NRHP June 3, 1976
Steensland Library--St. Olaf College
Steensland Hall in 2015
Location Off St. Olaf Ave., Northfield, Minnesota
Area less than one acre
Built 1902
Architect Omeyer & Thori
Architectural style Classical Revival
MPS Rice County MRA
NRHP Reference # 82003020[7]
Added to NRHP April 6, 1982
The center of St. Olaf's campus.
St. Olaf's utility-grade wind turbine directly supplies up to 20 percent of campus energy needs.
Senior art show at Dittmann Center, home of art galleries, classrooms, and studios.

Known as “The Hill”, St. Olaf College’s picturesque 300-acre (120 ha) campus is home to 17 academic and administrative buildings, 29 student residences and 10 athletic facilities. St. Olaf is a residential college; 96 percent of St. Olaf students reside in one of the 11 residence halls and 18 academic and special interest group houses. Adjacent to campus are 325 acres (132 ha) of restored wetlands, woodlands, and native tall grass prairie owned and maintained by St. Olaf, and a utility-grade wind turbine that supplies up to one-third of the college’s daily electrical needs.

Two buildings on the campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Old Main, designed by Long and Haglin; and Steensland Library, designed by Omeyer and Thori.[8] In 2011, Travel+Leisure named St. Olaf as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States.[9]

Edward Sövik, St. Olaf professor of art until his death in 2014, designed or assisted in the design of 20 campus buildings. He was a renowned liturgical architect.[10]

St. Olaf College is also home to the Flaten Art Museum, which began its life as the Steensland Art Gallery in 1976. In 2002, the art gallery was moved to Dittmann Center and renamed to honor Arnold Flaten, a past professor of art, and his family.[11] The museum holds a collection of regional, national, and international works and exhibits these as well as faculty and student work.



Before graduating, St. Olaf students complete nearly 20 required courses in foundation studies (writing, a second language, oral communication, mathematical reasoning, physical well-being, as well as other courses) and core studies that include studies in Western culture, human behavior and society, biblical and theological studies, artistic and literary studies, and studies in natural science. Many of the courses are interdisciplinary. St. Olaf offers 39 major areas of study for the bachelor of arts degree, 4 for the bachelor of music degree and 19 areas of concentration.

The average student-to-faculty ratio is 12:1.

Study abroad

More than two-thirds of all St. Olaf students study abroad before graduating. According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2012 Report on International Educational Exchange, St. Olaf ranked first among baccalaureate institutions in the total number of students studying abroad for the 2010–11 academic year.

Unique faculty-led study-abroad programs offered by the college include Global Semester" and the Mediterranean Semester," which take students to a variety of countries within each program.


For the Class of 2018 (enrolling fall 2014), St. Olaf received 4,875 applications, accepted 2,500 (51.3%), and enrolled 765.[12] The middle 50% range of SAT scores was 560-700 for critical reading and 570-690 for math, while the ACT Composite range was 26–32.[12] Of the 46% of enrolled freshmen who submitted high school class rank, 52% of enrolled freshmen were in the top 10% of their high school classes and 79% ranked in the top quarter.[12] The average high school GPA for incoming freshmen was 3.62.[12]

Academic distinctions

According to the most recent National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, St. Olaf ranks 12th overall among the nation’s 263 baccalaureate colleges in the number of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees. St. Olaf earned top 10 rankings in the following fields: mathematics/statistics and religion/theology (3rd); education (4th); biology and the life sciences and arts/music (5th); medical sciences (6th); chemistry (8th); and engineering (10th).

St. Olaf has had five Rhodes Scholars since 1995. Two St. Olaf seniors were selected in the 2008 awards competition. Over the past two decades, only two other liberal arts colleges have had the honor of having two selections in a single year.

Fifty-eight percent of the Class of 2012 was employed within a year of graduation, 28 percent enrolled in graduate school or other advanced study, and 12 percent engaged in full-time volunteer service.

Six St. Olaf students were named Fulbright Scholars for 2013–14. Since 1995 93 St. Olaf students have received prestigious Fulbright scholarships.

Thirty–two St. Olaf students have received Goldwater scholarships since 1995. The scholarships, which are granted to sophomores and juniors in mathematics, science, and engineering, are awarded on the basis of academic merit.

St. Olaf College is regularly listed as one of the Colleges That Change Lives.

Campus life

Student organizations

More than 250 registered student organizations are registered at St. Olaf, including academic, athletic, awareness, multicultural, political, religious, service (Alpha Phi Omega) and other special interest groups. Club sports include rowing, men's and women's Ultimate Frisbee, men’s and women’s rugby, men’s and women’s lacrosse, badminton, cycling, judo, and fencing. The Manitou Messenger is the student newspaper and KSTO 93.1 FM is the student-operated radio station. Other groups include an on-campus organic farm (STOGROW), an improv comedy troupe (Scared Scriptless), and an EMT (emergency medical technician) organization that is the first responder for campus emergencies. St. Olaf students edit and publish several journals each year, including The Reed, the world's only international undergraduate journal for existential philosophy.

Student government

St. Olaf’s Student Government Association (SGA) finances many student activities and organizations on campus. It operates through 10 branches, each of which is managed by an elected executive: Diversity Celebrations Committee, Volunteer Network, Music Entertainment Committee, Student Activities Committee, Student Organizations Committee, Board of Regents Student Committee, Student Alumni Association, The Pause, After Dark Committee, and Political Awareness Committee. Besides these committees, students can serve on Student Senate to vote on issues such as constitutional bylaws changes and dorm capital improvement funds and communicate with college administrators about campus issues. SGA also maintains, a website containing information about student activities.[13]

Music program

St. Olaf's music program was founded by F. Melius Christiansen in 1903. Its band, choir and orchestra tour the continental United States annually and have made many critically acclaimed international tours, typically occurring triennially.[14] The St. Olaf Band, currently under the direction of Timothy Mahr '78, was the first American college musical organization to conduct a concert tour abroad when it traveled to Norway in 1906.

The St. Olaf Orchestra is conducted by Steven Amundson. Under Amundson’s direction, the Orchestra has performed demanding scores seldom attempted by amateur groups, including Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection),[15] Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Rite of Spring, Ravel’s La valse, and tone poems by Richard Strauss.

The St. Olaf Choir, conducted by Anton Armstrong ’78, was founded by Christiansen in 1907 as the St. John’s Lutheran Church Choir in Northfield. It is recognized as one of the premier collegiate ensembles in the United States.[16] It has toured Europe several times, as well as China, Korea, and Australia, performing before heads of state and producing more than a dozen recordings. The choir performs in the nationally broadcast annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival, along with the St. Olaf Orchestra and four of the college's other choirs. In 2005 the St. Olaf Choir was invited to perform at the White House for President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and guests to commemorate the National Day of Prayer.

The St. Olaf Jazz I ensemble was awarded the prestigious Downbeat magazine award for top undergraduate large ensemble in 2011.[17] Led by St. Olaf music faculty member Dave Hagedorn, the nationally recognized ensemble will tour Cuba March 20–25, 2015.[18]

Other student musical ensembles include Chapel Choir, Cantorei, Manitou Singers, Viking Chorus, Collegiate Chorale, Philharmonia, Norseman Band, and many smaller vocal and instrumental ensembles. There are also student-run music ensembles at St. Olaf: Valhalla Band, Naknefeler Orchestra, and the men's and women's a cappella groups: The Limestones, Agnes, and Krossmen. These groups are not a part of the college's music program and operate independently.

In 2005 the St. Olaf Band, St. Olaf Orchestra, and St. Olaf Choir toured throughout Norway to celebrate its independence centennial.

A few ensembles that sprouted their roots at St. Olaf include the Minnesota Symphonic Winds, the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and the a cappella choral groups Cantus, Inpulse, and Magnum Chorum.


St. Olaf College is a member of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) in NCAA Division III. St. Olaf athletic teams are nicknamed the "Oles".

Twenty-seven varsity teams (14 for men and 13 for women) participate in NCAA Division III intercollegiate sports in baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, hockey, skiing (both Nordic and Alpine), soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field (both indoor and outdoor), volleyball, and wrestling. Athletic colors are black and gold, and the nickname for St. Olaf teams is the Oles. All varsity athletic teams compete in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) with the exception of wrestling and Alpine and Nordic skiing.

St. Olaf competes in the following sports:

Fall Sports:

Winter Sports:

Spring Sports:

St. Olaf also has many student-coached club and intramural teams that compete within the student body and also inter-college. Notable are the St. Olaf Ultimate teams, The Berzerkers and Durga, which make an annual trip to a national collegiate tournament (Spring Ultimax) in North Carolina. This year Durga played at the Division III Nationals tournament in Buffalo, New York, finishing at 7th place. Also notable is the St. Olaf Dance Team, which supports St. Olaf athletic teams (Football, Men’s/Women’s Soccer and Basketball) with half-time performances and also competes in intercollegiate events every year. They have previously performed in the Minnesota Swarm lacrosse team’s half-time show and taken home third place in their division at the 2011 St. Thomas Invitational.

Rivalry with Carleton College

Football at St. Olaf in 2009.

St. Olaf is a traditional athletic rival of its crosstown neighbor Carleton College. The annual American football game between Carleton and St. Olaf was recently dubbed the "Cereal Bowl" in honor of the Malt-O-Meal production facility that is located in Northfield. The annual winner receives the "Goat Trophy", which was created by Minneapolis dentist Dr. Ranthus B. Fouch in 1931.[19]

The rivalry between St. Olaf and Carleton, which began with a Carleton victory over St. Olaf in 1919, is one of the oldest in all of college football, and the only to feature two colleges from the same ZIP code.[citation needed] A statue of an eagle in Northfield's Civil War Veterans' Memorial (located in Bridge Square) is turned to face the college that wins the annual football match between the two schools.

These football teams are also significant for having played the only NCAA-sanctioned "Liter Bowl" metric football game in history, which St. Olaf won in 1977.

Fight song

Based on a Norwegian folk tune, the college song, "Um! Yah! Yah!", is the only college fight song in the United States to be in 3/4 (waltz) meter. It is also one of the few college songs to mention another college in its lyrics.

The lyrics to the St. Olaf song include the unofficial St. Olaf "Um! Yah! Yah!" battle cry. The most common version uses the name of traditional cross-town rival, Carleton College, but the current opposing institution's name is inserted when sung at athletic competitions.

We come from St. Olaf, we sure are the real stuff.
Our team is the cream of the colleges great.
We fight fast and furious, our team is injurious.
Tonight Carleton College will sure meet its fate.

Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah YAH!

Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah YAH!


St. Olaf has had 11 presidents since its founding:

  • Thorbjorn N. Mohn, 1874–99
  • John N. Kildahl, 1899–1914
  • Lauritz A. Vigness, 1914–18
  • Lars W. Boe, 1918–42
  • Clemens M. Granskou, 1943–63
  • Sidney A. Rand, 1963–80
  • Harlan F. Foss, Ph.D. 1980–85
  • Melvin D. George, Ph.D. 1985–94
  • Mark U. Edwards Jr., Ph.D. 1994–2000
  • Christopher M. Thomforde, D.Min. 2001–06
  • David R. Anderson, Ph.D. 2006 to Present

Church affiliation

1912 stained glass window honoring St. Olaf in the college chapel

Kierkegaard Library

The Howard V. and Edna H. Hong Kierkegaard Library was established with funds from St. Olaf College and Kierkegaard scholars Howard and Edna Hong. As curator, Howard Hong acquired books actually owned by Kierkegaard, books that are the same edition of those owned by him, Kierkegaard's complete works in many languages, and secondary bibliographies about Kierkegaard. Subsequent curators of the library have also been renowned scholars, including theologian Stephen C. Evans and philosopher Gordon Marino.

Each year, the library hosts a summer fellowship program. Activities in the summer include Danish courses and a symposium every other year. Year-long Kierkegaard Fellowships see scholars living in St. Olaf's Kierkegaard House.

St. Olaf students edit and publish The Reed, an undergraduate journal of existential philosophy, from the library. The Reed began in 1998, and since then has published articles from undergraduates across the globe every year.

Notable alumni

Notable St. Olaf alumni include AIA Gold Award-winning architect Edward Sövik '39, Minnesota Gov. Al Quie '50, Oscar-winning screenwriter Barry Morrow '70, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gretchen Morgenson '76, and writers Ole Rolvaag 1905, Siri Hustvedt '77, and Traci Lambrecht '89 (of P.J. Tracy). Game designer Jonathan Tweet studied at the college. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and Norwegian.[21]

Ernest Lawrence, recipient of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics, studied for a year at St. Olaf.[22]

In popular culture

St. Olaf is mentioned in the works of Minnesota author F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose character Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby attended the college briefly and worked as a janitor. The college is also frequently mentioned in Garrison Keillor's radio program A Prairie Home Companion, which broadcast its show from St. Olaf on November 17, 2001, and November 19, 2011.

The fictional Minnesota city of St. Olaf was the hometown of Rose Nylund in the TV show The Golden Girls. In the TV show the fictional city's sister city was St. Gustav, Minnesota, a nod to Gustavus Adolphus College, located in nearby St. Peter, Minnesota. Betty White, the actress who played Rose, visited the St. Olaf campus on one occasion and was given an honorary membership in St. Olaf's chapter of the theater honorary society.

The St. Olaf Choir can be heard performing Mozart's Requiem with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Nike's "Jordan XXII-Takeover" commercial. The St. Olaf Choir was also heard on the soundtrack of the 1972 film The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid.[23]

In October 2008 the Coen Brothers shot scenes at St. Olaf for their film A Serious Man.[24][25] After a long search of many campuses, the Coen brothers chose St. Olaf's old Science Center because it had the late 1960s look of the movie. St. Olaf has since built a new science center and remodeled the old facility into Tomson Hall.

See also


  1. As of June 30, 2014. "U.S. and Canadian Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Endowment Market Value and Change in Endowment Market Value from FY 2013 to FY 2014" (PDF). National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute. 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "St. Olaf College 2014 Profile" (PDF). St. Olaf College. Retrieved 2015-02-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "St. Olaf College | Northfield, Minnesota, USA". Retrieved 2013-07-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Thorbjorn N. Mohn, First President of St. Olaf College". St. Olaf College. Retrieved 2013-06-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Dear Old Hill". St. Olaf College. Retrieved 2013-06-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. David T. Nelson, Luther College, 1861–1961 Decorah, Iowa: Luther College Press, 1961.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Steensland Hall: A century of service". St. Olaf College. 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "America's most beautiful college campuses", Travel+Leisure (September 2011)
  10. "Retired art professor, campus architect Edward Sövik dies". St. Olaf College. May 6, 2014. Retrieved December 18, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. St. Olaf College Retrieved March 21, 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 "St. Olaf College Common Data Set 2014-2015, Part C" (PDF). St. Olaf College.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Oleville". Oleville. Retrieved 2013-07-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "The St. Olaf Choir: A Narrative". St. Olaf College. Retrieved 2013-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "St. Olaf College — Spring Concert". 2012-04-01. Retrieved 2013-07-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. [1] Archived February 7, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  17. "St. Olaf jazz band recognized by Downbeat magazine | Minnesota Public Radio News". 2011-04-29. Retrieved 2013-07-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "St. Olaf Jazz to tour Cuba | St. Olaf College". 2015-10-26. Retrieved 2015-12-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Historic Goat Up for Grabs on Saturday | Northfield Patch". 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2014-11-27. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> See also "Local Colleges Seek Custody of New Goat," Oct. 16, 1931, Northfield News, and "Historic Happenings," by Susan Hvistendahl, Northfield Entertainment Guide, November and December, 2009.
  20. "History of St. Olaf College". Retrieved 2013-07-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Youth and Early Life". American Institute of Physics. Retrieved February 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. The St. Olaf's College Choir
  24. Henke, David (2008-08-19). "Coen brothers will use St. Olaf for movie". Northfield News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Gonnerman, David (2008-10-09). "St. Olaf gets 'Serious'". St. Olaf College News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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