A family's legacy: The Wendy Cassady Memorial Fund

A family's generous gift supports their grandfather's legacy of integrating religion and public life.

Tia Lalani - 17 May 2018

Noel and Wendy Cassady. Photo courtesy of Nola Cassady McCourt.

One of Wendy Cassady's fondest memories when starting a life in Camrose with her husband, Noel, and two daughters, was living down the street from Noel's grandfather, Chester Ronning. Cassady and her daughters would often accompany Ronning on drives through the country, supplemented by stories from his time in China. At the heart of Ronning's international stories of grandeur were friendships. "Chester had a gift of bringing people, even those with different ideologies, together," says Cassady. "Whether on a community or global level, Chester was always trying to help bring peace and understanding."

Ronning's commitment to community and inclusivity inspired the establishment of the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, named in honour of former Camrose Lutheran College principal, diplomat, father and grandfather. The centre works to provide avenues for Augustana and the wider Camrose community to engage in conversations about religion and public life towards the ultimate goal of bringing people together, harkening back to Ronning's legacy.

Though delighted at the work that the centre has performed over the years, the Cassady family wanted more ways to reach the community. To help accomplish this, in 2017 they established The Wendy Cassady Memorial Fund, an ongoing grant that will support the International Fellows Program at the centre. "We are in agreement that the work on issues of religion and public life is too important to be left just inside universities," said Cassady. "Cultivating such conversations outside of that sphere has deepened our appreciation of what such a centre can do when the vision is clear."

Chester Alvin Ronning. Photo courtesy of the Noel and Wendy Cassady Collection.

This substantial, multi-year gift will help propel the program and create an international network of scholars who will connect religious studies and interests in the religious world to the general public. Under the vision of the centre's new director, Ian Wilson, the program will incorporate a major international conference that brings together scholars, leaders from religious communities, members of the media, policymakers and others outside of academia to focus on a particular issue or theme, created by a soon to be hired postdoctoral fellow-someone who has just completed their PhD studies. Along with developing and organizing the conference, the new position will be responsible for creating additional programming (lectures, workshops) to encourage the campus and local Camrose community to get involved with the ideas that inspired the conference.

"The main mandate of the Ronning Centre is to facilitate interdisciplinary work in the intersection of religion and public life, and that's what the International Fellows Program is, in a nutshell," said Wilson. "The Cassadys had an interest in Ronning's Legacy and I'm really excited about their contribution-the program has huge potential."

It was this intersectionality and potential that drew the Cassady family to the program. Remembering their time spent with Chester led them to this generous gift to further embody their grandfather's spirit of togetherness and solidify his legacy.

Now more than ever, the work of the International Fellows Program resonates. "The issues of religion and public life can bring out the worst of competing perspectives and so often this is the focus in the media," noted Cassady. "It is our hope that the International Fellows Program will continue nurturing an understanding of many of the most difficult issues facing our society today." Instead of allowing conflicting viewpoints to be the focus, the Cassady family places their hope in the program's ability to dispel these difficulties, and cultivate respectful conversation-something that their grandfather's lifework personified.

"We are already proud of the centre's achievements and it is our sincere hope that our gift will continue this legacy. Our life, as Chester's grandchildren, was so enriched by his loving kindness. By supporting the centre we hope to offer a glimpse of the man we knew and loved, and that which he held dear."

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Wendy Marlene Cassady. Wendy passed away peacefully on Friday, May 11, 2018, with her family at her side. Our deepest condolences go out to her family and friends. If you would like to pay your respects, a celebration of Wendy's life will be held on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at 10:00 am at Glenwood Funeral Home. Details can be found in Wendy's Arbor Memorial Obituary.