University of Alberta Augustana Campus receives largest gift in its history

Donation of $2 million honours the memory of former dean of women Cora Martinson

Cora Martinson, former dean of women at Camrose Lutheran College, during the 1930s (photo courtesy of Gladys Severson)

Cora Martinson, former dean of women at Camrose Lutheran College, during the 1930s (photo courtesy of Gladys Severson)

Almost 90 years after Cora Martinson taught at Camrose Lutheran College, which would eventually become the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, her legacy has inspired the largest donor gift in Augustana’s history.

The $2 million gift comes from several anonymous donors — all alumni of the college — whose lives were forever changed by Martinson. This historic donation has made possible two new entrance scholarships to support both international and domestic students at Augustana.

The woman who inspired this gift has a life story of dedication to teaching and faith, of devotion to helping others and of extraordinary bravery during the Japanese invasion of China.

Martinson was born in 1902 in Minneapolis, Minn., to Lutheran missionaries who took her to China when she was six months old. Growing up in China, she witnessed dire poverty and death, experienced bandit threats and faced other dangers that would heavily influence her future as a missionary and teacher.

She eventually returned to the United States to attend college. Graduating in 1925, she began the teaching career that led her to Camrose Lutheran College, later Augustana. She taught there for three years and served as dean of women, cementing her place in Augustana’s history.

Her time at Camrose Lutheran College would have a lasting impact on her, even after she returned to China as a missionary in 1937. She understood the value of a good education and the importance of providing opportunities for people in need. In the years to follow, Martinson devoted her life to helping the Chinese people pursue their education, including classes for girls aged 15 to 25 who had never been able to attend school.

Martinson’s loyalties to the college continued for decades as she encouraged students to study in Camrose. She believed so deeply in the opportunities the small campus offered that her passion would change the lives of those students who followed her encouragement.

Today, several of those students are about to change the lives of future Augustana students with this gift in Martinson’s name. The entrance awards will remove financial barriers not only for domestic students, but also for the same deserving international students Martinson spent her life encouraging. 

Augustana vice-dean, Stacy Lorenz, at the December 4 gift announcement event.
On December 4, 2023, Augustana vice-dean, Stacy Lorenz, announced the donation at an event that welcomed students, staff, faculty and community members (Photo: John Ulan).

As the largest gift in Augustana’s history, it stands as a testament to the influence of great teachers like Martinson and the thriving campus that continues to grow and adapt. While Martinson believed in a strong presence of international students, she may not have predicted how far-reaching the impact of rural Alberta would be on those students, and the close connections Augustana has fostered thanks to support from its community.

“These two endowed scholarships honour the memory of Cora Martinson and are a testament to the significant role our institution has played, and is still playing, in the lives of students from around the world,” says Demetres Tryphonopoulos, dean of Augustana. “I am grateful to the donors for their generosity, vision and incredible support of Augustana’s mission of offering a high-quality liberal arts and sciences education.”

The first of these new entrance scholarships will be given in the 2024-25 academic year. In Cora Martinson’s name, they will help shape the future by preparing creative, collaborative and confident global citizens — following in the footsteps of all those students Martinson inspired to make their mark on the world.