Unconventional Life; Unexpected Gift
Some gifts come to Gustavus through years of cultivation, careful financial planning, and close ties to the College. Others show up on the doorstep through divine intervention.
This was certainly the case when Larry Wefring contacted Gustavus’s Advancement Office during the summer of 2011 and informed the College that he planned to make a gift through his estate. Wefring had no previous ties to the College, but had heard many great things about Gustavus through his church and past employer. After further research, Wefring discovered that Gustavus met his criteria for philanthropy—education, the arts, and spiritual development.
Above all, Wefring values institutions that value people—specifically those who may be considered “underdogs.” While Gustavus is known for its high-caliber students, it’s also known for seeking diversity, welcoming young people from diverse backgrounds, and accommodating the needs of students. In short, Gustavus puts everyone on a level playing field and encourages them to do their best.
Gustavus’s Center for Servant Leadership and Diversity Center are two excellent examples of programs that provide opportunities to students. The Diversity Center works with all student organizations—from the Asian Cultures Club to College Republicans—to ensure that all students feel free to express themselves and celebrate their beliefs. The Center for Servant Leadership provides students with the support and skills necessary to lead them down the path to discover their calling.
Both of these programs teach young people that they alone determine the factors that will define their lives, and that if they lead lives of service and ethical leadership, fulfillment is sure to find them.
Though Wefring’s history with the College is short, his journey toward philanthropy was long and rather difficult. His story began in south Minneapolis as the first-born son of Floyd and Betty Wefring. As the oldest of three boys, Wefring was very outgoing and enjoyed making friends.
Then in April of 1950, at the age of seven, everything changed. One minute he was playing with friends and the next he was in a coma. Soon after, doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy, a neurological disorder that is characterized by frequent seizures.
He lived much of his childhood years in a fog. Heavily medicated for seizures and ostracized by his peers, Wefring said his parents became extremely overprotective and even contemplated placing him in a state hospital. Growing up, Larry struggled in neighborhood schools and encouraged his parents to send him to Minnehaha Academy, a private Christian school in Minneapolis.
After barely graduating from Minnehaha Academy, Wefring considered negative responses to life, such as suicide, homelessness, or lifelong work in an automated production line, as well as the positive one of pursuing his dream of obtaining a college degree.
“I decided that I was going to give life my best shot,” Wefring says. “Epilepsy is what I had, but it was not going to define who I am.”
But getting a college degree was not easy. He applied and was accepted at Mankato State University, where he studied psychology and statistics. During this time Wefring decided to go off his daily cocktail of medications to clear his head. However, the frequency of the seizures did not decrease with the absence of medication.
Thanks to a few very supportive professors, Wefring earned his bachelor’s degree. His next goal was to secure a job.
It was February 1972 when Wefring finally received the call that would ultimately change his life. It was Stanley Hubbard of Hubbard Broadcasting. Hubbard had gotten his name from the University of Minnesota and was looking for someone to help with research. Wefring was invited to his office for an interview that day.
Despite having rushed to pick up his car from an impound lot and showing up in less than professional attire, Wefring landed the job. He remained an employee of Hubbard Broadcasting for 34 years and held several positions within the company, including director of research.
Looking back, Wefring believes Hubbard had the rare ability to look beyond a person’s surface to see their talents and potential. It was this ethical leadership and service to employees that inspired Wefring to take a chance at improving his own future.
With Hubbard’s encouragement, Wefring underwent experimental brain surgery in Canada. The world’s top neurosurgeon removed a portion of his hippocampus—the part of his brain that was producing the seizures. From that day forward Wefring decided to live his life “in a different way, putting ethical leadership and service first.”
“Since that day in 1987, life has been great,” Wefring says.
Wefring returned to a seizure-free corporate career at Hubbard Broadcasting. He enjoyed working there for several more years before retiring to care for his aging parents. During this time he also developed a passion for volunteerism. Today he spends several hours a week serving others through volunteer work at a variety of organizations. His favorite is helping those living with epilepsy.
He has also made it his personal mission to help organizations set up and/or build endowments that will provide resources for the future. He focuses his philanthropy on areas that he feels help society move forward.
Though Wefring has been careful to recognize those organizations that took a chance on him, he’s also willing to take a chance on an institution that shares his principles, an institution that looks past differences and welcomes people with open arms, values leadership through service and faith, and encourages everyone to seek out ways to make their lives count.