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Dr. Peter Harstad is the recipient of the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award

Dr. Peter Harstad is the recipient of the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award

May 24, 2013 - 12:00am
Dr. Peter Harstad

Dr. Peter Harstad (55) is the recipient of the 2013 Bethany Lutheran College Distinguished Alumnus Award. Harstad, the eldest of ten children, was born on November 13, 1935, to the Reverend Adolph and Martha (Tjernagel) Harstad. 

Harstad is an accomplished historian with several books and publications to his credit, has taught at the collegiate level, and directed two State Historical Societies. He has earned several awards including: 
Sagamore of Wabash Award by the State of Indiana 
The Eli Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award 
Award of Commendation by the Concordia Historical Institute 
 
Harstad attended both Bethany Lutheran High School and Junior College and credits the institution for helping to shape him both intellectually and spiritually. He especially notes professors Rudolph Honsey and Norman Holte and coach Dwain Mintz for their instruction and advice during his years in Mankato. Harstad says Mintz had some sage advice for his players,  “If you are going to do something, do it right.” That simple lesson has stuck with him throughout the years. Harstad says beyond the instruction, he’s most thankful for meeting his wife of 56 years, Carolyn (Schneider) at Bethany. 
 
After Bethany, Harstad enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he earned a bachelor of arts in education with a focus in English and history. After teaching for a year, his love for learning brought he and Carolyn back to Madison where he earned both master’s and doctorate degrees. It was a busy time for the young family with Peter working and attending graduate school all while the couple’s first two children were born. 
 
After earning his Ph.D., Harstad taught American History at Idaho State University from 1963 to 1970. At Idaho State, he was also chosen as the President of Faculty Affairs. 
 
While continuing to teach Harstad was awarded a post-doctorate fellowship at the University of Kentucky. His work included examining, organizing, and publishing historical documents of former Secretary of State Henry Clay. 
 
After the fellowship, Harstad accepted a faculty position at the University of Iowa, which eventually led to a post as the Director of the State Historical Society of Iowa. He served in that position from 1972 to 1981. 
 
Harstad found his way back to Bethany in 1981 serving as the Director of Development, and teaching history. During a four-year tenure at Bethany, he helped to establish the S.C. Ylvisaker Scholarship Fund, which is still providing scholarships for students today. 
 
In 1984 Harstad was hired as the CEO of the Indiana Historical Society. It was a position that really appealed to him, as he was able to focus solely on history programs. He worked for the Historical Society from 1984 to 2001 where helped to develop and construct the 40-million-dollar Indiana History Center near the State Capitol in Indianapolis. 
 
Harstad continues to conduct research and has written two books since 2001 Stor Per and We Saw the Elephants, both taking a focus on events in American history. Currently he is researching and working on two projects focusing on Thomas R. Marshall, who was President Woodrow Wilson’s Vice President. He also is working on a book about the young Abraham Lincoln and how his reading and education shaped his Presidency. 
 
Harstad says of the award, “I am deeply honored and excited to receive this award. To be recognized by Bethany Lutheran College is very special and Bethany has a special place in my heart. Bethany helped shape me and the school was always there to guide me and encourage me to use my God-given abilities, to set goals and to achieve them.”  
 
The Harstads have five grown children and ten grandchildren and currently reside in Lakeville, Minnesota. They are members of Heritage Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, where they are active in the congregation. 
 
Harstad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2005. This diagnosis has been difficult at times but his faith in Jesus Christ has helped guide him through this and give him confidence that in God’s hands he will be taken care of. 
 
Harstad received the Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bethany’s Spring Commencement on May 17, 2013, and was the featured speaker at the Ceremony. 
 
Watch Dr. Harstad's address and recieving his award