Pastor Rohde retires after 18 years on campus

After serving the Augustana community for over 18 years, Pastor Paul Rohde will be retiring at the end of January, according to an email from university President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. 

However, his retirement will only be from his post at Augustana, as he will continue to minister at Springdale Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls. Nevertheless, He wants to use his extra time to visit his four grandchildren and spend more time with his mom. 

“I will always be grateful for this chapter of my life. It’s harder than expected to have it end,” Rohde said. 

He said he also hopes to travel with his wife Susan. In addition to visiting Holden Village, Washington, the couple plans to travel to Australia to catch up with their foreign exchange “daughter” whom they hosted in 2006. 

Rohde said he is grateful for the Augustana community and will continue to attend events such as homecoming worship and concerts. 

Becoming a campus pastor

Rohde’s journey with Augustana started while he was still a pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church during the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, he taught introductory religion classes as an adjunct professor and developed relationships with other religion professors on campus. 

When the previous campus pastor resigned in 2001, Augustana searched nationwide for a new candidate, ultimately coming up empty. Rohde, who had left Augustana by this time, was in his sixth year of serving a congregation in New Ulm, Minnesota. He joked that Augustana “scraped the bottom of the barrel a little deeper” when the school called to offer him the position in November of that year.

“I got the call,” Rohde said. “And I’ve never looked back.”

Reflecting on a campus career

One of Rohde’s favorite parts of his job has been “watching students stories unfold.” He said students change tremendously in four years.

“Pastor Paul connects with a lot of students in different ways and has been a mentor to many,” chapel president Mollie Varpness said.

Pastor Ann Rosendale, who was a sophomore during Rohde’s first year at Augustana, worked with him as a member of the chapel staff and eventually as his fellow pastor starting in 2012.

“It’s quite possible that I wouldn’t be a pastor without Paul’s mentorship,” she said. “I’ll always be grateful for his trust in the Holy Spirit and in me as my story unfolded.”

Varpness, who aspires to become a pastor, said she enjoys hearing how the pastors grow in their own ways during the school year. She said Pastor Paul represents how she will never stop learning in her professional life.

Bringing light through ministry

Rohde also said he loved his job for the extensive travel opportunities, including a dozen trips with students to the Pine Ridge Reservation, eight trips to New York City and multiple experiences in Spain and Morocco.

“I think Pine Ridge is one of the most cross-cultural experiences Augie offers,” he said. “I can’t really explain why I keep [going] back, except that when there’s this kind of injustice in your backyard, you have to.”

According to Rohde, the most difficult part of his job has been dealing with tragedy.
“While it’s a privilege to attend to [tragedy], it’s very hard and grief is so complicated,” he said. “People die too soon sometimes.”

Rosendale said she will miss hearing Rohde’s sense of humor and swapping stories and sermon ideas. She cherishes fond memories of chapel Christmas parties at his house and dance parties together in her office.

“I am forever grateful for the ways Pastor Paul has supported me pastorally — trusting and encouraging my gifts, advocating for me, [and] treating me as his equal in ministry,” she said.

Rosendale also said Rohde has supported her personally, especially after her second child was diagnosed with complex heart defects.

“He rallied the Augustana community to pray for us,” Rosendale said. “He held fast with us in fear and hope. Everyone should have a colleague that cares for them so well.”

Campus Ministry, along with the president’s office, are “working to make this transition as smooth as possible, ensuring that the entire campus community receives the pastoral care they need,” Rosendale said.

Rohde’s last day on campus will be Jan. 31, 2020.

“One of Pastor Paul’s favorite phrases to say is ‘God is with you!’” Rosendale said. “We’re leaning into that as we say goodbye to Paul, and we echo the same promise back — God is with you, Pastor Paul!”

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