Legacy of Luther College, Future of Midland Important to Erickson

Legacy of Luther College, Future of Midland Important to Erickson

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

It’s been more than 60 years since he was a student there, but Luther College remains a special place for Dr. Larry Erickson.

Erickson grew up less than 10 miles from the college campus in Wahoo. It was an institution that was founded by Erickson’s great grandfather, John, who came to the United States from Sweden. Both of Erickson’s parents graduated from Luther College and he attended Luther himself for one year. “My great grandfather helped establish Grace Lutheran Church and he served on the first board of Luther College, as well as contributing financially to help get it started,” Erickson said. “As a student at Luther, I was able to play basketball, participate in theater, and work on the student newspaper.”

He would later transfer to Kansas State University, where he earned his B.S. Degree in Chemical Engineering in 1960 and his Ph.D. for Chemical Engineering in 1964. Soon afterward, he joined the faculty at KSU and remained a full time faculty member until 2015, when he became an emeritus professor. For his dedication and service to the university, Erickson was recently one of three inductees into the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering Hall of Fame. “I am very grateful for this honor and for all of the people I have worked with while I have been at Kansas State University,” Erickson said.

From 1985-2018, Erickson provided leadership for hazardous substance research at KSU. From 1989-2003, he was director of the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Hazardous Substance Research Center, a consortium of universities with headquarters at K-State. In order to advance pollution prevention and improve environmental management, he introduced seminars in hazardous waste engineering, air quality, and sustainability. He has worked with more than 70 graduate students, co-authored more than 450 papers, traveled professionally to more than 25 countries, and participated in more than $50 million of funded research projects. He helps to provide leadership for the Consortium for Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, and the annual Dialog on Sustainability. In 2015, he provided leadership in hosting the 12th International Phytotechnology Conference in Manhattan while from 2013-2021, KSU was part of a NATO award “New Phytotechnology for Cleaning Contaminated Military Sites.” From this project came the book “Phytotechnology with Biomass Production: Sustainable Management of Contaminated Sites,” one of several publications Erickson has co-authored over the years.

KSU has been a leader in the EPA funded Technical Assistance to Brownfields since 2008 as well as the Center for Hazardous Substance Research, which Erickson directed for 30 years. Erickson also aided in the NSF funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program where KSU hosted about 10 students each summer to conduct research related to sustainable energy and related topics. “There were many students interested in the topics and many very capable students participated,” he said. “Two books were developed as a result of the project, Solar Powered Charging Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles: A Sustainable Development in 2017 and Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improving Air Quality: Two InterrelatedGlobal Challenges in 2019.”

Erickson is proud of his work and long list of accomplishments at KSU, but what has mattered most to him is seeing former students thrive as professionals. “I am very grateful for the honors I have received, however, the professional progress of our alumni in their careers has significance and this brings me joy and satisfaction,” he said.

He has been fervent in helping maintain the history of Luther College. Midland College merged with Luther College in 1962 as the name changed to Midland Lutheran College. Midland’s current campus honors Luther College through the Luther Library, the Luther Arch near the library entrance, and the celebrations and alumni reunions at LutherFest. “I have attended many Lutherfest events and I have enjoyed visiting with many Luther alumni over the years,” Erickson said. 

Erickson and his wife, Laurel, have also worked hard to honor the legacy of Luther College alum Howard Hanson through the Howard Hanson fund at Midland. Hanson is one of Luther College’s most accomplished alums. After graduating in 1911, he went on to study at the Institute of Musical Art and Northwestern University. For more than 40 years, Hanson served as the director of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York. He was a prolific composer, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his Symphony No. 4, op. 34, subtitled Requiem. “I think it’s beneficial for students to learn about alumni who have had outstanding careers, and they may be inspired by seeing what others have accomplished,” Erickson said. “I am proud of my effort to help people that are currently at Midland to learn more about the history and life of Howard Hanson, and the significant contribution of the faculty at Luther College to his education and career.”

Erickson has also been dedicated to Midland University throughout the years as he and Laurel have made many contributions to Midland. “We have contributed to Midland and I have been able to meet with Midland staff when they come to visit in Manhattan,” he said. “Midland is an important university and I want to do my part to support the work that is being done to educate students.”