Augustana big idea project

September 12, 2014

AHS - Augie Building project to honor late teacher

Jill Callison, Sioux Falls Argus Leader 

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jcalliso@argusleader.com 11:17 p.m. CDT June 25, 2014

When Solveig Steen tended the yard at her Sioux Falls home, the grass grew thick and lush, and she tucked flowers in various corners.

Fourteen months after her death, grass has emerged in shady areas but struggles in the sun. A rhubarb plant clings to a steep slope, mere steps from a sedum plant and a few white violets. Other plants struggle to emerge from the dirt that covers the lot where Steen’s house once stood. She probably could have named them all.

Next year, perhaps there will be a new garden on the site.

Thanks to a recently established Augustana College student group, the northwest corner of 31st Street and Duluth Avenue soon will be vacant no longer.

The group, called the Big Ideas Committee, has started recruiting students and others to replace Steen’s house, destroyed in the April 2013 fire that claimed the piano instructor’s life. The project is a partnership with Sioux Falls Housing & Redevelopment Corp.

Lance Shaull, a Tea Area High School graduate, sees good coming from the committee long after the house has been built and occupied. He hopes future students will take the challenge and create more and bigger projects as the years go on.

“Ordinary food drives do a lot of good but don’t get people very excited,” the college senior says. “I thought students would get more involved and it would be more impactful with projects that are more large-scale and tangible.”

Shaull never met Steen, but he knows people she influenced. Forty-year friend Arlene Krueger describes Steen, who planned to retire in just a few weeks after 51 years at Augustana, as a wonderful teacher.

“She was a little bit eccentric, but we all loved that,” Krueger says. “She was devoted to her kids and devoted to piano. She was devoted to Augie. That was the school she graduated from, and she had very loving feelings for the school and especially the music department.”

Steen’s house was two blocks from the college’s eastern edge. She kept her white, two-story house, where she lived first with her parents, then on her own, in good repair, filling it with a Steinway grand piano and items brought back from overseas trips.

Little was left after last year’s April 12 fire, Krueger says. A fire in Steen’s kitchen sent carbon monoxide upstairs where she was sleeping, causing her death.

Augustana professor Scott Johnson was a colleague for 20 years. He describes her as a spitfire, always on the go, rarely stopping in the hall because she had so many places to be.

“Her students just loved her,” he says. “She believed in the best of everybody. The passion she had for music — she’d teach all day, then she’d teach at night.”

A piece of house foundation will be placed in a showcase on campus during the building, Shaull says. “That’s part of the whole theme of having something tangible,” he says. “People can remember a real person who was at Augie, who really had a house and affected others.”

The project’s partner, Affordable Housing Solutions, is an arm of Sioux Falls Housing & Redevelopment Corp. Its main focus is to receive dilapidated properties and convert them into new, affordable housing through a revitalization program.

Wayne Wagner, AHS housing development director, says Steen’s insurance company sold the property for a nominal fee. Neighborhood revitalization funds were secured to tear the property down and prepare it for rebuilding. The house that will replace Steen’s will fit comfortably in a neighborhood mostly built in the 1950s. The original foundation was built with locally quarried quartzite.

Working with another group adds a level of complexity to the rebuilding process, Wagner says, but he welcomes the opportunity. “We’re not only creating affordable housing but creating awareness,” he says.

Work will begin at homecoming’s conclusion Sept. 28. Volunteers will erect the walls and raise the roof. Later they will paint the house, while an environment group landscapes it.

The house will be sold to a family in the middle- or moderate-income bracket, Wagner says.

“If you can get somebody who historically has only rented to own a home, it’s a life change,” he says. Steen would be pleased her property will be used again and that Augustana students helped, Krueger says.

“Her real passion was Augustana College and the piano department,” she says. “I think she would definitely approve of such a move.”

Contractors broke ground on the basement on September 11th and will be ready for the student build at the end of the month.

To help Augustana College students construct a house on the site where piano teacher Solveig Steen once lived, contact Lance Schaull at lrshaull11@ole.augie.edu or 941-1961.

Argus Leader Story