Dorothy Mundt Lewis was a bright student growing up, one of three children in a “very, very poor” family in Depression-era Milbank, S.D. But beyond intelligence, what really stood out about her was her outstanding singing voice.
When she got to high school, her choir director picked up on that singular voice and took her to Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., securing her enrollment there and setting her off on a path in education that in 1959 brought her to the La Crosse School District, where she was hired as elementary music supervisor.
“Her passion in life was vocal music,” said her daughter, Barb Skogen. “She had the best choir I’ve ever heard.”
When the family moved to the La Crosse area, Skogen said her mother loved coming to Viterbo University for concerts. Sometimes, it was for performances by her own choirs, or it could have been for touring musical acts or choirs led by Viterbo’s Daniel Johnson-Wilmot, whom she deeply admired.
Toward the end of her mother’s life, Skogen started the process of setting up the Dorothy Mundt Lewis Vocal Music Scholarship.
“I heard stories about some of the things my mother had to give up when she went to college. I know how hard it was for her, and know she would want to help students not have to struggle like she did,” Skogen said.
When it came time to decide where the scholarship should go, there was really only one choice based on her mother’s affection for the place and the institution’s excellence in arts of all sorts. “When you think of scholarships for the arts, Viterbo is the one that you would think about,” Skogen said.
In addition, Skogen has been a member of Viterbo’s board of trustees since before her mother’s death in 2008, and she has been a strong supporter of the institution along with her husband, Dave. Together they built one of the state’s largest and most respected grocery store chains, Festival Foods, which now is presided over by their son, Mark, who was a basketball standout when he studied business at Viterbo.
“I’m just excited and happy that Dave and I had the capacity to create this scholarship for my mother. It’s fulfilling because I knew that was her love. She would have wanted other college kids to have that support to fulfill their dreams like she fulfilled hers,” Skogen said. “I just wish she could have been here to see it.”