On November 30, 1902, Robert Adolf Luther Mortvedt was born to Reverend Ariel O. and Helen Eggen Mortvedt in Newark, Illinois. In 1924, he received his undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College. He received his Master’s degree (1929) and Ph.D. (1934) in English from Harvard University. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. During his years at Harvard, Dr. Mortvedt was granted three scholarships for the purposes of studying abroad and spent several months in England doing research.
After completing his graduate studies, he served as a faculty member for Wartburg College, St. Olaf College, and Stephens College. In 1943, he became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas City (UKC). He served as Vice President of the college from 1948-53.
In 1952, the president of UKC, Dr. Clarence Decker, was granted a leave of absence to accept a position as Assistant Director for the Far East in the Mutual Security Agency. Dr. Mortvedt was named acting President. Through his position as acting President, Dr. Mortvedt learned that the glowing reports regarding the state and future of the University presented to the Board by Dr. Decker had been very misleading. Enrollment, faculty salaries, and the quality of education were declining. In the months following Dr. Decker’s return (fall 1952), the University underwent a major upheaval that culminated in the resignation of three top administrators, including Dr. Mortvedt, and votes of “no confidence” in the presidency of Dr. Decker by both the students and faculty. Dr. Decker resigned in February 1953.
Dr. Mortvedt was offered the presidency of Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas that spring and served there until 1958. In June 1958, he began his work as Executive Director of the Board of Higher Education of Augustana Lutheran Church and then assumed a similar position with the United Lutheran Church in America in November 1959. He maintained this position until the two organizations merged. The combined program encompassed one university, sixteen senior colleges, two junior colleges, and eleven seminaries.
In 1962, Dr. Mortvedt accepted the presidency of Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). As president, he emphasized the development of academic programs. During the seven years he served at PLU, the School of Nursing was accredited by the National League of Nursing, a $198,567 grant was given by the Research Foundation to strengthen the science program, a Teacher Corps program was established, and a new curriculum was adopted. Dr. Mortvedt also spearheaded a $16.5 million long-range development program (PLUS) to be enacted over a period of ten years. This program resulted in the building of Foss Hall, Ordal Hall, Stuen Hall, Tingelstad Hall, Clifford O. Olson Physical Education Auditorium Building, and Robert A. L. Mortvedt Library. Although plans for the University Center were drawn up as part of the PLUS program, the building itself was not completed until after Dr. Mortvedt’s
In 1969, he requested that the Board of Regents grant him retirement two years before his term was completed. He and his wife Gladys, whom he married in 1926, moved to Gig Harbor, Washington. He then served as the Chairman of the Financial Campaign for the Lutheran Home and Retirement Community of Tacoma, which resulted in the construction of a nursing home with 210 beds and 100 retirement apartments. Dr. Mortvedt retired from the Board in 1979. He maintained an active role in the congregation of his church and was the chairman of the committee that raised funds for the seminaries of the American Lutheran Church.
Dr. Mortvedt served on many national and regional Church and educational boards and commissions, including the Division of College and University Work of the NLC; the NLEC, where he served as a board member and president; and LCUSA, associated with the Commission on Educational Services. Over the years, he served on two commissions of the Association of American Colleges. From 1948 to 1958, he was a member (and secretary) of the Board of Directors of Augustana Theological Seminary and at the time of the final organization of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; he was the Chairman of the committee that recommended its establishment. He was a member of the Steering Committee on Inter-Church Relations of the North Pacific District and he was Co-Chairman of the Planning Committee for the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogues Program. He was president of the Independent Colleges of Washington. He represented the American Lutheran Church on the pan-Lutheran Commission dealing with Lutheran student work on non- Lutheran campuses around the nation. Dr. Mortvedt was also a member of the Commission on Religion of the Association of American Colleges. Other civic and church activities include: membership in the Tacoma Goodwill Industries Board, the Washington State Historical Society, Washington State Higher Education Facilities Commission, the Tacoma Kiwanis Club, the Urban League, the Design for Progress, and Trinity Lutheran Church.
Dr. Mortvedt is the author of one book, Let’s Talk About Literature, and many published articles. He is listed in Who’s Who in America and he has received numerous honorary doctorates, including Doctor of Laws (Augustana College), Doctor of Letters (Wagner College), and Doctor of Laws (Pacific Lutheran University). Dr. Mortvedt received the Distinguished Alumnus award from St. Olaf College and the Centennial Medal from Augustana College in South Dakota. The Lutheran Brotherhood presented him with its Distinguished Service Medallion and PLU granted him president emeritus status after his retirement. In 1977, he received the Community Service Award from the Rotary Club of Tacoma. He was recognized in 1978 by the Tacoma Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews for “highly significant and enduring contributions” in many areas of service to the citizens of Tacoma.
Dr. Mortvedt died on September 15, 1991 at age 88. He was survived by his only child, Patricia Arnesen, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. His wife preceded him in death.