Roger & Ann Looyenga: Legacy of Leadership

By Michael Linnell
University Communications Director

Roger Looyenga ’68 wants to give future Minot State University students an advantage he didn’t necessarily have during his time at MSU. 

The University announced in November a $1 million gift from Roger and Ann Looyenga to broaden offerings in the area of leadership. It became their most recent contribution, joining an initial gift establishing the Roger Looyenga Leadership College of Business Endowment in 2010 and subsequent gifts that have grown the endowment to over $500,000. Along with financial contributions, Roger served as Minot State’s Commencement speaker, has been featured as a guest lecturer in the classroom on multiple occasions, and was a recipient of the MSU Golden Award in 2017.

“I had a great deal of exposure to management, management by objectives,” Roger said. “But, when we as a company looked to develop leaders in the organization, we went out to see where we could learn leadership skills. Looking around, the public institutions, colleges and universities, didn’t have a lot to offer as far as leadership skills. We found training with other sources, videos, books, and professional speakers. That still carries forward. Google which universities have leadership training or a degree in leadership, they’re few and far between.

"It’s evolving and will continue to evolve, but I think Minot State will be a leader with this program because there aren’t a lot of other programs like this.”

Minot State has begun to develop classes in a Leadership Concentration and a Certificate in Leadership, allowing students from all disciplines to have the chance to enhance their leadership skills. According to Minot State President Dr. Steven Shirley, this will give MSU students a focused area to learn skills beyond their chosen bachelor’s degree.

“As the higher education landscape is increasingly more competitive every day, it is important that we are able to provide unique and relevant opportunities,” Shirley said. “The leadership curriculum and other initiatives that will be supported through Roger and Ann’s gift will allow Minot State to offer opportunities for our students that simply are not available at other campuses.

“Leadership is an area that transcends academic disciplines — whether a student at MSU is pursuing a degree in the physical sciences, business, education, social sciences, nursing, criminal justice, the fine arts, broadcasting, or any of our many other areas, their education and career opportunities can be significantly enhanced with an additional focus on leadership.”

Ann believes the current leadership at Minot State reassured the couple their financial contribution would make a difference for a large number of students.

“We’ve been so impressed with the leadership at Minot State,” she said. “The instructional staff we’ve met has been so receptive and you don’t always find that at all institutions. There is a lot of bureaucracy at larger schools and change doesn’t always happen fast. It’s been interesting to see at Minot State, with Dr. Shirley’s leadership and the instructors, there has been a willingness to step outside the box a little bit. That’s been fun to see.”

While he wasn’t able to learn leadership skills while attending Minot State College, Roger certainly possessed those skills, rising to CEO of Auto-Owners Insurance Company, a Fortune 500 company, in 2008 and Chairman of the Board in 2009.

“In working and getting to know Roger over the years, leadership is the one central and constant area he has always discussed with me,” Shirley said. “Leadership is an area about which Roger is passionate, and one that he and Ann rightfully recognize as an area where colleges and universities should be doing more in the way of providing academic opportunities and cultivating the next generation of leaders. He was obviously a transformative leader of a Fortune 500 company during his time at Auto-Owners, and so the subject of leadership is near and dear to his heart.”

It was at Auto-Owners where he met Ann.

After a year with the company, he was transferred to its corporate headquarters in Lansing, Michigan and started to work as an underwriter, while Ann worked for Auto-Owners part time. The couple was married in June of 1972 and had just a two-day honeymoon due to Roger starting as a marketing representative in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He retired after nearly 40 years with Auto-Owners.

Roger believes the culture at Auto-Owners helped cultivate his success.

“Auto-Owners was a perfect fit because of the corporate culture,” he said. “The best way to describe the culture is to list the core values, which were lived every day: Honesty, Hard Work, Prudence, Loyalty, The Team, Relationships, Opportunity for Associates, Stability and Consistency, The Customer, and Profit. One example of many: Auto-Owners has never laid off an employee in the history of the company.”

Philanthropy has been a central theme for the couple throughout their marriage, from work through their church, volunteering at local hospitals and schools, to financially at Minot State.

“It’s just been a value we’ve tried to follow,” Ann said. “It’s the Golden Rule for us. Back before we had resources to give, it was our time. All the way back to when our kids were in school. This has been a way to set examples for our children and for their children.”

Roger agreed that it doesn’t have to be about giving back monetarily.

“I believe everyone should have a commitment to give back to others. Some may not be in a position to give back financially; however, everyone can give back by serving others. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘the more you serve others, the more others will serve you in return.’ Giving back to Minot State is a way for me to use my leadership skills to help others learn the importance of leadership.”

Minot State has always been a source of pride for Roger and giving back to the University that helped him make lifelong friends and memories made sense.

“I have a lot of pride in Minot and Minot State College, as it was known then,” he said. “To come back and contribute to a place where I have a lot of pride is the reason I keep giving to Minot State. It was a great time for me for academic and social development. Learning in a small classroom environment was ideal for me. It allowed me to develop communication skills which I don’t think would have been as greatly developed in a large classroom setting.

“Whenever I think of Minot State, I must include my participation in the Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity. Social interaction was a major part of the fraternity, including the spirit of teamwork and brotherhood. What I learned in the fraternity had a big part in my career development.”

Neither Roger nor Ann ruled out giving back to the leadership program in the form of time in the future — as long as it is welcomed and will enhance the curriculum.

“We feel the expertise is there and don’t want to be a barrier to anything that is going to be developed at Minot State,” Ann said. “Often when you give to something, you see it executed in different ways than you imagined.”

“If it is felt that Ann or I can contribute, we would be more than happy to do that, but we don’t want to stand in the way of future development,” Roger added. “I’m confident the professors at MSU will develop the program beyond my expectations.”


About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 04/30/20   

» More MSU News