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Luther Seminary bookstore to see leadership change

Luther Seminary Bookstore manager Terry Boehlke consults with longtime colleague Roberta Shaw about the store’s inventory. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

In his 40 years at the bookstore at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Terry Boehlke has seen many changes. As he approaches retirement July 31, he can reflect back on the bookstore structure ranging from a quasi-student cooperative in 1973, through a 14 ½ year partnership with Augsburg Fortress Publishers, to its current operation as a part of the seminary.

Back in the summer of 1973, Boehlke had completed his internship but didn’t feel a call to the ministry. At that point he became an apprentice in the bookstore. Over the years the bookstore became a campus gem, a magical place under his leadership.

Today’s challenges to running a bookstore — Internet commerce and e-book sales — weren’t really on anyone’s mind in the 1970s, according to the veteran bookstore manager. But the Luther Seminary bookstore retains much of what makes local booksellers popular: a close relationship with its customer base.

“My congregation happens to be located only a short walk from the bookstore, so it has been, and continues to be, extremely convenient. Throughout its history, the bookstore has served both the seminary community and a wide variety of congregations and others with amazing resources and very deep knowledge among the staff,” explains the Rev. Marc Ostlie-Olson, pastor of St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, St. Paul. “Terry’s depth of knowledge about the resources he stocks and sells as well as his recommendations based on personal review and reading is invaluable.”

The Luther Seminary Bookstore remains a vital operation today, relied upon by students, clergy, and the community.

Craig Koester, Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, adds, “I discovered theological treasures in the Luther Bookstore when I was a student decades ago. In the years that followed, I learned that our bookstore was known across the country for the quality of its material and its affordability. Terry Boehlke and his staff have consistently been creative in making the best scholarship and resources for ministry available nationally and internationally. Their contribution has been tremendous.”

Karin Craven, a Ph. D. student at the seminary, says she visits the bookstore about once a week, not only to look for books but to visit with the people she finds there. “It’s a wonderful community, especially Terry,” she told Metro Lutheran. “It’s been a 10-year association for me as a faithful user. Terry is a wonderful reader and recommender of books he thinks will be of interest to me.”

A bookstore with more than books

The Luther Seminary Bookstore remains a vital operation today, relied upon by students, clergy, and the community. In addition to Lutherans, the bookstore’s community is a nondenominational mix including many Roman Catholic clergy who became acquainted with the bookstore while students at St. Paul Seminary.

From its location on the lower level of the Olson Campus Center, the bookstore serves the community with books, religious greeting cards, gifts, fair trade items, and church supplies such as candles, bulletin covers, communion wafers, and certificates for baptism and confirmation. Clergy shirts and stoles are stocked.

The partnership with Augsburg Fortress ended December 31, 2012. During the years of the partnership, Augsburg Fortress rented space within the bookstore and had its own employees. Employees were cross-trained in Augsburg Fortress products and bookstore products, and to the customer it was a seamless operation.

Gary Anderson worked for Augsburg Fortress for 30 years, more than 14 of them with Boehlke at the Luther Seminary Bookstore. “It was a unique situation as we were two businesses operating out of the same space,” Anderson states. “I don’t believe that there was a partnership like what we did at Luther that occurred anyplace else in the country.

The partnership with Augsburg Fortress ended December 31, 2012.

“The best thing that I can say is that customers did not know this fact. And it is unfortunate that when Augsburg Fortress closed its part of the bookstore that many people had the impression that the whole store closed. So I am very glad to know that given the financial considerations of the seminary and the challenge of running a brick-and-mortar operation in an Internet world that the bookstore will continue to be what it has always been — a trusted source of good books but also quality customer service. And besides the in-store service, the bookstore sends a great number of books to people all over the world, which most people don’t have a clue that they do.

“Terry, in particular, reminds me of the phrase that leaders should be a non-anxious presence. He also is very adept at understanding what the customer is really looking for whether it be for a church professional or the latest good book. A ‘good listener’ description comes to mind,” says Anderson, who is now a community resource consultant with Cokesbury in Des Moines, Iowa. “And he knows about all subject areas and resources for the seminary community better than anyone I know. With his background of 40 years working as manager, and first as an assistant to Jennings Mergenthal, his expertise of resources and customer service as well as how best to operate the store as a business will certainly be missed. But fortunately Roberta Shaw has been there along side of him and she has been an invaluable asset to the store and to customers.”

“It has always amazed me how the Luther Seminary bookstore stocks such a wide variety of worthy books on almost any theological topic,” says Dr. Mary Sue Dreier, associate professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary “It’s like a library — but for sale!

“Since the mid-1970s when he was the energetic, pony-tailed guy who could find you most anything in the tightly-packed basement store in Gullixson Hall, Terry has personified the bookstore and its mission. His was a bookstore ministry — and it has left a significant mark on theological education! He will be greatly missed,” adds Dreier, who is also features editor of the publication Word and World.

Boehlke terms his years at the bookstore as “a wonderful ride that allowed me to stay in touch with students and our student employees.” As to his approaching retirement, Boehlke said he has “about 200 books on his need-to-read list” and plans to audit come college classes as well as volunteer on church projects.

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