Vivian Wensel (1934-2013)

Vivian WenselVivian Wensel was a faculty member of the Concordia physical education program for thirty-five years. She taught over twenty different classes and coached the women’s badminton and golf teams.  Through  her work on campus and in May travel seminars abroad, she provided a positive role model for young female athletes at Concordia.

Vivian Floberg was born in Hawley, Minnesota on February 26, 1934. She was raised by her parents, Oluf and Tolda Floberg, in Hawley until she attended Moorhead State Teachers College. There she graduated and received her bachelor’s degree in education in 1956. [1] A year later she married Fredrick Wensel. She briefly taught Physical Education and Health at Thief River Falls High School until she obtained a position teaching at Concordia College in 1957. Wensel was happy about the move to Moorhead and her new position. When asked what made teaching at the college level more enjoyable than high school, she commented that it gave her the opportunity to “teach subjects instead of checking the showers.” [2]

Wensel remained at Concordia for three years and in 1960 took a break from teaching to focus on raising her family. She had a daughter, Jennifer, in 1960 and a son, Fritz, the following year. With the assistance of her extended family she was able to start working again in 1962.  She taught a physical education class during the evening at North Dakota State University (NDSU). During this same time Wensel also worked on completing her master’s degree in education from Moorhead State University (MSUM). After receiving her master’s in 1965 she applied for a full time position at NDSU and was hired; however, immediately after signing her contract she was approached by Concordia and offered a teaching position. Wensel decided to break her contract with NDSU and return to Concordia. [3]

While on Concordia’s faculty Wensel taught a total of twenty different classes, representing a broad range of topics and activities such as CPR, wellness, cross-country skiing, badminton, ice skating, camping and golf.  For Wensel, teaching meant also demonstrating and participating.  Former Concordia athletic director Armin Pipho stated that Wensel “never asked students to do what she couldn't do.... It's nice to read student evaluations which say that they enjoyed the fact that the instructor participated with them; and Vivian always did.” Always ready for a competition, Wensel saw that she was never outdone in cycling or skiing and would often challenge her students in tennis or badminton. [4]

During Wensel’s time at Concordia the college achieved progress for women involved in organized athletics. Title IX was passed in 1972 which prohibited sex discrimination in any educational program or activity at any educational institution that received federal funds. [5] Wensel embraced Title IX enthusiastically considering she coached women's badminton and golf during her time at Concordia. While she enjoyed her time as a coach she claimed it was always a battle. She faced opposition from the coaches of the male sports when it came to sharing the gym space and obtaining funding. Men’s athletics had been emphasized at the college in the past because it kept male enrollment up. Wensel didn't let that stop her from standing up for her female athletes. She recalled in an interview: “I don't think any woman coach is so weak that she wouldn't speak up for her team.” Another challenge she faced was getting young girls interested in joining athletics. According to Wensel they were “not used to competing” and, “the idea of [women] being aggressive was not part of our culture.” [6] While it may have been a gradual process, the situation for female athletes did improve. Enrollment of women in sports increased steadily at Concordia as well as nationally. Before Title IX fewer than 32,000 women participated in college sports, in the early twenty-first century that number is more than 150,000. [7]

In addition to valuing Wensel as a coach or classroom instructor,  many students remember her for her May Seminars. [8] She led twelve separate bicycle tours across Europe. For the first few years groups would try to get in ninety miles a day but eventually she decided to cut back the miles so that students could enjoy the trip a bit more. She once claimed that her trip, “.... was not a cake walk.... you'd almost need a ladder for the hills.” [9] While the terrain proved to be challenging at times, she and her students enjoyed the journeys. One of the best parts about biking was being able to interact with their surroundings. Instead of spending hours traveling on a train or bus the group was able to experience the countryside while they traveled. Wensel said that one of her favorite parts while biking was smelling freshly baked bread as they passed through towns. [10]

Wensel taught at Concordia for thirty-five years and retired in 1997. She continued to live in Moorhead and eventually moved into Elim Care and Rehab Center in Fargo, North Dakota. She passed away on October 2, 2013. [11]

Authors: Abigale Ullyott and Layne Cole

[1] Funeral Program, Vivian Wensel. October 9, 2013, Korsmo funeral service, Moorhead Minnesota, Vivian Wensel, Biography Files Collection, Concordia College Archives.

[2] Vivian Wensel, interview by Carroll Engelhardt, September 17, 2007, Concordia College, Moorhead, MN.
Vivian Wensel, interview.
[4] “Recognition of Vivian Wensel.” Apr. 15, 1997. Pipho, Armin. Vivian Wensel, Biography Files Collection, Concordia College Archives.
[5] Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn, Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader, (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2007), 296.
[6] Vivian Wensel, interview.
[7] O’Reilly and Cahn, Women and Sports, 65.
[8] Concordia May Seminars are month long study-away opportunities led by Concordia faculty available to students for credit.
[9] "Vivian Wensel, interview.
[10] "Vivian Wensel, interview.
[11] Funeral Program. Vivian Wensel.