When Norman Asbjornson was born deep in the Depression in Winifred, Mont., his parents Dorothy “Eric” and J. O. “Boots” Asbjornson were short on possessions, but long on love and wisdom.
Those values meant that by the time Norm was 6-years-old he was helping contribute to the family. He drove tractors for farmers and sold soda and beer bottles and newspapers. When he was 10, he earned a Model T by hauling feed and water to chickens. Never mind that said car had been flooded and its engine too rusted to start. Norm learned to fix it, and then he started a garbage-hauling business.
Knowing how to work came in handy when Norm arrived at Montana State College and found he wasn’t academically prepared for an engineering major. He persevered and caught up. When extra schooling meant he ran out of tuition money, he enrolled in the Army until he saved enough to finish. When he graduated from MSC in 1960 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he felt as prepared as anyone to succeed.
“I knew how to survive and work hard,” Asbjonson said, adding that all he needed to reach his potential was an education. “I wouldn’t have had a prayer without education.”
Fast forward 54 years. Norm is now the successful founder and president of AAON, an international heating ventilation and air conditioning business based in Tulsa, Okla.
Because his parents also taught him to give back, Norm recently pledged $50 million to the MSU College of Engineering—the largest donation in the history of Montana—which will make possible the Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center.
“The greatest gifts my parents gave me were perseverance and character,” Asbjornson said when he announced his historic donation at MSU this spring.
And, as a result of the Asbjornsons’ insight and love for their son so many years ago, thousands of MSU students will receive the gift of an innovative education for generations to come. ■