Sunday, March 29, 2020
Norm and Conni Bjornnes were instilled with the value of philanthropy at a young age. They continue to give to this day.
From a young age, Norm Bjornnes had a knack for business. As a child, he ran a number of businesses, including lawn mowing, snowblowing, and even an 8-track duplication service. With an entrepreneurial spirit and a family that emphasized the value of education in providing opportunity, it’s no surprise that after he graduated high school in 1970, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota’s business school (more than a decade before it would take the Carlson School name). He’d finish his degree by December 1972, enroll in the University of Minnesota Law School, and go on to lead a successful career. Bjornnes credits much of his success to the education he received at the University of Minnesota. “My education at the University of Minnesota let me lead the type of life that I always wanted,” he says.
Paying it Forward
Philanthropy has deep roots in the family. When Norm was a teenager, his father took the family on a mission trip to Madagascar where he performed dental services—and he did so on his own dime. It was a financial risk, especially because Norm’s older brother was nearing college, but his parents’ values guided the decision. “They believed strongly in giving back with time and treasure,” Norm says. He and his wife, Conni, carry on the tradition by giving to many causes, including generous support to the University of Minnesota. They joined with others in the Law School to create a scholarship that honored a classmate. The family also set up several scholarships themselves: one in the Dental School in honor of Norm’s father, one in the College of Liberal Arts for his sister, and two in the Carlson School—one for undergraduate education, the other for study abroad. The Bjornnes family says they give to pay it forward. “So many of these students are bright and excited for their futures,” Norm says. “But it’s those last few thousand dollars that can make or break their ability to attend.” Their support for study abroad was particularly influenced by their love of global travel and what that has taught them over the years. “So much of what you learn isn’t from a book—it’s from experiencing the world,” says Conni. “When our kids studied abroad, they had a great time and grew immensely from it. But it can be a financial burden, so that’s something we wanted to help with.”
“So much of what you learn isn’t from a book—it’s from experiencing the world.”
A Future of Family Giving
As they look ahead to the next several decades, the Bjornneses say they intend to focus on their family, spend time traveling, and continue a life of learning. “I’m passionate about learning something new every day,” Norm says. “I’ll be learning until the day I die.” They also intend to increase the amount they’re giving to the Carlson School and the University of Minnesota. “The University of Minnesota is a beacon for the state of Minnesota, and I hope every alum is proud and helps it pursue its mission,” Norm says. “Its importance can never be underestimated.” The Bjornneses hope their giving will inspire others to give to their own causes— in whatever amount they are able. “Whatever you can give is important,” Conni says. “People think that unless they’re giving a big gift that they aren’t making a difference, but that’s just not true. Every little bit adds up— and it helps.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2020 alumni magazine
This issue of our alumni magazine focuses on our world, how we take part in it, and how we, as a community, are making it a better place.