Thursday, February 25, 2021, 10:48 a.m.
Arne Sorenson, chairman of the board of directors of Marriott International Inc. and a graduate of Luther College in 1980, died of pancreatic cancer on Monday, February 15, 2021. Sorenson was a major influence on life and learning at Luther College. He served on the Luther Board of Regents and supported the college through many strategic, philanthropic, and other endeavors.
“When I think of an example of Luther’s mission, Arne Sorenson was that example,” said Luther President Jenifer K. Ward. “His life shows what Luther stands for: learn actively, live purposefully and lead courageously for a lifetime. One of the last times we met in person, we lost ourselves in a discussion about the book he had with him, about the dispute in the Middle Ages between Erasmus and Martin Luther. Arne’s curious mind, always the scholar, never rested, even when it was otherwise in the secular realm of corporate governance on a global scale. ”
Sorenson was born in Japan to mission parents Dorothy and “Bo” Sorenson Jr. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfathers, Morris Alvin Sorenson Sr. and Otto Austin, he visited Luther where he studied religion and business management.
He later graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School with a law degree, specializing in mergers and acquisitions with Latham & Watkins in Washington, DC. He was hired to lead business development at Marriott, where he became the first chief executive officer outside of the Marriott family in the company’s 85-year history. As CEO, Sorenson managed a $ 13 billion acquisition that made Marriott the world’s largest hotel chain.
Sorenson was a citizen of the world. As a Luther student, he went on a trip abroad to Beirut, Lebanon during a civil war that sparked a lifelong passion for learning through travel. “There is nothing more extraordinary than gaining a deeper knowledge of global problems through encountering other cultures firsthand,” Sorenson once said. In addition to running a business with hotels in 131 countries and territories, Arne, his wife and Decorah-born Ruth Christenson and their four children have traveled to India, Russia, East Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, Tanzania and several European countries. In many cases, Sorenson’s travel experiences have been translated into philanthropic endeavors.
As a lifelong learner and humanitarian worker, Sorenson was moved by a real desire to give back. At Marriott, he passed various sustainability programs around the world, from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to the headwaters of the Yangtze River in China. In his private life, he and Ruth sponsored an ELCA and Lutheran World Relief initiative to fight malaria, particularly in Africa. And the couple’s commitment to Luther was profound. A passionate advocate of the liberal arts model, and Luther in particular, Sorenson said that Luther was a place “where I could explore numerous academic disciplines with a faculty that could know and care for me; where I could sing in a choir without being a music major; where I could explore how my evolving beliefs fit into the world around me. “
Sorenson was a member of Luther’s Council of Regency and various strategic planning committees for 12 years. In 2005 he received a Distinguished Service Award from the college and in 2013 he received an honorary degree from Luther College. His long history of philanthropy at Luther with Ruth includes support for the Morris A. Sorenson Family Scholarship, Luther Fund, Black Alumni Association Scholarship, Class of 1980 Scholarship, Sampson Hoffland Laboratories, Center for the Arts, and des Aquatic Center, the Richard and Judith Torgerson Sesquicentennial Scholarship, and the Judy Torgerson Study Abroad Scholarship. In the spring of 2020, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation awarded Luther a grant of USD 100,000 in his honor.
Arne and Ruth Sorenson’s son Lars graduated from Luther College in 2017. Sorenson’s legacy with Luther will be felt for generations, and his life will inspire future business leaders, global citizens, and humanists. Nancy K. Barry, Professor of English, noted on receiving his Honorary Degree that Sorenson approached the world and everything in it “with curiosity, passion and deep sensitivity for the lives of others”.
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