Vision and History


St. Olaf Buntrock Commons is a community center for the campus, serving all of members of the college family. Students, faculty, administration and support staff, alumni/ae, parents, friends and supporters of the college all belong to the St. Olaf College family. Buntrock Commons serves as the physical and social crossroads of campus life. As such, the space houses the primary services needed by students to support their academic, residential and social lives. These services include dining, student government offices, meeting spaces and offices for student organizations, the campus bookstore, and a post office. Social and cultural needs are met through co-curricular activities and events and supported by spaces where formal and informal gatherings take place. While serving the whole college community, this space is a student-centered Commons.


The St. Olaf Center, which served nearly 2,850 students, was dedicated in 1960 to accommodate a student body of 1,800. The need for places for students to gather, eat, relax, study, and see and be seen has grown as the student body size has increased. In 1995 President Mark U. Edwards Jr. appointed a committee to further study the requirements for spaces on the campus which served students. A committee of faculty, staff, and students was established and began the process for developing a new college commons. In the summer of 1996, Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Massachusetts, was chosen to design the Commons. Schematic design for the building began in November of 1996, and under the construction management of Oscar J. Boldt Construction of Appleton, Wisconsin, the building was dedicated in the fall of 1999. A lead gift of $26 million from the Buntrock family made the building possible — the largest single gift ever made to St. Olaf or any other Lutheran college in the United States

When the planning committee met to discuss building Buntrock Commons, they dreamed of a building that was not just another structure. To guide the process of developing such a building, they read David Orr’s Architecture as Pedagogy.  Designers were adamant to build a place where people could both gather and learn. The building, connected to Boe Memorial Chapel and Rølvaag Memorial Library, reflects the important connection between body, spirit, and mind.

Dean Buntrock (1955 St. Olaf graduate) strongly believed in the mission of the college, and the building would not have been possible without his gift. He and his wife, Rosemary, also took part in the planning of the building and influenced its design.  The Commons, which was opened in November 1999, is named in honor of the Buntrock family: Dean and his wife, Rosemarie; his brother, Clayton (1957 St. Olaf graduate); and his children, Dana, Margot, and Charley.

When planning, students insisted on creating a central location where everyone could eat together. Stav Hall is now the center for food and conversation at St. Olaf. Knowing that most students frequent the cafeteria three times a day, Stav Hall has a dramatic design and a comfortably sized room, with different sized tables and nooks to allow for various kinds of groups and conversations.

ACU-I: The Role of the College Union

As an institutional member of the Association of College Unions International, St. Olaf College subscribes to many of the core philosophies and beliefs stated in the following mission statement of ACU-I. Although Buntrock Commons is not a college union in the traditional sense, the use of the word union in ACU-I’s mission statement is done in historical context.

The union is the community center of the college, serving students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests. By whatever form or name, a college union is an organization offering a variety of programs, activities, services, and facilities that, when taken together, represent a well-considered plan for the community life of the college.

The union is an integral part of the educational mission of the college.

  • As the center of the college community life, the union complements the academic experience through an extensive variety of cultural, educational, social, and recreational programs. These programs provide the opportunity to balance course work and free time as cooperative factors in education.
  • The union is a student-centered organization that values participatory decision-making. Through volunteerism, its boards, committees, and student employment, the union offers first-hand experience in citizenship and educates students in leadership, social responsibility, and values.
  • In all its processes, the union encourages self-directed activity, giving maximum opportunity for self-realization and for growth in individual social competency and group effectiveness.

The union’s goal is the development of persons as well as intellects.

Traditionally considered the hearthstone or living room of the campus, today’s union is the gathering place of the college. The union provides services and conveniences that members of the college community need in their daily lives and creates an environment for getting to know and understand others through formal and informal associations.

The union serves as a unifying force that honors each individual and values diversity. The union fosters a sense of community that cultivates enduring loyalty to the college.

Adopted by the Association’s general membership in 1996, this statement is based on the Role of the College Union statement, 1956.