Couple makes ‘profound impact’ on college
By Lisa Ridder
Myrna (Dalzell) and Merwin Lyng of Mayville, North Dakota, met while attending Mayville State Teachers College, now called Mayville State University (MSU), in the late 1950s. Over the next 60+ years, the two have made their presence felt at the college — as students, staff and volunteers. And they continue to serve, promote and make an impact at the college in their retirement years.
“None of it was really planned and it all just kind of evolved,” said Merwin, referring to their history at MSU. “A lot of it was just taking advantage of the opportunities presented to us.”
Merwin was born four miles east of the campus. He attended Mayville High School. He received his bachelor’s degree from Mayville State, his master’s degree from Colorado State College of Education (now called the University of Northern Colorado) and his Ph.D. from Ohio State University. Merwin also did summer post-graduate work at six other universities across the country and also served eight years in the United States Air Force.
“I studied mathematics and mathematics education,” he said. “Mathematics provided me with an avenue to determine a direction for my future.”
That future included 43 years in education.
“My first job was teaching mathematics at Central High School in Grafton. I returned to Mayville and started what would be a 40- year career at MSU. I served as the chairman of the Science, Mathematics and Computer Division for many years. I retired in 1998 and was awarded the title of professor emeritus of mathematics. While I was at Mayville State, I was proud to collaborate with three other MSU professors to develop and execute the highly successful Mathematics Specialist program, which helped public school teachers in North Dakota and Minnesota earn master’s degrees,” said Merwin.
Myrna was born in Langdon, North Dakota, and raised in nearby Walhalla, North Dakota.
“I graduated from Walhalla High School and I too attended MSU,” she said. “I received my master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. I worked at MSU for a combined 13 years of full-time and part-time employment. I was a faculty member in the library science program and as the president’s assistant for public relations.”
After she retired, Myrna was asked if she could stay on and help for a while. She served as a nonpaid volunteer for a year in the alumni office.
“We often joked that my pay was all the leftover homecoming parade candy I could eat,” she said.
The Lyngs have made every effort to stay connected to the college in any way possible. They feel they were blessed to be in a position to make a difference one opportunity at a time.
“We established the endowed Merwin and Myrna Lyng Family Scholarship at MSU with the donor preference to mathematics students,” said Myrna. “We were in a financial position to pay back for what the university has done for us. We often say that MSU gave us both a living and a life—and to pay forward so that others can have similar experiences.”
“We have each been awarded the Mayville State University Distinguished Service Award,” said Myrna. “As for the reasons I got it, I would have to say ‘long and exemplary service to the school’ that would be over and above just showing up for work for years.”
Merwin also received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995. (Side note: Their daughter, Karen, and their son, John, are both recipients of the Distinguished Alumni award.)
“Merwin volunteered dozens of hours to help transform the former Mayville Clinic building into the Laurie Berry Christian Center, which would house MSU student athletes who wanted a housing alternative to a college dormitory,” said Myrna. The Center was dedicated in memory of former MSU education professor, the late Laurie Berry. Both Merwin and Myrna have volunteered to help with maintenance, including cleaning and taking care of the flower beds.
“We are members and moral and/or financial supporters of the Comet Athletic Club, the White Hats Club (football) and support groups for each of the other men’s and women’s sports at Mayville State as well as the Mayville State and Community Fine Arts program,” said Myrna.
The Lyngs are big sports fans, so it’s no surprise at least one of them would be named the “Fan of the Year,” with Myrna receiving that honor for her support of MSU Comet athletics.
Myrna has baked dozens upon dozens of cookies and bars, sending them with teams heading to national tournaments. Merwin and Myrna have been to national tournaments for baseball and men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, going as far as Idaho, Missouri and South Dakota to follow the Comets.
“In my 40-plus years as the head baseball coach the Lyng family support has been second to none,” said MSU Comets head baseball coach, Scott Berry. “They are faithful, loyal and devoted. They are true friends of all of us within the MSU athletic department. We are indebted to them for all they have done for us.”
As sports fans, the Lyngs also follow Ohio State University football. They have traveled east many times to watch them play. In recent years, they have also traveled a large part of the United States in support of their grandsons, Keegan, who played college and professional hockey and Kellen, who played college lacrosse.
The Lyngs have volunteered countless hours, serving on committees for various fundraisers to support the school and its activities.
When the East and West residence halls were torn down, the Lyngs salvaged architectural items and made many of them into pieces of memorabilia that were eventually purchased by alumni. The proceeds went to Mayville State. Some of the other items they salvaged are now in the newly dedicated Garden of Remembrance on the campus.
“We have a country home outside of Mayville and over the decades we have opened it to new MSU employees, parents of students, alumni and others who have needed temporary housing for various reasons,” said Myrna.
Some of the people who have stayed at the ‘country home’ include two presidents and several football coaches who stayed there until they found permanent housing, a college vice president and his wife who had sold their house and were waiting for their newly constructed house to be finished, and also a former state senator and current North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who stayed there with his wife after the 1997 flood.
“Parents of student athletes who lived far away were especially happy to have the place when there were weekend games and they could use it as a gathering place for their student-athlete and other family or friends,” she said.
The Lyngs have made, refinished or repurposed many of the items they have used to decorate both their house in Mayville and the one in the country. Their daughter, Karen, made matching quilt and pillow case sets for every bed in the house.
“I found some old chairs and I learned caning and repaired the chairs,” said Merwin. “I have used discarded artifacts from buildings and discarded musical instruments and repurposed them into things like planters and lamps.” Merwin has a shop at the country house. He has redone dozens of pieces of furniture.
The Lyngs’ volunteerism is not limited to Mayville State. Both have been volunteers on committees or boards at Mayville Lutheran Church and Myrna was the volunteer church librarian for many years. She is the coordinator of the mission-quilters group at the church and has sewn dozens of quilt tops and backs herself. Merwin was the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission for the city of Mayville for 40+ years. They financially supported the improvements at the Mayville Golf Club. Myrna worked on numerous committees in support of athletics and the fine arts at the Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg (MPCG) High School. Myrna served on the Mayville Public Library board for many terms. Merwin was a member of the Traill County Historical Society board for several years and also served as a board member for the Goose River Heritage Center in Mayville.
Merwin and Myrna have a love for antiques. Last summer, they had a big antique auction sale and decreased their sizeable collection. “We still find things,” said Myrna. “We see things and think they would be fun. We just like them.”
“I have a clock collection with more than 200 different clocks,” said Merwin. “They all run, too.”
“Yes, but they do not all run at the same time,” said Myrna. Merwin also does clock repairs.
The Lyngs have done a fair amount of traveling over the years. They have visited 43 states in the United States and 30 countries.
“I have enjoyed every place I have ever been,” said Merwin. “I believe I would enjoy any place else I may visit. I traveled a lot for the various professional organizations I was a part of. I was often asked to speak/present at various local, region and national conventions.”
Aside from classroom teaching, Merwin collaborated with two colleagues from Ohio State to write several mathematics textbooks. Merwin said, “One of the texts was highly successful in the United States and was selected for use in Canada. However, Canadian texts required Canadian authors, and that was especially important because everything had to be converted to metric. Two authors from Canada and we three Americans worked together to create the Canadian version.”
Merwin was also selected to be part of three delegations to go to China and the former U.S.S.R. to study mathematics education.
“Again, taking advantage of an opportunity. They asked who was interested, I was and I applied and then I was selected to go. (On the China trip) there were 23 of us.” As a nod to the “Gang of Four,” they were the “Gang of 23.”
The Lyngs are humbled and grateful for every recognition and opportunity they have been blessed to receive. On June 26, 2021, they would receive yet another MSU recognition. It was the day set aside to open and dedicate the MSU Garden of Remembrance. According to an MSU press release, it would be a place “where people who impacted the history of MSU could go and reflect on their memories.” It’s no surprise that the Lyngs had been a part of the project from the beginning, but there was one surprise... The Flagpole Garden in the MSU Garden of Remembrance was renamed and dedicated as the “Lyng Garden of Comet Pride.”
“We had no idea,” said Myrna. “In fact, we were called to the Larson Center supposedly to help with plaques for three memorial trees. When we got there we saw members of the MSU Foundation Board, who would meet that morning. At some point, they brought out the picture that Doug Anderson (MSU alumnus) had painted, showing the Lyng Garden. We were just astounded! They wanted to do that before the Saturday unveiling and dedication of the garden so that we would not be taken completely by surprise. What an honor! Our kids knew about it, but said not a word to us. They were there for the dedication.”
“Myrna and Merwin Lyng have had a profound impact at Mayville State University,” said Beth Swenson, Mayville State Director of Alumni Affairs. “They pour their hearts and souls into all things Mayville State. The Lyngs bleed Comet Blue and their dedication to helping Mayville State be the best that it can be has had an impact on so many - students, alumni, parents of students, and the community. It is our distinct honor to count them among Mayville State’s friends.”