Remembering Arne Sorenson


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Arne Sorenson (’80), chief executive officer of Marriott International Inc. died of pancreatic cancer on Monday, February 15.

On Monday, February 15, Arne Sorenson (‘80), Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International Inc., died of pancreatic cancer. Since graduating in 1980, Sorenson served on the Luther College Board of Regents for 12 years, and supported the college both strategically and financially.

After his graduation from Luther College, Sorenson went on to law school at University of Minnesota and earned a partnership in the law firm of Latham & Watkins. He was recruited by J.W. Marriott and joined the Marriott corporation in 1996 to serve as a senior vice-president, and in two years time became the corporation’s Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice-President. In 2007 he launched Marruitt’s rainforest preservation partnership with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation in Brazil – the same year he joined the Luther College Board of Regents. In 2012 Arne Sorenson became the first individual outside the Marriott family proper to hold the position of CEO of Marriott International Inc.

“He was very involved with all kinds of activities,” Director of Alumni Relations Sherry Alcock (‘82)\ said. “I think what I saw throughout the years was his willingness to help with anything possible — whether it was providing internships for students, housing them if they need a place to stay in Washington DC; he helped us with alumni events, campaign events — he was always there.”

During his time as a Luther student, Sorenson double-majored in religion and business management. Sorenson also involved himself in music at Luther and participated in several extra-curriculars. President Jenifer Ward considers Sorenson to be an exemplar of Luther’s mission due to his continued involvement and dedication to the college.

“He embodied Luther’s education in the sense that he showed up every place, every way, every conversation, as someone who is curious,” Ward said. “He could disagree with you, but was willing to treat your beliefs seriously, and actually consider them. You know, you don’t always expect this of people in high places with lots of power. But whoever he was with, he cared about what you said. While with Arne, you felt that you are just his best friend. Think about the impact that has. You leave the interaction thinking you’re the most important person in the world.”

During his service on the Board of Regents, Sorenson spent most of his time in the Institutional Planning and Board Affairs (IPBA) and Outreach and Gift Committee. He was recognized by the college with a Distinguished Service Award in 2005, and he received a Luther College honorary degree, Doctor of Laws honoris causa, in 2013. Vice President for Development Stephen Sporer expressed his appreciation for Sorenson’s impact on the college.

“There’s probably not a corner or a part of [Luther] campus that Arne’s goodness hasn’t touched in some way,” Sporer said. “It’s spectacular to serve for the college with a leadership role for 12 years. He was a part of a strategic conversation about how to move Luther forward.”

Sorenson and his wife Ruth Christenson have a history of philanthropy with Luther College. This includes support for the Morris A. Sorenson Family Scholarship, the Luther Fund, the Black Alumni Association Scholarship, the Class of 1980 Scholarship, and contributions towards Sampson Hoffland Laboratories, the Center for the Arts, the Luther 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 $100,000 in his honor. Sporer shared his thoughts on Sorenson’s long history of philanthropy at Luther.

“He was an advocate for [Luther and liberal arts education],” Sporer said. “That’s why he wanted to financially support students to be here. He exhibited the power of philanthropy to change people’s lives and give opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Reverend Michael Burk, a member of the Board of Regents, developed a close friendship with Sorenson during the duration of their 11 years of service together. He shared his impressions of Sorenson.

“He’s being remembered as an extraordinary human being,” Burk said. “Arne would be the first to say that he’s not extraordinary. That he’s just a person like any other person, trying to do his best. There are no barriers to his willingness to engage others. Even if those others thought about life and the world differently than he did. Everyone I know who met him wanted to consider him their friend. He used his resources, whether it was intellectual or time or finances, to better the lives of others.”