In Memoriam: Michael Valder (’62)

Loras College mourns the passing of Mike Valder (’62), a member of the College’s Board of Regents and a stalwart supporter of Loras students.

“Mike was an accomplished attorney, but he dedicated his life toward championing those most suffering on the margins of our society,” Loras College President Jim Collins (‘ 84) said. “To that end, he and his wonderful wife, Janet, have contributed significant funds to Loras in support of first generation, and financially needy students. Students from Arizona were especially dear to his heart as he and Janet funded a number of trips for area students to visit the College with the hope that they would enroll. Fortunately, many did so.”

Valder received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Loras in 1962, where he was active in social justice programs and served as President of both the Iowa Regional and National Federation of Catholic College Students. He received his JD degree from Georgetown University. After practicing and teaching in Washington, D.C., he moved to Phoenix in 1973 and established his expertise representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases until he retired from law practice in 2006. 

Mike (’62) and Janet Valder

Throughout his legal career and since then and he has continued his social justice work with several non-profit organizations, including public interest law and campaign finance reform groups.

In honor of his brother Robert Valder (‘ 60), a civil rights organizer in the South, Mike and Janet established the Robert Valder Social Justice Scholarship program at Loras. While it started as an award in name and a financial contribution to a student’s tuition, the scholarship transformed into an 8-10 week summer experience working at a social justice organization.

The impact of the scholarship has been significant to many students since its inception in 1988. Every year, students have had transformative experiences made possible by Mike and Janet.

“My first encounter with Mike was when I received the Valder Award my junior year,” Stacia McDermott (’03), director of spiritual life and peace and justice, recalled. “I spent my summer interning at the national office for Interfaith Worker Justice. Of all my experiences at Loras, that summer was most definitely the most impactful. 

“The past ten years, I have been inspired by Mike’s vision and steadfast commitment to Loras and social justice. Mike always talked about how ‘students come to Loras to earn an education. During their time here, they receive formation, and the ultimate hope is that students undergo an experience of transformation.’ Year after year, I have witnessed the summer Valder Social Justice award providing that experience of transformation for students.”

“We have lost a great, kind, and generous man,” Nancy Fett (‘ 90), associate professor of social work, said. “I do believe his legacy will live on in the lives of people he has helped through all of his efforts. There are people who may not know his name, but their lives are better because he walked with us for a while. His example will continue to influence me for the rest of my journey.”

Fett is another Valder Scholarship recipient. In returning to Loras as a faculty member, she forged a strong bond with Valder to reshape the benefits that scholarship students received.

“When I think of Mike, I think of how his face would light up when he attended the fall presentations, and he was witnessing students who were ‘changed,’ who ‘got it,’ and the delight he exhibited when asking questions. He really believed in this movement (as did I), and he continued to work towards making this an even stronger initiative. Even in the lean years we have experienced in the last decade, his commitment helped to keep students in summer placements,” she said.

Valder never stopped his commitment to Loras students. His influence continued beyond the scholarship, as he focused on helping students in marginalized communities expand their education.

Collins stated, “Mike loved Loras. He was an outspoken advocate for students on the margins. In particular, Mike was so excited about our Hispanic-Serving Initiative efforts. He funded our Valder Scholar Summer Internship program and often personally housed them.”

Mike and Janet also conceived of a new initiative, The Loras Giving Circle, for an annual fund for social justice internships and projects to create opportunities for members of the Loras community to engage in transformative experiences in the areas of peace, interfaith understanding, diversity, equity and inclusion.

“My hope is that Mike’s impact will continue through his most recent effort, The Loras Giving Circle for Social Justice Internships and Projects, which expands on Mike’s life-long efforts to create a more just and loving world starting right here at Loras,” McDermott said.

One of the lasting impressions he left on Fett was how he lived out his beliefs. “Mike is probably the best example who modeled for me the idea of ‘Faith by action.’ He truly lived out Matthew 25:35-36: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'”

Mike’s full obituary can be found here.

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).