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The Life, Leadership, and Legacy of Dr. Lou Ann B. Jorgensen

Lou Ann Birkbeck Jorgensen (May 14, 1931 - January 21, 2023) lived through times that saw amazing changes in women’s lives across this country. Her personal journey reflects the transformations many women of her generation experienced. Her College of Social Work colleagues and friends are proud to have been part of her story, and we honor her here by remembering her long and rich life.

High school yearbook photo of Lou Ann BirkbeckThe future Dr. Lou Ann B. Jorgensen grew up in Park City, UT, where her father ran the silver mines before building the first ski lifts in the area. She was an outstanding student, regularly lauded in The Park Record for scholastic honors, including as salutatorian of her 1949 high school graduating class. She entered Westminster University (then Westminster College) as a freshman, where she met her future husband, Howard Jorgensen. The two ultimately completed their undergraduate degrees together at the University of Utah—Howard in Communication and Lou Ann in Home Economics with a focus on Fashion Merchandising. Additionally, Lou Ann was one of the first three students at the U to earn a Certificate in Industrial Journalism, a then-new program combining journalism training with another major.

Photo of Lou Ann Birkbeck and Carol Lou Kimball wearing graduation regalia at the University of Utah Commencement CeremonyThroughout the 1950s, as she excelled in academics, Lou Ann was also celebrated on the high-society pages of The Salt Lake Telegram and The Salt Lake Tribune. The articles of old tell the story of an era few recall, as they extoll the “titian-haired beauty” who was Fire Week Queen in 1950, and describe the “bride-elect’s” dress details at a luncheon announcing the upcoming nuptials of the “two popular members of the young social set.” From the same time period, a society writer enticed guests to attend one of the many sorority and community runway-style fashion shows Lou Ann led, noting “Clothes shown will take milady around the clock from morn through night.”

To further consider that Lou Ann navigated through high-society’s princess-lined dresses to the University’s highest fashion level—doctoral regalia earned along with her 1979 PhD in social work—demonstrates her strength of character, determination, intelligence, adaptability, and the supportive love of her family.

Lou Ann was always bright and hard-working. She was a leader as Junior League President in 1969, and later as associate dean at the College of Social Work (then the Graduate School of Social Work) in the 1980s. She was an early advocate for more women in campus leadership at the U—a stance that surely rocked the boat of the eight male vice presidents when she commented on that inequality in a 1988 story in The Daily Utah Chronicle. In that same article, she noted, “At the U, we look for women [from outside Utah], we get them here, [then] we don’t have the money and we can’t provide assistance.” Photo of Dr. Lou Ann Jorgensen and Dr. Audeane Cowley looking at an open bookThis concern surfaced in her beloved social work program as well, and likely inspired her Lou Ann B. Jorgensen Doctoral Endowed Scholarship criteria prioritizing support for out-of-state students. Lou Ann recognized that different perspectives were needed to expand horizons on the campus and in the social work profession. She did all she could to encourage those voices with diverse ideas to come to Utah.

There was also a lot of love in all of this—professional and personal. Lou Ann was passionate about her career. But she knew Howard championed her pursuit of two graduate degrees (MSW 1972; PhD 1979) as a non-traditional student while they were parenting three young, rascally boys (per the grown sons’ own reports). Women rarely did—or could—take these leaps. To put one’s own pursuit of additional degrees and a career at the forefront when your spouse had a job and you had to “leave” your children!?! Photo of Lou Ann Birkbeck and Howard Jorgensen DancingThe outfits needed for this iteration of “milady” were devoid of gloves and costume dresses—even though this lady worked exceedingly hard from morn to night.

Throughout and following their illustrious careers, Lou Ann and Howard remained a campus power couple. They were leaders in the Alumni Association, Homecoming Marshalls in 2007, and generous donors to the U—particularly the College of Social Work, the Natural History Museum of Utah, and Athletics. Lou Ann launched her eponymous CSW doctoral endowed scholarship in 2011; since her passing on January 21, 2023—a year to the day after Howard passed away—her family has generously grown Lou Ann’s scholarship endowment. Additionally, in keeping with the couple’s decades of partnership in every adventure, the family initiated a scholarship in Howard’s memory this year—the Howard Jorgensen Endowed Scholarship supports undergraduates majoring in strategic communication.

The University will forever appreciate Lou Ann and Howard’s shared legacy of support for the campus during their lives, as well as the student scholarships that will encourage learning in perpetuity.

Photo portrait of Howard and Lou Ann Jorgensen

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Last Updated: 1/22/24