Nistlers get in-person thanks for $20 million gift to UND

Dean says donation will impact students for years to come.

Werner and Colleen Nistler react during Friday's event honoring the couple for their $20 million donation to UND for the new Nistler School of Business and Public Administration. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Werner Nistler remembers being a student and walking up to UND's Chester Fritz Library. He wondered who Fritz was and why he donated money to the university to help students.

“I thought, well, maybe there’d be a time that I’d be able to do something like this,” Nistler said with tears in his eyes.

Now it’s happening.

Werner and his wife, Colleen, donated $20 million to build UND's new College of Business and Public Administration facility. The building will bear the Nistlers’ name, as will the college itself.

The Nistlers were honored for their gift Friday afternoon with a ceremony that included everything from a marching band performance to a UND hockey jersey presentation. There were jokes and some near tears.


It was the first time the Nistlers were on campus since being revealed as the anonymous donors during a North Dakota State Board of Higher Education meeting. Werner Nistler, who graduated from UND in 1968, said he’s been on campus four or five times since graduating. The Nistlers now live in Oregon.

After the ceremony ended, the couple were greeted by dozens of students, faculty, staff and community members to thank them for their contribution. The entire affair was a bit overwhelming, Werner Nistler said.

“It’s been a wonderful day and I’m very happy with how this has all turned out,” he said. “And I couldn’t be more happier than to have it with Colleen.”

Werner Nistler is the founder and chairman and Colleen is the vice chairperson of Touchmark, which owns 14 full-service senior living communities in 10 states and one Canadian province. This includes Touchmark communities in Bismarck and Fargo.

During his speech Friday, Werner Nistler said this donation wouldn’t have been possible without the many people who helped to start Touchmark and make the company what it is today.

Werner Nistler grew up on a farm near Golva, N.D., and in Beach, N.D. In addition to Werner, six of his nine siblings also attended UND. Two of his brothers also became CPAs thanks to UND.

Werner Nistler also thanked his parents during the speech.

Though she didn’t attend UND, Colleen Nistler said she’s been affected by others’ generosity by receiving a scholarship to go to college.


“We’ve been really blessed that Touchmark did really well and we wanted to find ways to help people out. We tend to focus on education,” she said. “Werner’s just so proud of being from North Dakota and so that was always in my mind that we would do something for the University of North Dakota. The timing was awesome that all of the sudden it fell into our lap, in a way.”

The excitement has been amazing, Colleen Nistler said.

“We hope that we’ve paid it forward for new students to come and have a fantastic education and then go out in the world and do the same thing,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the couple donated to the university; they also gave smaller amounts of money for scholarships before. The Nistlers hope their gifts can inspire others.

“There’s a lot of great people that come out of this state and I think with this gift, hopefully it will cause others to get good careers and do something good for others,” he said.

The North Dakota Legislature has promised to match the Nistlers’ $20 million contribution, if the UND Alumni Association and Foundation can raise the additional money for the project by the end of the next fiscal year. Amy Henley, dean of the CoBPA, said donations already have been coming in.

State Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, said the Nistlers’ gift stretches beyond UND and Grand Forks.

Henley said the Nistlers’ contribution will have an impact on students for years to come. The donation and new building also “establishes the legitimacy and the presence of our college in a way that has never happened before,” she said.


“It establishes opportunities for our students, our faculty, our staff that we had never dreamed of,” Henley said. “The resources, the support that it provides, truly change the landscape of the campus and our college.”

Henley said the Nistlers are a great example of living life with humility and integrity.

“Who better to be an example for students?” she said. “Students of the future will have the opportunity to learn in a high impact learning environment.”

Werner Nistler talks about his experience at UND during an event to honor Nistler and his wife, Colleen for their $20 million gift to build the Nistler School of Business and Public Administration Friday at the Gorecki Alumni Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Sydney Mook has been the news editor at the Post Bulletin since June 2023. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook was previously with the Grand Forks Herald from May 2018 to June 2023. She served as the Herald's managing editor, as well as the higher education reporter.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 507-285-7771.
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