Werner Nistler 2020 UND Sioux Award Recipient

During Homecoming 2019, Werner Nistler, ’68, stood before a crowd in the Gorecki Alumni Center to honor him and his wife, Colleen, for making the lead $20 million gift for a new College of Business & Public Administration building.

Earlier, it had been revealed that the College would be renamed the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration in their honor.

The UND Band marched into the room playing the school fight song to kick off the celebration and a group of students wearing Nistler CoBPA t-shirts filed in as the student body president thanked the Nistlers.

Finally, Werner spoke to those assembled.

“My hope for all of you is that you live a life full of fun and reach out to others to help them along,” he said. “As they say, we walk this way but once, and I want to walk the very best way I possibly can. I hope you take what is here and pay it forward; do what you can to help society. When we use our talents and work with others, we can make a significant difference in the world.”

The event touched the Nistlers deeply.

“That was truly incredible,” said Werner when reflecting on the ceremony. “The highlight was the band playing. They were passionate about playing those instruments. It felt really good.”

North Dakota upbringing

Werner grew up on a farm near Golva, North Dakota, and lived in nearby Beach, North Dakota, during his high school years. He and six of his nine siblings attended UND.

After arriving in Grand Forks, Werner went to work as a dishwasher in the Smith Hall cafeteria to pay for college. He worked his way up to cook and eventually became the student manager of the cafeteria, a job he held for his last three years on campus.

Werner began his accounting career after receiving a master’s degree from Arizona State University and spending two years in the Army. It was during a time when he served as the secretary-treasurer for a chain of nursing homes/retirement communities that he had the idea for a new kind of community.

As he traveled to the company’s properties, he was saddened to see couples separated when one needed more care than the other. He had a vision to create retirement communities where couples could stay together by providing a continuum of services. Touchmark was born in 1980 from that vision.

He met Colleen when she was hired as an accountant with Touchmark. Colleen and Werner have six children.

Today, Touchmark, based in Beaverton, Oregon, operates 14 full-service retirement communities in 10 states and one Canadian province, including communities in Bismarck, Fargo, and Sioux Falls and one in development in McKinney, Texas. The Nistlers have also owned medical records processing companies along with several other businesses.

Werner and Colleen Nistler were the guests of honor at an event during Homecoming 2019.

Culture of excellence

From day one, Werner says they have operated with five values: excellence, teamwork, hospitality, integrity, and compassion.

“If you take the first letter of each of those five words, it spells ‘ethic.’ We always try to do what is right for the resident, what is right for our team members, and what is right for us as an organization. It is not so much about money that you make, it’s about how you are taking care of people. These values brought that forth.”

Nistler gives credit to his entire Touchmark workforce for the success of the company. Team members meet each day to talk about the standards by which the company operates.

“As a result, it reminds everyone of our giving culture. We strive to be the very best at taking care of our residents and we want to treat our personnel the very best we can. Having a company of givers is what Touchmark is all about.”

Building project

In 2019, Werner and Colleen stepped forward to be the lead donors on a new building for the College of Business & Public Administration. Werner says they committed to the project after seeing what he called a “wave of excellence” on campus.

“We just thought this would be an appropriate gift to make to such a wonderful University and for a wonderful cause. It is a tangible way to thank all of the UND professors for the awesome education I and my six siblings received as well as acknowledge the inspiring work of today’s professors who are teaching the leaders of tomorrow. It is a way to give back not only to UND, but to the state of North Dakota as well.”

Werner and Colleen also thought their gift might be an inspiration to students well into the future.

“All of a sudden, young students realize, ‘Hey, there are people out here who really care.’ And if they have that attitude that somebody cares about them, that’s going to give them confidence and that’s going to take it to another level. That next level is going to be going out and doing good in the world, and that then feeds on itself.”

Werner says he has been contacted by many Nistler relatives who heard about the name being associated with the acclaimed UND College of Business & Public Administration.

“This gift is a tribute to the entire Nistler family. I want to recognize them for all the hard work over the years that the Nistlers brought forth to better their local communities.”

Sioux Award

Werner and Colleen attended the 2019 Sioux Awards as honored guests. They received a standing ovation from the 800 people in attendance when they were asked to stand and be recognized for their gift.

Having experienced the awards banquet, Werner says he is looking forward to receiving his Sioux Award this fall. He says it’s an honor to be in the company of the prominent people who’ve received the award.

“I feel very fortunate and lucky.”

— By Milo Smith, UND Alumni Magazine Writer