C. Walter Mortenson earned his bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences in 1937 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He received a PhD in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1940 and worked as a research chemist for Du Pont from 1940 to 1945. After earning a law degree from Temple University in 1945, he worked in the Du Pont legal department until 1955 when he founded Mortenson and Uebler, a private law practice in Wilmington, Delaware. He retired from private practice in 1981 and passed away in 1996.
Gerda B. Mortenson received her RN at Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago, and earned a degree in public health nursing from the University of Hawaii in 1939. She earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1944 and for several years worked as a public health nurse for the State of Delaware. Mrs. Mortenson passed away in 1996.
In 1986, through a generous gift of $2 million from C. Walter and Gerda B. Mortenson, the Mortenson Distinguished Professorship for International Library Programs was created. The professorship focuses on international library programs for the promotion of international education, understanding, and peace. At the time it was established, it was the first named academic position of its kind in the United States. Marianna Tax Choldin was appointed the first Mortenson Distinguished Professor. In December 2002, 1997-1998 American Library Association President Barbara Ford was named the second Distinguished Professor.
An additional gift of $2 million in 1991 created the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs to expand the activities of the professorship through a variety of unique programs. The Mortenson Center and the Mortenson Distinguished Professorship seek to strengthen international ties among libraries and librarians, regardless of geographic location or access to technology. Librarians from 90 countries have already taken advantage of programming through the Mortenson Center - the only one of its kind in the world.
The Mortenson Center is located at the University of Illinois, considered one of the finest universities in the world. With a wealth of resources and highly ranked departments, Illinois is on the cutting edge in many academic fields and has long been recognized for its accomplishments in research and graduate education. There are over 40,000 students at the University of Illinois from 50 states and 100 nations. The University of Illinois is located in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana (combined population: 100,000), situated about 140 miles south of Chicago in a rural, agricultural location.
The Mortenson Center offices are located in the University of Illinois Library. The University Library is the largest academic library at a public university in the United States. It ranks behind Harvard and Yale as the third-largest academic library in the United States. Today, with holdings of more than 13 million volumes, the library has strengths in many areas ranging from hard sciences to the humanities.