Hello on an early morning from my office,
The past week I have been in my office to work by 6:30 most mornings, but it still feels like there is more to do than the time to do it. That is a normal part of a semester as we zoom toward a finish and it seems to be the rule for the day as we move into the last 10 days before finals. As I have been working with my students, I have wondered who else from that little school on the bluffs of the Missouri continued on into academia. While I have had some classmates tell me they were not surprised I ended up in this role, I was. It was not what I had planned. As I have noted in many of my blogs, I am not sure I knew much of what I would become. Of course, my perchance introduction to Dana College was also not something planned. In fact, even though I only grew up about 80 miles away, I had never heard of Dana College, but a visit while traveling on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team, Daybreak, and meeting people like Merle Brockhoff, Gary Beltz, Mary Rowland, and a few others left a lasting impression that had me applying to return following my year of peregrinating the Midwest. While we traveled 48,000 miles in that 9 months, meeting more people and eating more church potlucks than I could still even try to count, the visits (and I believe there were two) to Dana stood out.
What was amazing about the Dana community, even as someone who was only there for a couple of days, and initially not interested in becoming a student – either there or anywhere for that matter – was the care and camaraderie that I saw among the students and the student groups. Surprisingly, and more important at the time, was their care was extended to my teammates and me. That interest and care would continue after we left that hilltop campus in that little town of Blair, and when we returned during the spring semester I had a very different perception of Dana College as well as what it might become. During that visit I had the opportunity to visit two professors and articulate my ideas about returning the following year, but as a student. I must admit, in the spirit of total transparency, that one professor was not very welcoming, but the other professor would become one of my advisors and the people in admissions worked tirelessly with me as I traveled from place to place, the wandering and itinerant youth ministry minstrel. Admissions George, as I would come to know him (whose real name was Rick Schuler) was wonderful in making my move back to being a college student a reality.
While those experiences made my decision to come to Dana much more of a sort of no-brainer for this somewhat non-traditional student, what would follow in the years I spent there was beyond any inkling of what I would or could imagine. Because I was that anomaly: a pre-seminary, former Marine Corps Drill Instructor, 24 year old freshman student, I struggled to figure out how being back with people who were in 7th grade when I was a senior would work. Blair was a long way from MCRD and Viet Nam. Fortunately individuals like Tom Kendall, Kim Nielsen, Merle Brockhoff, Mary Rowland, Sandra Barnum, Lynn Hohneke, Barbara Kalal, and others kept me sane and I learned how to fit into the little campus that initially seemed too small. At the same time, it was the close-knit student community that helped me realize I could fit in. There were certainly the men on Fourth Floor on the North side of Holling Hall who made daily living worth coming to my room each day. Working as one of the leaders of campus ministry teams and the weekly bonfires at the cross were integral to believing Dana was both socially stimulating and worth hanging on to.
What really inspired and motivated me was my class work and being in the college choir of Dr. Paul Neve. Each of my classes challenged both my thought and my energy. That went for every single class. I had King Rich for composition (yes, you read that correctly), and I believe it was the only semester he ever taught it. I had Intro to Religion with the Pope. By the end of that year they would both become my academic advisors. It is not often you can say you have a King and a Pope to offer you counsel. I also had an Introduction to Business class (from Dr. Donald Baack) and I think I can say up to this very day, and four degrees later, those take-home, multiple choice exams were the most difficult “objective” exams I have ever attempted. During my time as a student, professors with the name of Nielsen (and there were multiple), Jorgensen, Olsen, and Johnson, the sons of others as their name indicates, as well as Warman, Lemon, Brandes, Stone, Neve, and Hutton would push me beyond anything I knew possible, but they changed my life for the better. How? It was not what they taught me, but rather how they taught me to think and to analyze. None of them were regurgitation, memory-bank professors. That is without a doubt what the humanities sequence did for anyone willing to take it seriously. It was impossible to not be stunned by the connectivity of science, language and architecture, of poetry, music, and politics. The important skill learned was to think, evaluate, and most importantly to synthesize. To this day, I have all my humanities study guides and notes in my office where I now teach. The picture above for those unsure is part of the Memorial to Michael Kirk, who was one of my freshman students when I was an RA. He passed suddenly, tragically, and unexpectedly. It has been a bit beyond 35 years since I left and 40 since I stepped on campus.
That is two generations of students ago. Some of those incredible mentors, the men and women who professed their love of knowledge and their specific discipline to us are no longer with us. Some are elderly, but still here. When is the last time you reached out to them to tell them thank you for what they provided? I can tell you from my own experience as a professor for the last 20 years that those notes or cards are worth more than any paycheck I will ever receive. I have spoken to a couple of them recently and I am honored now to be considered by them as one student who followed their steps and on my more brilliant days perhaps a colleague. When I was at Dana the thought of a doctorate flashed through the recesses of my brain once or twice, but I seldom felt either smart or disciplined enough. Yet, somehow it happened. While the road was neither straight nor the path simple, that is often the way with things that matter and those goals which take more than a bit of time. As I would move through my M.Div and beyond, the number of times I realized how the rigor of the work I did at Dana prepared me for both the academy and life is exponential. Whether it was taking Physiology and Anatomy as a history major and being told by Dr. Larrie Stone (both with care and discipline) I would need to manage this med school weed-out class or drop, when it was being pushed to write incredible papers in my Christian Thought class by Dr. John W. or finally to the hard and creative work with Dixie Frisk and Kristi Swenson as we transformed into Marie Antoinette, a peasant woman and Rousseau for our version of “Meeting the Minds” in Dr. Jorgensen’s European Civ class, we were encouraged and supported to become more than students. More than students? What does that mean? I regularly tell my students to consider the concept of “claiming their education.” This is the basis of an address given by the feminist poet, Adrienne Rich, to the students at Rutgers University. Long before she tendered this advice, our professors at Dana were already embodying this. They provided us access to a scholarly community and they were partners with us as we explored what it meant to be citizens and scholars in a world so much larger than Blair, NE. They prepared us to think, analyze, and synthesize what we learned in a manner that would serve us in whatever profession or place, onto whatever deep sea we might venture. People on my floors became actuarial experts, pharmacists, medical doctors, clergy, teachers, and, yes, even professors.
While the halls of the C. A. Dana Science building, Old and then new Old Main, Pioneer Memorial, or Borup are no longer turning out students, the sons and daughters of all of us have something of that Viking spirit within them. What you learned and the people you have become did not happen only in Blair on a hill and below a cross on yet another hill. The parents and grandparents, the professionals and leaders of your communities or churches are part and parcel of what happened while you were moving from teen to adult. The connections you made and continue to make in the world are things that you can and do offer your own. The change I see in my students from when they first step foot on campus to those who are graduating in barely two more weeks is astonishing, and yet that is only the beginning. How they move forward in the world is something that I have some input into. That is both an honor and a responsibility. Again, as Dr. Rich noted in her address, we all have a “response-ability.” What is that response we can provide as Vikings, as members of a student body from a very small, but academically large, western Nebraska town? As I consider some of my classmates from the time I spent in Blair (1979-1983), I am foremost proud to be numbered among them. If allowed, I am proud and humbled by their accomplishments. The spirit lives on and while the throng we raise might not call Dana its home, it is in their heritage; it is in their D(a)NA. I offer this video of that song that still gives me chills and fills me with pride.
Thank you as always for reading,
Dr. Martin (aka: Michael)