Hello from my study,
It is the end of New Year’s Day and for the first time in 5 years I am not in Europe or Kraków the first day of the year, and more significantly in a half a decade. Of course, as I have noted in other posts, this NW Iowa boy never really imagined he might be considered a bit of a world traveler. I know there are people who travel much more than I do, but undoubtedly, much more has happened through the past five years than I ever expected possible. From traveling around much of Central and parts of Eastern Europe to making it to Russia this past summer, I continually realize that people are people and we all hope for much the same things.
My travel started as a 17 year old boy, leaving home while believing he was an adult through an enlistment in the United States Marines. It would take less than 24 hours and my hiding my head under my pillow as tears streamed down my face to know that I had not made it to adulthood yet. That, what they now call adulting thing, undoubtedly had not yet happened. One might hope that my time in the Corps would have developed an adult, and in certain ways, it most definitely did, but there was so much yet to learn. I would come back to Sioux City hoping I had grown up, but moving back into my parents’ home probably erased most of the progress I had made. All of the responsibility I had seemed to disappear and if it were not for my pastor, his family, and the Reeses, I think my regression could have been even more problematic. As I noted in other blogs, traveling for a year on the LYE team did a great deal of good because it exposed me to living with others and realizing there was much more to life, particularly in terms of learning and culture. Yet the travel that changed my life was a trip that I have noted in other posts. As a sophomore at Dana, the trips to Europe with Dr. Nielsen were already legendary. His incredible interest in all things cultural offered some new possibility to connect our nascent world view of literature, art, architecture, and world languages to the theme and itinerary he would develop. His ability to integrate our world still astounds me.
That interim was titled Auguries of Loneliness and we read books and stories by Earnest Hemingway and Thomas Mann. That reading and the travel the last days of the year 39 years ago and into January are still etched into both my memories and my very being. The incredible group of students like Doug Lemon, Alison Nichols, Gay Gordon, Lisa Hanson, Lisa Bansen, and many others I would remember from pictures created quite of cadre trouping along after Dr. Nielsen. I never realized just how much energy he had or the length of his inseam when I tried to jump from footprint to footprint in the snow as we experienced Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I remember sitting in the cathedral in Lübeck, listening to an organist play pieces by Buxtehude in the classic Baroque style. And I was in the very place he had played some of his compositions. That is not a daily occurrence. Standing on the balcony of Hamlet’s castle in Helsingør. as the cold wind blew across the North Sea, would change the way I read Hamlet for the rest of my life. Standing before Raphael’s paintings or walking into St. Peter’s Basilica is simply a life-changing proposition. I think you get the picture, but it was not what happened while I was there, which included my leaving the group in an attempt to return to America for health reasons (that is an entirely another story). It is what the trip did to change me.
Like too many of students I see in my own classrooms yet today, I had been taught or encouraged to memorize and regurgitate what I had put into short-term memory. The humanities sequence as a freshman and sophomore at Dana required something much different. It required, thought, analysis, and most importantly, integration or synthesis. My professors at Dana, and particularly all who lectured in 107, 205, and 206, wanted us to understand the complexity of the world we would enter, and furthermore, they believed in the concept of citizenship, harkening back to the Greeks and Romans we had studied. My trip to Europe took those lessons out of the Western Civilization book and the plethora of study guides and handouts and made my life a walking classroom. I would never see a class or classroom the same again. Education became a life-work; learning became a philosophical process. I am still a process person, trying to soak up as much as I can. Even when I left Dana, I had little idea I would become a college professor. I had thought of a PhD, but was content that I had been called to be a parish pastor.
I learned at Luther (then Luther Northwestern) that my education at Dana was as robust, if not more so, than many of my classmates who were on what I referred to as the Norwegian pipeline to ordination. In fact, there is more Norwegian heritage in my family tree than Danish, but Dana had prepared me well. I had learned to integrate and analyze better than many. And realizing that my education had not cost nearly as much was a sort of frosting on the proverbial cake. I saw the same in my Dana classmates. Classmates like Merle Brockhoff, Scott Grorud, or Wilbur Holz were not only intelligent, but they understood the rhetorical nature of being a parish pastor. That is, in my estimation, part of what we had learned at Dana. We were encouraged to be scholars, but also thoughtful and benevolent individuals; those things that would serve us well as pastors and caregivers. As I would return to graduate school to eventually obtain my doctoral degree, I found myself thinking back to the words of Larrie Stone, Milt Olson, Richard, Jorgensen, and all of the Nielsens. They pushed me to never be content. They encouraged me to reach out and work to understand and interpret more carefully. It is the same thing I try to instill in my own students now. Thinking critically and analyzing thoroughly are essential to being an educated, thoughtful, and informed citizen. All of those astounding individuals we saw as our professors were exactly that. What they professed they lived. I believe we often underestimated and under-appreciated the brilliance and goodness in front of us. That is not because we didn’t care or pay attention, but it is because wisdom comes after time and through reflection.
Certainly people, who continue Dana’s legacy through the archives, the committed individuals in the immediate Blair area who give so much to creating the October events, the work through social media, and those who provide the hard physical labor to manage the care of the physical place we know as Dana, particularly after a decade of emptiness, provide important gifts of time, talent, and resources to provide a possible legacy to the community of Blair, which is etched in the memories of 1,000s of alumni. Dr. Heinrich’s magnificent new cross on the bluff above campus shines a light worthy of so many of those memories. We are blessed by that continued creative spirit.
Indeed, the “spirit lifts another throng,” another generation of individuals who will understand the motto of enduring truth and what it means to each individual who claims the Viking tradition as their own personal legacy. Perhaps it is age; perhaps it is a sense of reality; whatever it is, I know that Dana will continue to live through me and beyond me. Those four years from 1979-1983, with a semester away at the University of Iowa, were the most influential of my three score plus four years. There were professors who supported, pushed, and even frustrated me. Dr. Delvin Hutton was probably tougher for, and on, me than any individual my entire time at Dana. He told me once I was not capable of managing something. To this day I am not sure if he believed that or merely wanted to push me to work harder and go further in my level of work. Regardless his motivation, he motivated me. I was determined to succeed and prove him wrong in ways I seldom knew. As I have noted in other blogs, Dr. Larrie Stone tried his best to dissuade this history/humanities major from taking Anatomy and Physiology. He eventually allowed it, but with the caveat that I had to withdraw after 4 weeks if I was tanking the class. Instead, I was taking anesthesia exams before I was allowed to do an adrenalectomy on a rat. I was doing basal metabolic rate experiments. I was pulling all-nighters like no class ever before required. All to pull a C+ in that class, but damn, I was proud of that. Dr. Stone cared about my GPA and for me as a student, but he was still willing to offer me an opportunity to work outside my comfort zone. He called me in a couple times and asked how I was doing. Thanks to Monty Scheele, Troy Knutson, and Edie Myer as my study group, I did pretty well. Thank you to . Christine Barton and Deb Dill for helping me in lab. They all kept this liberal arts student afloat. That was the camaraderie typical of those at Dana when I was a student.
Dana lives on because of each of them. They made me a more complete person. Their care and example still inspires me today. This past week I took a December graduate from my university to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He and Anton, my Danish exchange student experienced three of the five Great Lakes. They saw more snow on the ground than they have ever seen. Micheal (spelled correctly) will be an outstanding graduate student. He told me when we returned at traveling 2,100 miles in less than 96 hours that I have done something for him no one ever had. My interest in helping to the next step is nothing more than what so many at Dana did for me. While most of my students do not know the name Dana College, they experience it through me. My Bible as Literature midterm is formatted exactly like a Humanities unit exam. My final is not quite as long, and I allow them to write the major final essay ahead of time, so they have to use sources and cite appropriately, there are still sections of matching. 107, 205, and 206 live on. Shortly after graduating from Dana, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. My first bout with it was brutal. I had lost almost 20 pounds in less than 30 days. As I came back to Blair to visit, Dr. Nielsen looked at me and told me he was concerned for me. He said, at the time, “Let me say something you might understand more fully. Your theology of grace works fine for everyone but yourself.” He was spot on. It has taken many years and more tough lessons than one might ever care to attempt, but that grace is never ceasing. What I know now is the amazing grace we were blessed by as students at Dana College. It continues to boggle me to my very core each time I stop and reflect on those four simple and wonderful years. Yes, daily we were graced by some outstanding people at every turn. Many from little Iowa or Nebraska towns. Some from other lands, and I remember with incredible fondness Lena Pedersen, one particular Danish exchange student. There will never be enough mange taks for all I leaned. What I know now is I am merely thankful to claim my status from an incredibly strong little college. Here is a version of Amazing Grace that reminds me of choir and singing in the mask for Paul Neve so many afternoons in AMA. The version here includes bagpipes and is the newest rendition of the Irish ensemble, Celtic Woman. I have been fortunate enough to see this group (and this lineup in November. I was in Ireland four years ago and it is on my bucket list to see this wonderful group there. My apologies to Monty and Peter for using this picture from my sophomore year as we were on choir tour.
Thank you always for reading.