On Friday morning, May 31, Linda and I cruised down the George Washington Parkway to National Airport, flew to Chicago, then to Minneapolis. Into a rental car, and pedal to the metal 35 miles south to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, for Linda’s 40th class reunion. We had missed the last two (30th and 35th) and were really excited. St. Olaf, founded by Norwegian Lutherans in 1874, is a special place in at least a couple of ways. For one, although I didn’t study there, it’s where I met Linda, also 40 years ago. For another, it is a true paragon of liberal arts education. Although I teach in specialized (business) schools, I am a fervent supporter of the liberal arts as a way to prepare students. The conventional “what are you going to do with [fill in liberal arts or natural sciences here]” question takes a narrow view of learning. Specialized knowledge is often overrated: what we need are people who have a broad understanding of the sweep of civilization, who are curious and ask questions, who can read and write well, and who learn the importance of values like honesty, integrity, and gratitude in our daily lives. Those are all things a school like St. Olaf imparts, and does so superbly.
We parked the car, registered, and Linda peeled off to a first activity, with her freshman dorm friends. At 5:45, we hopped on a bus to the first Class of 1973 function, a wine tasting and light dinner in a sort of barn a few miles southeast of town. In no time it was all hugs and smiles and laughs. Many students from my high school in suburban Minneapolis were in Linda’s class, which adds to the fun (Linda Bearinger, for example, was in my first-grade class). We had superficial yaks and serious yaks and got caught up on the lives of lots of old friends and comrades.
More yakking at breakfast Saturday morning, with people of true substance, then to a series of three quick talks from Class of ’73 grads, including one from my friend Jim Grotting, a plastic surgeon who has volunteered all his working life to repair cleft lips and palates in poor countries; he related his experiences. Then to an all-alumni convocation in the chapel, then another Class of ’73 function, lunch. Gary Gisselman, artist in residence in the theater department, gave a compelling talk after the meal, reinforcing the case for liberal education. We then listened to a history prof recount the many changes at the school in the 1960s and early 1970s; this was a place that understood that the world was changing, and worked hard to prepare students for those changes. For example, St. Olaf was an early proponent of study abroad, and to this day it sends a higher percentage of students to programs overseas than any other college or university in the U.S. After a needed nap, we drove into downtown Northfield to the old Grand movie theater, now a function venue, for drinks and dinner and more socializing. Tons of fun.
Sunday morning I walked the campus, and brought this journal up to date. After breakfast, Linda and I attended Sunday worship. One of the many things I appreciate about fellow Lutherans is that they sing with volume and gusto! It was a wonderful service, especially the homily, which was easily in the top few percent of sermons I have heard in my decades of churchgoing. After church, we processed to the dining hall for a last meal with friends, hugged, and said goodbye. Before leaving campus, Linda asked if she could walk from her old dorm to one of her classroom buildings, and I left her to her thoughts as she strolled.
We drove to Minneapolis, and I dropped Linda at her mother’s condo for a couple of hours. By splendid coincidence, my pal-for-50-years Steve Schlachter was visiting his mom, and I motored a mile to their house for a quick chat (they were heading to a graduation party). Knocked on the door of two friends, but neither was home. Picked up Linda and drove across town to Ann Hathaway’s; she and her partner Robin were hosting us that night in their home, which after two nights in a college dorm was positively deluxe!
Ann, Robin, their energetic Welsh terrier Finney, Linda and I had a good yak and a beer (well, no beer for the hound, but he tried hard to join the conversation!), then headed east to downtown St. Paul for dinner at Cossetta’s a longtime Italian restaurant. To and from, we admired new housing along the north bank of the Mississippi, walking distance to downtown; when we moved to Texas in 1987, urban planners were just starting to talk about reusing former industrial land along the river, and the results were splendid. Home and off to bed, plumb wore out.
Linda had arranged to meet her mom again the next morning. She dropped me at a light-rail station and I headed to the University of Minnesota, for a meeting with a colleague in the business school. After a good yak with Karl, I walked the campus, on both sides of the Mississippi River. It was so good to also be at my alma mater in the same trip. The schools differ in size, of course, but both reflect the long emphasis that my native Minnesota places on learning. I grabbed an early lunch, burrito and shake, hopped the bus into downtown Minneapolis, then back out on the train to the airport, and home to Washington.