On June 1, Linda and I drove to National Airport and flew home to Minnesota (it will always be home), bound for her 45th class reunion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, 40 miles south of the airport. Picked up a rental car and made fast for where it all began, literally: on a warm Wednesday night in May 1973, I met my beloved in Marguerite’s, a bar in Dundas, just south of Northfield. Lunch at Marguerite’s, now the L&M Bar, thus made a lot of sense. Tucked into burgers and fries, and I had a couple of cold Summit ales. Memory Lane, for sure!
We drove a few miles north to what is one of the loveliest small campuses in the world. I remember I was transfixed that evening 4.5 decades ago, and was once again. We registered in the student union, called Buntrock Commons, and immediately met a couple of Linda’s classmates, hugs all around, the first of many. Drove a couple of blocks to our dorm accommodations in Kittelsby Hall, named for an early professor, one of the many Norwegian immigrants that built the college, then and low affiliated with the Lutheran Church (our church). The room was simple (more on that later) and not air-conditioned. Dropped our stuff and ambled around the leafy campus, then back for a short nap.
At 4:45, we attended a “class” on the chemistry of olive oil, offered by an enthusiastic prof. We learned a lot, sampled a bunch, had a great time. At six, it was time for the first Class of 1973 function, drinks and light dinner, held in the undercroft (fancy word for basement) of the main campus church, Boe Memorial Chapel. And instantly we were surrounded with long friends; I knew tons of Linda’s classmates both from previous reunions and from my high school – and in the case of Lyn Bearinger, from Mrs. Mansfield’s first-grade class at Wooddale School in 1957. These were quality people, abundantly decent, well-informed, and with the humane values that develop in a place like St. Olaf. After the meal, Brenda the host asked people to stand and briefly describe their passions, which included a self-described math and physics nerd, now studying English and history and “rounding out my education”; breasts and travel (a woman oncologist); chronic diseases; quilts; motorcycle touring; nursing (the school had a highly-respected program; running a free medical clinic in nearby Red Wing; teaching English to immigrants; and, not least, “all the wonderful people I met at St. Olaf.” It was a lovely evening.
Up early the next morning, down the hall for a shower, and off to a big breakfast and a long yak with classmates (and Linda’s roommates in 1973) Janet Lund and Karen Pedersen. Then we joined the sidelines of a lively bridge game, yakking with Judith Beck, known as JB, her new husband Doug, and old pals Jane Alrick and Sue Perkins, plus Karen and Janet. Then to lunch and more chatter, then from 2 to 3:30 a series of talks from classmates. The best of those was “Lessons from the Iditarod.” One of Linda’s classmates, Cindy Gallea, has competed 10 times in that 975-mile sled dog race from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome. She is one of the toughest, most adaptable people I’ve ever met. Her best time was 11 days, including a mandatory 24-hour rest for her 16 dogs. She waxed eloquent about the dog named Hammer, and about the diligence of the rest of the team: “they just know what to do.” It was a reminder of one of my strong beliefs: domestic animals are one of the firmest pieces of evidence for the existence of God.
Walking back to the term, I said once again, “You were so fortunate to have studied here.” We took a little nap. Linda wanted to chill a bit more, so at five I walked back to Buntrock Commons grabbed a beer, and sat in a good vantage for people-watching. Enjoyed a nice T-t-S with Carol Anderson, Class of 1958; if you do the math, she’s about 81, and I complimented her on the longevity of Scandinavian folk! At six, the Class of 1973 gathered in the Trollhaugen Room for a formal dinner. More great yaks, including good ones with Lyn Bearinger and her husband Michael Resnick.
Linda complained a bit about the spartan dorm room, but I liked it’s untouched-since-1965 aspect, because 1) it was spotlessly clean; 2) it’s good to live more plainly from time to time; and 3) most important, it clearly reflects the school’s spending priorities: sure, they could get into the contemporary college “arms race” for poshest dormitories, but every dollar spent on that is a dollar foregone to tuition support for deserving students, quality faculty, up-to-date classrooms and labs, and other things that truly matter. St. Olaf College has its priorities firmly in order.
Slept hard Saturday night. It was cloudy and very cool Sunday morning. We packed up, drove to Buntrock, and rejoined classmates for breakfast and more chatter. I could talk with those folks for hours, because we conversed about things that truly matter. Then we said goodbye, hugged a lot of people, and drove north. Linda dropped me at the airport (she was headed to Denver on business), and I flew home. Already hoping we’re alive for the 50th class reunion in 2023.
By the way, “Fram” is the first word of the St. Olaf motto; in New Norwegian “Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmenn,” is adapted from the Old Norse battle cry of King Olaf. It simply means “Forward!”
The college excels in all of the arts, not least the visual, and here are but a few examples of student and professional art that is everywhere on campus: