Helen in her Ames, Iowa, garden, circa 2011. Helen on her family's farm southwest of Rolfe, circa 1952. This essay may be expanded and additional photos may be added at a later date.
There are a few more stories or reflections that I plan to write and post. But it is hot and humid here in Iowa with lots of watering and weeding to do in the garden and naps to take with the cats on the futon in the cool basement.
For now, I will say that part of the reason that I came to Duluth to teach was that Joanne Johnson, a Duluth native, had been one of my instructors when I was a sophomore and junior, majoring in physical education at Iowa State University here in Ames. I had high regard for Miss Johnson and loved the stories she told about skiing, golfing, canoeing, camping and other activities in Duluth and northern Minnesota. She was the advisor for the women's intramural association when I was a leader in it. She and I golfed together at the university course. We would exit the first green, head through a tunnel under the railroad tracks to the next tee area, where she would pull a peanut butter jar containing a martini out of her golf bag. I have never liked the taste of martinis, and she knew it was not appropriate to offer me an alcoholic beverage, but I did get to eat the green olive.
When I was a senior, Joanne had gone to the University of Southern California to earn her doctorate in physical education. That spring, I had senioritis and was struggling to get my course work completed and was slow at searching for a teaching job. Also, I was torn. On one hand, I was tired of cornfield landscapes and wanted to get away from my home state. On the other hand, I grieved the possibility of leaving. Then I saw a position posted for Duluth and applied for it. I had been taking flying lessons, and even considered flying to Duluth for my interview. But in hindsight, my taking flying lessons had been folly, and any thought of flying to Duluth would have been extraordinary folly. So I drove.
I shake my head to think of my naivety. As I neared Duluth and came over a hill, I saw a huge lake below me. Had I done my research, I would have realized Duluth was on a lake. I loved what I saw. I interviewed with Dell Daedo, who was a curriculum administrator for the Duluth district, and Dick Wallin, who was the Ordean principal. Both Dell and Dick knew of Joanne. She once told me that she had no influence in my getting the Ordean job. But I often wondered how my having studied under her was a factor in being hired. Eventually, Joanne returned to teach in the physical education department at UMD and was known to many as Dr. Jo. I heard through friends that she died in 2010 just two months before my father died. She and I had not kept in touch. It is hard to fathom how such a vivacious, athletic, strong person could be gone.
Often, in recent years, I have had night dreams about being back in Duluth. I haven't figured out the meaning, but I am sure they represent the significance of my Duluth years. Although there were challenges being there, including those I have already written about, I look back and realize what a great opportunity I had. Do I dare say that I loved my years there? But as much as I have great memories of most students, there were those who were real pains. Two affluent and athletic girls seemed to think they were privileged and could get by with bad attitudes and behavior, and their parents denied any wrong on the part of their daughters.
Another girl miffed me when she had a written excuse to sit out of physical activity because she had been sick. The irony was that we were doing square dance that day. She supposedly was too sick to participate in that kind of moderate activity but fully intended to go to a dance after school.
On another occasion, during an archery class when I was not looking, Mr. Montague came to me and said that he had seen arrows fly across the nearby tennis courts, high above the heads of the boys who were playing in his class. He was livid. I tried to be a good detective, meeting with some suspects in isolated interviews in the school office, trying to get clues as to who the real culprits were or perhaps have someone actually admit she had shot the arrows. But those girls were clever, loyal to each other, and tight-lipped. My efforts to appear tough and outfox them did not work. To this day, I still do not know who the culprits were.
Then there was the prima donna golfer who insisted on wearing cut-off jeans to the city-wide golf meet even though the only dress code Ordean had for the golf team was that a player wear a decent pair of shorts and shirt but NOT jeans. I caved in. Although I did not know of the American Civil Liberties Union at the time, I feared that the girl, who had fared well enough in tryouts to qualify for the city meet and was one of the most strong-willed students I had known, would turn to some higher authority that would support her insistence on being different.
When I left Ordean, I went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout to begin a masters degree program in instructional media technology. The idea was to take a one-year leave of absence, then return to teach in Duluth. Ms. Dressen and Mr. Montague had married, and I often stayed with Georgie and Jim at their home when visiting Duluth. I recall the consternation I felt in deciding whether or not to return after my leave of absence. I was still young and did not know that life can be a long, winding, and unpredictable road and how it is important, in some cases, to let go and move on. I appreciated Georgie's and Jim's hospitality, support and listening, but I had to make my own decision. They would not tell me what to do.
I did teach again, but my years teaching physical education at Eagle Grove High School in Iowa from January 1974 to May 1975 were hard ones, and I never wanted to teach again. I then worked in sports information at North Dakota State University, directed the YMCA of NDSU, earned a Master of Divinity at San Francisco Theological Seminary, stayed in the St. Helena in the Napa Valley where I had done my parish internship, honed my photography and video skills, then moved back to Iowa to work on a documentary about the rural neighborhood where I grew up. And the rest is history–a process of coming to terms with my rural heritage and appreciating being at home here in Ames.
BTW, I did take one flying lesson while in Duluth. What a nerve-wracking experience. The airport was much larger and more complex that the flat one in the middle of farm fields near Ames. At Duluth, there were jetliners and military aircraft, restricted areas, hard-to-decipher instructions from air traffic control, and much more that completely threw me. I never took another flying lesson and have never regretted letting go of flying. It did not take long for me to realize that flying really was not my passion but my way of trying to compete with my brother and father who both had flown. And besides, how can a person afford the money and time needed to pursue flying as well as golfing and photography? I chose the latter. These days, I no longer golf. My focus is on urban farming and a little photography.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Trevor Yoho,
his mother, Tom Drake and the other folk at Yoho Photo in downtown Duluth for
getting me started in photography–selling
me a $200, single lens reflex Canon camera; teaching me how to use it
and how to develop film and print photographs in their darkroom.
But that's another story for another day.