I Was There...

Classic stories from our ever-changing campus

All alumni have tales to tell. During any given year, there are hundreds, or even thousands of stories unfolding across the North Park campus. Teams compete; friendships are made; life-changing lessons are learned in the classroom or in the residence hall, on a park bench or in a library carrel. Some stories are quirky or notorious and are retold at reunions with relish. Some are shared with children or with a recent graduate over a networking lunch. The campus provides the setting for these memories. North Park’s physical location on an urban corner, its structures, and its landscape give visceral particularity to the stories of the past and the present. The five stories that follow zoom in on the ever-changing campus we call North Park.

Student-Worker-Bees Move Books

The year was 1958 and North Park head librarian Betty Jane Highfield had a problem to solve. Her tiny, crowded library on the third floor of Old Main held the burgeoning collection of both the academy and the college. The college books, some 20,000 of them, needed to be moved to the newly finished Wallgren Library on Spaulding Avenue.

The campus was humming that fall, as North Park rounded the corner from junior college to four-year liberal arts institution. The first four-year class members were eager sophomores, and total institutional enrollment was 1,857. Not only was there a brand-new, four-story building for classrooms and the library, but campus also featured newly completed athletic fields. A modern gymnasium, with seating for 1,400 spectators, was under construction.

Highfield tapped into all the positive energy and found an ingenious solution to her book-moving dilemma. It began with summoning several hundred willing and able students from the seminary, college, and academy to Old Main. As they poured in, Highfield moved 10 to 15 books at a time directly off the shelves, in order, into the arms of the waiting “worker bees,” including members of the first four-year class (C’1960) Mel Soderstrom and Fern (Swanson) Katter. They walked with the books, single file, a contiguous line of call numbers, over to the new library. When the students arrived at Wallgren Library, they were met by assistant librarian Dorothy Vann, who received the books and saw to it that they were lined up properly in their new home. The line continued, repeating the process over the course of several days.

Mel Soderstrom says the enterprise was well organized and successful, but also a good time. “The students felt ownership and felt they were part of the process. It was exciting.” Fern (Swanson) Katter recalls, “It was an important symbol of the fact that the campus was expanding to a four-year school. The new library was something everyone saw as a promise of the future. . . . It was an important step for the school to be taking and a very creative way to move the books.”

History professor Zenos Hawkinson A’41 C’43 spoke at the September 21, 1958 dedication of the new Wallgren Library building, referring to it as the “heart of the campus.” It began with 70,000 volumes and contained classrooms, offices, labs, and lounges as well as three floors of library space. Wallgren was replaced by the Brandel Library in 2001, with a greatly expanded capacity of 300,000 volumes. In 2002 the old library building was torn down, making way for the radical transformation of the campus green space.

Zoo Stories

Down in the belly of Wikholm labs, in a storeroom-turned-zoo, there once lived an Amazon grey parrot, some exotic chickens, a ferret, caimans, spiders, a rattlesnake, a boa constrictor, and several giant pythons. Pedro the parrot, according to biology professor Linda Vick, was often free to range in the space and was clearly annoyed by the sound of the ringing telephone. On several occasions he bit the telephone cord in two, putting a temporary end to the racket.

The zoo was the “baby” of biology professor Robert Tofte. He and A.T. Johnson initially gathered most of the animals during the 1970’s, on spring break/project period trips to the Sonoran desert. Tofte, also known as “T,” was the caretaker, and Johnson and a team of student workers helped him to feed and care for the animals. Vick recalls that one of the students, David Bernier, went on to work at the Lincoln Park Zoo as curator of mammals.

The animals were used to support various courses, including Desert Ecology and Animal Behavior. Vick remembers doing imprinting studies with newly hatched chicks. Students would stroll down the basement halls of Wikholm labs, clucking as the fuzzy peeps “cheeped and ran after them. . . . Some of the chickens became so tame and so imprinted on their handlers that they would perch on a student’s arm and make contented chirping sounds.”

Students from local public schools, Boy Scout troops, and many others were frequent visitors. Vick says, “during the early 1980s the science division would have faculty potluck dinners where we would gather with our families. Several of us had young children who were often eager to visit the zoo. Once I shepherded a group of about 8 children, three to six years old. When the kids heard the rattlesnakes rattle, they froze in their tracks and slowly backed out the door.”

“My son was particularly enchanted by the ferret, Ralphie. When [he] came to visit campus he was allowed to take Ralphie for walks using a harness and leash. Ralphie was a male ferret with a habit of scent-marking near male students. [My small son] nearly burst with pride the first time Ralphie ‘recognized’ him as a mature male . . .”

On occasion, the zoo animals escaped. “Although the poisonous snakes were securely latched into double cages, others were more simply held. On a number of occasions a snake would ‘break free.’ One that was particularly adept at escaping was Connie the boa constrictor. She managed to get up into the ductwork of the ventilation system and maneuvered through the building. Eventually she came down into the chemistry lab.” Hopefully, for those who don’t like surprises, after 20 years all the snakes have vacated the ductwork.

Revolution at the Top of the Tower

In 1979, Carlson Tower was 12 years old. Up on the 6th floor, a group of 12 determined history majors spent the winter and spring quarters literally taking over the seminar/conference room for their senior seminar on revolution.

Tim J. Johnson C’79, now curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collection at the University of Minnesota, was a member of the cohort, and claims to still have the folder of his “Revolution” seminar notes somewhere in a file cabinet. He says C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien inspired the close-knit group to turn the space into a “common room” similar to those at Oxford or Cambridge. “Once we had the faculty OK, it was a matter of scaring up a few sofas and tables. We scrounged a couple of lamps so that we could turn off the harsh overhead fluorescent lights.” It was “quiet enough for reading, writing, and studying; secluded enough so that if we wished, we could get into a good (and sometimes heated) discussion.”

The seminar, led by history professor Zenos Hawkinson, happened just as events were unfolding in the real-time revolution in Iran. Students watched the MacNeil /Lehrer NewsHour in the evenings for updates in addition to reading their texts and writing their papers, analyzing historical revolutions in concert with a contemporary one. Their primary text, Crane Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution, provided the road map for their studies. Johnson says, “Brinton’s categories and his description of the revolutionary process, combined with the PBS interviews and other news reports, allowed us to predict, with a very high degree of accuracy, what was going to happen next in Iran. It was, as you can tell, a memory that has lasted and will be with me for the remainder of my days.”

Last year Johnson had the chance to cap off his formative experience from 32 years ago. “The Friends of the Libraries at the University of Minnesota arranged to have Jim Lehrer speak at one of their dinners. During the book signing I told him what an impact his and MacNeil’s Iranian coverage had meant to me while in my revolutionary college seminar. He remembered the time and was very appreciative of the observation.”

Finally, it is the relationship of the group that Johnson remembers with gratitude. “It is simply the expression of an historical fact, that in the good grace and providence of God, we were brought together and molded as a group—yet each character distinct—by remarkable and amazing members of the faculty, with Zenos leading the way.”

Creative Use of (Green) Space

In 2002 North Park unveiled a new green space, designed by landscape architect Douglas Hoerr. The north side of campus was opened up by the removal of Wallgren Library and the closing of Spaulding Avenue. The reconfigured streets, buried wires, abundant plantings, and new walkways formed a new outdoor center.

The refurbished open area is a great leisure space for students to play, and a group of imaginative students did just that. Using only their wits and some round discs, they created a disc golf course complete with 18 virtual holes, water features (the North Branch), and a complex web of rules. The course is still passed down from person to person, a firmly oral tradition. Mike Mirza C’2010 describes what it is like to play a round: “Most [holes] are par three, but there are some fours and one five, which starts on Sohlberg’s steps and goes to the emergency pole between Wilson Hall and Old Main. There are five holes where throwing your disc into the river is a serious risk. Sometimes, on one of the tricky river holes, the first thrower will play all the way through before the other golfers will throw, so that the first person can stand guard by the river’s edge as “river duty,” to stop any overthrown discs if necessary.”

As the oral rules of the course were passed down, it became more than just a game. Mirza says, “The course was certainly a lot of fun, with its tricky obstacles and potential adventures with the river and pedestrians, but the real value was not the activity itself. ‘Playing a round’ was the perfect arbitrary activity for us to be able to spend time outside and explore the intricacies of our campus in a unique way. We’d let go of time, ignore our cell phones, and enjoy simple conversation. . . .”

“After the 17th hole (green space to the planter circle by the bridge), it’s tradition for groups to sit at the circle and share a “thought,” which could be anything from a thought-provoking question, a toast, a funny memory, or anything else. This must be done before the 18th hole, which is from the circle to a large tree at the north end of Burgh.”

How safe is all this for the passersby who may be studying or walking across campus? Mirza assures us, “disc golfers are (usually) very respectful of pedestrians and will wait for anyone to pass before throwing. Thus, most people play rounds at night, when fewer pedestrians are out around campus.”

Field of Dreams

In 2004 the North Park men’s soccer team began playing games on the brand-new Hedstrand Field in the Holmgren Athletic Complex. The field, in addition to its other amenities, boasted seating for thousands of fans. Team captain Adam Sinovic, who is now assistant coach of the North Park men’s team and head coach of the reserve soccer team, remembers the impact of the field and the throngs of fans on the teams’ level of play: “The bigger stadium made a huge difference. Rather than temporary bleachers and a severely worn down field, we had a top-class environment and brand-new field turf. . . . The fans were a game changer. There were times when I would look at the size of the crowd or listen to the chants and think ‘Man, I’m pretty lucky to be a part of this.’ Even opposing teams and players would comment on how great the atmosphere was. I can’t tell you how many times I was able to tackle a little bit harder and jump a little bit higher because of those fans pushing us along.”

The Wheaton home game near the end of the 2006 season was a particular highlight, coming on the heels of two championship seasons and high expectations. “The Wheaton game stands above the rest. That year we had an incredible fan base. They would travel to away games, create unique chants, and, most importantly, show up in huge numbers to home games. I still to this day vividly remember the flags waving, fans screaming, and the buzz of anticipation for the game to begin.”

As the game progressed, the two teams were locked in a 0-0 tie. “We hit the post a couple times but couldn’t find the back of the net. Regular time ran out. At this point you could feel the tension in the air. Finally . . . Kurt Roberts fired in a volley that . . . landed on the foot of a sliding Isaac Lee, who tapped in the game-winning goal. The next thing I know, I’m sprinting up the sideline waving my jersey in the air. The entire team was right on my heels. The crowd was jumping up and down in excitement. . . . It was one of the best moments of my life.”

For Sinovic, the experience of North Park Soccer has extended into the way he understands family. “It is difficult to put into words how special the teams and the relationships have been. From day one, Coach Born preaches about fostering a family environment. . . . We supported each other on and off the field. When my Grandpa passed away I was given the option to skip practice Friday and go home a day earlier, but . . . I just wanted to go to practice and be with the guys. . . . They were not only my best friends, but an extension of my family.”

The North Park campus has seen many changes in its long history, a history tied to its setting. The stories and memories of future students will continue to be impacted by the generous people who provide the buildings and the landscapes, the locations of the next generation’s stories.

What's your story?

Keep the story going by contributing your own tale of campus memories by August 14 to be entered in a drawing for $75 in Amazon.com gift certificates. We'll publish our picks online, so stay tuned!

Kris Bruckner C'79 is a lecturer at North Park Theological Seminary
Illustrations by Dan Johnson C'2009; See the full magazine for more of Johnson's work

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I Was There