One of the reasons I slipped over to Decorah when I did is that I wanted to connect with two young friends of ours who are both freshmen at Luther, my alma mater. Eric Ripley is a talented trombonist whose dad, Jim Ripley, is chairman of the music department at Carthage- and somehow I remember well from our days at Luther. (He was a year ahead of me.) I’ve accompanied Eric for solo and ensemble and for certain auditions and grown to be so fond of him. Justin Marschall is someone I know for an entirely different reason. His dad, Jon, was a classmate and very close friend of Kathy’s at Carthage – and Jon and his wife (also named Cathy) have become treasured friends – and it has been a real pleasure to see their son Justin blossom in so many ways, musically, scholastically, and otherwise.
When it became clear that these two young men – two of the nicest guys we’ve ever known – were both heading off to Luther – both as music majors – we made sure that each of them knew about the other before opening day. But as it turns out their rooms are right across the hall from each other and they have shared rides to and from home at least once. So they needed no help from the Bergs to find each other and become fast friends.
Anyway, I made sure to get over the Decorah at a point when Luther was in session so I would be able to look them up and maybe take them out for a meal . . . and find out what life is like at Luther College in 2009 compared to the era of gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages when I was a student there.
So I ended up bringing them along as I went out for supper with Matt and Randi, Ted and Donna, and the three kids- to a wonderful new restaurant (only open since October) called Dolce Vita. This is not the sort of hole-in-the-wall watering hole that a college student frequents (nor can afford) so I think this was exactly the sort of special treat I had in mind.
And what a fun time this was! We were asking these two plenty of questions about life at Luther, their courses, their teachers, etc. – but if anything they had even more questions for Randi and me about what things were like when we were there. Let’s see – Calvin Coolidge was president, we had to carry our drinking water by bucket from the Upper Iowa River, and Martin Luther himself was still alive.
Well, no- not quite – but when I was at Luther (I started there over thirty years ago) it was rather exceptional for a student to have a television in their dorm room . . . and I could count on one hand the number of people I knew who had the fanciest bit of technology available at that time, an answering machine. (The closest thing to a cell phone were the communicators you saw on Star Trek.) The only people on campus who ever touched a computer were the computer science majors, and I suspect that the typical computer was still as big as a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer. There was no such thing as a personal computer, nor iPods or the internet. It was still the era of LP’s, cassettes, and 8-track tapes; compact disks were not yet sold. Johnny Carson (who?) was the host of the Tonight Show, the cess pool of reality television had not yet begun, cable television itself was a rather new phenomenon, and very few people yet owned VCR’s. The pope was Pope Paul . . . the two Popes named John Paul were yet to come . . . and Gerald Ford had just made way for Jimmy Carter in the White House. And those potato chips that stacked so neatly in a can – Pringle’s – had just been invented. That’s what the world was like three decades ago when I began my freshman year at Luther. And little had changed two years later when Steve began – but three years after that, when Randi began her freshman year, some of the incredible changes that have transformed modern life and culture were just beginning to bubble into existence.
Anyway, as we sat and talked about life at Luther then and now, I was so struck by the dramatic contrasts between then and now- but also struck by how much remains the same. And I was really touched that Justin and Eric seemed genuinely interested in our recollections, and not just out of sense of obligation or to placate the guy who was paying for dinner. They asked about various profs, what the student union used to look like, where recitals were performed in those days before there was a music building, what had changed in town, and on and on. (They were amazed, for instance, to learn that the student union once had a bowling alley in its basement. And they seemed delighted that there used to be a snack bar on the bottom-most level of the Union called, most appropriately, Dante’s. And they had trouble fathoming that all voice lessons back then were taught in a regular house just off of the campus.)
When I dropped the two of them back at Luther, I thanked them for letting Randi and me prattle on about the old days. . . only to have them thank us (I think sincerely) for sharing some of our history with them. I sort of gulped for a second when I heard the “h” word used in this way- but in fact History is exactly the word for what we were sharing with them. And if not exactly Ancient History, it’s still history that reaches back more than a decade before they were even born. But there are still a handful of professors from my day who remain on the faculty – and the course that all freshmen have to take is still called Paideia – and the things that matter most in the lives of students are still very much in place.
By the way, you might be wondering about Bustin’ Justin. That was my nephew Kaj’s way of memorizing the names of these two strangers eating with us. Justin was Bustin’ Justin (makes him sound like a professional wrestler, doesn’t it?) and Eric was Pair-ick Eric, which makes even less sense – – – but at the end of the evening Kaj knew those two names and I think felt like he had two new friends.
P.S. – I also wrote about Justin and Eric in my blog entry for June 2, 2008, titled “Is this the little boy at play,” in case you’re interested.
pictured above: Eric and Justin in front of Brandt Hall – their dorm – which in my day was the dorm for freshman women. Evidently, that has changed.