Irena Elveton, Class of 1960
I graduated from St. Olaf in 1960. As Howard Hong’s daughter, I was exposed to philosophy at a very young age. My father held numerous philosophy club meetings and discussions with students in our family room or around the kitchen table. I used to sit on the spiral staircase and eavesdrop on all of the conversations. At this stage in my life, I thought philosophy was simply a discussion of ideas and became inspired to become a futurephilosophy major. I took one of my first philosophy classes from my father and I was not prepared for the daunting class room experience. Reading assignments were difficult and classroom discussions didn’t have the spark of the philosophy club discussions that I was so fond of. But, I had the pleasure of seeing my dad in the role of professor. Perhaps Walt Stromseth had the most lasting influence on my thought process. In his classroom he approached a problem from many directions, offering many solutions. For the first time I was exposed to a way of thinking that was not of the pro and con variety.
I can’t claim any academic achievements, but the classroom exercises in logical reasoning and analyses of arguments helped me to navigate the myriad of information and disinformation that affected my work, family, and personal issues. Sloppy reasoning can have deadly consequences. A doctor misapplied statistics to my condition, insisted that I didn’t have appendicitis because “only one woman in 10,000 has appendicitis during pregnancy”. By the time I convinced the doctor that I didn’t have the flu, it was too late, I lost my child and almost lost my life.
After graduation, I obtained my first job as a case worker because I was a philosophy major. The person who interviewed me was very impressed by the fact that I majored in philosophy. For forty years I continued to take evening courses in linguistics, child development, cognitive science and Chinese language. I read all the philosophers that I was supposed to have read in class.
In 1994 I moved to California and obtained my paralegal certificate. As an independent paralegal. I worked with clients who wanted to represent themselves or couldn’t afford an attorney. Many civil litigation clients had already gone to court and lost and wanted to appeal the ruling. Their documents showed a lack of understanding of law as well as the lack of coherent argument. By the time they came to me, there was nothing much that I could do for them. Perhaps if my clients had some rudimentary knowledge of how to present an argument, they would have saved themselves a lot of heartache and loss.
In 1992 after Latvia’s independence from Russia, I went to help my birth father to reclaim his property. In retrospect, my decision to work in Latvia was based more on emotion than good reasoning. I was shocked when I saw the condition of his property. It would have been more sensible to turn around and go back home. But then I became angry and a surge of adrenaline took over. When I left Latvia as a child, our house was white with red clay roof tiles. We had an apple orchard, a hill side full of cherry trees, and a park few yards from the house. When I came back, the sagging house was gray with gray asbestos roof tiles. Inside the walls and ceilings were blackened by smoke. The apple orchard was an open weedy field. Mounds of garbage replaced the cherry trees. Piles of garbage, old tractor parts, and sheds were scattered throughout the lawn and park. It took me three years just to clean up the surface garbage. Those first three years were the easiest. It became a long term project once I started to renovate the house. For 20 years I juggled my time between study and work in San Diego and the Latvian project. Now I spend half a year with my daughter in San Diego area and during the other half I continue to work in Latvia.
Steve Erickson, Class of 1961
I am Steve Erickson, class of 61. Probably best just to google Stephen A Erickson to get the professional stuff. I complete my 50th year as a Professor at Pomona College this year. Since I have some visibility because of various things that I’ve done, they will celebrate me in the Spring—-undoubtedly a fund raising effort.
I am working on what, if completed, will be my fourth book. I have been smitten by T.S. Eliot’s musing that religion and culture sustain such an intimate relation that culture might be construed as the incarnation of a religion. Probably less true now than when Eliot wrote it, but still intriguing.
I have a sabbatical next fall, and my wife and I now live summers (minimum) in the lake house I inherited in Fairmont, Minnesota. Probably I’ll go half time after next academic year (when I have a fall semester sabbatical anyway) teaching only in the Spring and living in Fairmont summers and falls from now on.
As you can imagine, St. Olaf remains in touch with me, but it is all about looking for contributions. Altogether understandable.
I wish you and your colleagues very well. Philosophy was very good to me at St. Olaf.
Bob Hanson, Class of 1962
I graduated in 1962 with majors in Philosophy and History. Following the path of my dad “Spike” Hanson, 1922; and my big brother JD Hanson, 1952. I followed St. Olaf with some time at Luther Seminary, being ordained in 1966.
I don’t know about you, but my life has taken some interesting turns. I have served congregations in Brookfield, Hephatha, Peace and Unity in Milwaukee, St. Olaf Lutheran in Detroit near Five Mile Road and retired from St. John’s in Saxeville WI. During these years was active in the Civil Rights Movement, Chaplain in the Navy, mostly inactive reserve, and was Executive Director of InterFaith Works in Syracuse, NY. Spent 13 years in Japan, a few years with the Ecumenical Institute/Institute of Cultural Affairs and was international Marketing Manager for a Japanese Company. Also taught Conversational English for twelve of those years on all levels. One of the most significant times for my journey was in the 1990’s when I began to practice meditation in the tradition of Zen Buddhism, taking Precepts at the Zen Center in Syracuse in 2001 and receiving my name ko shin. I now belong to that wonderful community of folks that are now exploring the reality of dual practice. I now use this wonderful practice, some call it a philosophy, volunteering in four state prisons with the Milwaukee Zen Center Meditation program. I also lead a Sangha in Steven Point at an Interfaith Center there and am starting plans for a Sangha in the Neshkoro Community School Building soon (a village of 452 humans, dogs, cats and many deer).
I am a poet, have published three smaller books, Chasing Windmills. Why Not. (at retirement), The Inner Passage, 2011; and recently, 2013, Warrior Poets. The last two were projects with over forty writers and artists from around the world, the books are on Amazon and Warrior Poets in on Kindle. My wife, Karen J Ingvoldstad, an ordained Interfaith Pastor, RN, Chaplain for Hospice most recently, and I are members of the Parliament of World Religions community. I have attended these events in Cape Town, and Karen joined me in Barcelona and Melbourne. We are a wonderful blended family of five adult children and right now twelve grandchildren. They live all over and some even live in places like Brazil and Thailand sometimes, so grandpa and ma can visit.
Now this next line I took from Jerry Rice’s note, thanks Jerry “Hong, Narum and Stromseth in philosophy and Jorstad and Larson in history” because these were the heroes of my time on the Hill plus Olaf and my two years in the choir and so much more. For some reason the Logic Class my Freshman year stays in my head. At that time it was the longest final on the Hill…..I can still see the pages of the textbook in my mind. Thanks you St. Olaf! Who can ever forget Howard’s classes where you would read a paragraph a day of Soren.
I suppose I have to say something about philosophy and how it played a role in my life, right? All life has to do with philosophy, I guess I would be an activist philosopher if anything, My journey in spiritual practice, the diversity of this world, justice, peacemaking, it is my story, who I am, and who we all are. It has not all been as difficult to take in as Soren, but it has been about the willing of one thing…..in each moment we can do that.
Maren Hetland, Class of 1963
I graduated from St. Olaf (as Maren Hetland) in 1961 with majors in philosophy and French, but I was not on campus my senior year. I was in Bordeaux, France, in the interest of my French major, auditing courses at the University of Bordeaux. It took a petition to waive the senior residency requirement and the cooperation of the folks who had given me a scholarship so that I could use that money for my living expenses in Bordeaux. It also took quite a bit of flexibility on the part of both my departments and theSt. Olaf administration to finagle credit for the year, but that’s another whole story!
After my return, I moved to Syracuse NY, to the Philosophy Department at Syracuse University, which gave me a fellowship–which was not renewed for a second year because I had not lived up to their expectations. Syracuse was much more on the analytical side than St. Olaf was, I think–or maybe I had been over-influenced by French philosophy. Truth to tell, I remember very little of either St. Olaf philosophy or French philosophy–-or of many other things, because I’m in that stage of life. Philosophy has, however, remained an important part of my life because of the way it had already shaped my thinking–and also because I married a fellow graduate student (who is now on the faculty at S.U.)
Post-marriage, I worked for awhile as a legal secretary. Pregnancy put a stop to that after a year or so, and when our son was old enough (and we were definitely still impecunious enough), I went back to work–this time as secretary and general dogsbody to a man in the S.U. Biology Dept. He was happy to have me help with things like feeding the fruitflies as well as collecting and analyzing data. I hated not knowing all the things I didn’t know (I hadn’t had biology since 10th grade), so I started sitting in on classes, then taking them for credit, then taking the big step of applying for an NIH fellowship for real, honest grad work–and got it, to everyone’s astonishment, I’m sure. I completed the Ph.D. in 1974, and–there being no options in research at that point (and needing a steady income), I took a job teaching biology at our local community college, from which I retired in 2004.
That may be more background than anyone needs, but there it is, and it’s all important to me. Navigating another language on a practical as well as a literary level is a valuable experience in listening and thinking as well as in talking (and I could go on, but the question didn’t come from the French faculty!) More to the present point, however, I’m convinced that it was philosophy that taught me to think analytically, and to be clear about my (and others’) presuppositions–whatever they might be. The faculty at the time was Hong, Narum and Stromseth (and by the way, I can’t imagine calling, or even referring to any of them by their first names. Is that a generational thing, or something else?) I can’t come up with any examples, but I think I still have a fairly sharp ear for logical fallacies (kept sharp, perhaps, by the influence of my logician husband). Thank you, professors Hong, Narum and Stromseth, and thanks also to the St. Olaf administration that was willing to take a chance on a wild proposal for a senior year abroad.
John Farrar, Class of 1964
My name is John Farrar and I graduated with philosophy and english literature majors. I too have happy memories of evenings enjoying the hospitality of the Hongs.
After five years as a naval officer, followed by an MBA in marketing and finance from George Washington University (plus course work at Wheaton College and Florida State) I entered the business world. While working, I occasionally taught night classes at University of Washington, American University, Seattle City University, and other fine schools, and have lectured on food product development to faculties of major culinary schools. I’ve visited 42 countries, have been a keynote speaker at leading professional seminars and occasionally appeared on tv.
For a long time I’ve been looking for an opportunity to speak to the value of a philosophy major as preparation for a business career. That is not a point of view often presented or recognized. Many of my coworkers in the business world had undergraduate degrees in business, focusing on the skills and tools of one or more specific discipline. I think that approach is limiting. I strongly advocate the value of using undergraduate years to explore and hone critical thinking, communication, understanding diverse points of view, engaging in dialogue, and the kind of reflection and problem solving skills that are central to the study of philosophy. I have mentored many students, coworkers and others throughout my career and have always advocated the value of liberal arts, philosophy, and literature majors as ideal preparation for a business career. You can learn the specific skills and tools either in graduate school or on the job.
Now to my experience. Following graduation I became a Naval officer. For part of that time I worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency as country desk officer of an important US ally, working closely with the State Department, CIA and National Security Advisor during a strategically historic point in that country’s history. When I entered the private sector I first worked in account management for major advertising agencies including Leo Burnett and Foote Cone and Belding on major national consumer products accounts. After ten years in advertising I worked for several large fast food chains heading marketing, advertising, product development and R&D functions. Following that I became president of a regional specialty coffee chain, then consulted and worked for another specialty coffee company. Over my career I have created a number of highly successful consumer brands, new food and beverage products, advertising campaigns and innovative business strategies. And I’ve initiated a few national food trends. But I take most pride in the opportunity to mentor and develop many people working for me through the years.
The above describes a diverse and seemingly disconnected professional journey. In fact, while it wasn’t how I thought my working life would unfold, it was a career that had some fundamental parallels that go back to my preparation in philosophy at St Olaf. I was better able to analyze and understand a political situation in a foreign country facing multiple conflicting forces and choices, could properly use marketing data to get into the mind of a target consumer, evaluate and understand consumer purchase behavior, anticipate food trends, and shape the underpinnings of an successful consumer brand. Believe it or not, all this relates to the intellectual challenges we experienced studying the great thinkers and ideas of philosophy (and literature). I wouldn’t have changed thing about my educational background for the career I’ve enjoyed.
It has been like going to a class reunion reading all the responses to your request. I hope my answer adds some value to the discussion. Hello to all of you faculty and students. I hope this begins an ongoing conversation. How about a philosophy alumni reunion in St Croix, Hong Kong or Greece next year?
Paul Farseth, Class of 1964 1/2
I am Paul Farseth, St. Olaf December 1964 (a tardy finisher). There is indeed life after philosophy, even for those who did not go on in the discipline. (I used to tell my friends and family that I had a degree in philosophy, and they would reply, “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?”)
After 5 quarters of desultory graduate work in philosophy at the University of Minnesota, doing well in Ethics, Hume, and the Philosophy of Science, less well in Symbolic Logic, I spent most of the rest of my working career as a management analyst, computer systems analyst, rule writer, and policy analyst for the Minnesota Human Services Department. The analytical habits of thought from philosophy, the ability to tease out the implications and presuppositions of proposed rules and policies, and the St.Olaf-ethos-encouraged attention to the ethical implications of how organizational structures nurture or thwart respect for others and promote or hinder thoughtful freedom to imagine new ways of doing things…have all been good gifts from St. Olaf and the Philosophy department
I have appreciated the great curiosity of the philosophy faculty (Hong, Narum, Stromseth, Stoutland … and also Ditmanson in religion) and their immense human decency and encouragement. They were serious intellectuals but without the strutting elitist distaste for their inferiors that one sometimes found in other departments’ faculty members (often in German and English).
One consequence of doing philosophy at St. Olaf has been a life-long compulsive habit of trying to make big-picture sense of what I was working on. This produced a couple of published articles (a short one in NEJM and a longer joint essay in Public Health Reports) on the stages of developing and implementing health-insurance and health-care-research information systems; contributions to others’ articles in Medical Care and Inquiry; and a string of papers for in-house consumption on welfare reform, out-of-wedlock child-bearing, government data privacy vs. policy-development transparency, methods of setting rates for HMO contracts and for evaluating their cost-effectiveness; and pieces for my local school district on moral education. I retired in 2013. I translate German hymns and Bach cantata libretti for fun.
The influence of the Philosophy department keeps popping up when I write ditties. Here are two, one originally written for Fred Stoutland. (See below.)
On Kant and Odin’s Ravens
( for Fred Stoutland, who thought knowledge of noumena an odd notion )
I step through Euclid’s plane
behind the sphere of sense,
and taste and touch and smell and twist
night’s objects through that fence.
The noumenal objects lurk
beyond the plane of sight,
deep in the brain like quarks
and outside, in the night.
Like Jacob wrestling, cold
on a lawn of midnight dew,
I make bold
not to be through.
Here dream and muscle struggle
to pin down ghost to promise,
intending less to worship
than to keep cattle.
What mischievous extension of decay
unbinds our passive eyes
and turns this night into a rastered day
of labor and surprise?
[Odin’s ravens were Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory).
A second poem on this theme follows.]
The Constitution of our Thought
The constitution of our thought,
A blood that bears air everywhere
From the steady urgency of the heart
Out to the skin on the edges of life’s fire
Structure will sing though cold death lurks.
Energy and thought exchange credentials
In a shameless commerce where electrons’ spin
Is less than the complex patterns of large numbers,
Expressing its fractional patterns in the skin
But something less than the route through which the great bus lumbers.
Out on the skin we advertise our past,
Poor poker players in a constant tell,
But in our paths to where we come at last
We turn and dawdle in the world’s hotel,
Randomness jumping through a string of paths
Unoptimized but continually steered,
Grasping at inputs from successive faiths,
Hummock by hummock across the marshland lured
Jan Clausen, Class of 1965
I am Jan Clausen, class of 1965, double major Philosophy and English. Interesting question, how being a philosophy major has affected my life. I would have to say that it contributed to an ability for critical thought that I have used on a daily basis. Being a philosophy major means that you often have a raised eyebrow and wear a quizzical grin. You may begin sentences with “yes, but..” I think being a philosophy major means that you have a well-developed irony muscle and that your sense of humor may tend toward dry wit. I have learned that Kierkegaard was really a Talmudic scholar.
Very few philosophy majors work in philosophy, but it affects who we are and that we are all still works in progress.
Stephen Dow, Class of 1966
I majored in philosophy as I intended to attend Luther Seminary, St. Paul (now Northwestern, I believe). I did attend one year and found the ministry was not what I meant to do. I began as a social worker in Rock County, Wisconsin; Janesville, a blue-collar white community and Beloit, a blue-collar black community were both in the largely agricultural area. Some 7 years later I began work with the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services (that Department has had many modifications and name changes over the years—a common way for newly appointed political cronies to put an immediate stamp on their histories). I supervised a talented group of staff in making and communication public welfare policy to the local administrative units. The value of my St. Olaf education and my philosophy studies, in particular, were in critical thinking. The often competing political, financial, and human-need forces were constant and separating the real from the supposed were easier having had to do the same as an Ole with Dr. Hong, et al. I am now retired.
Mary Hong Loe, Class of 1966
I graduated in that once-upon-a time when many students at liberal arts colleges did not think all that much about career paths; we took courses that interested us. I’m Mary Hong Loe, class of 1966, with majors in philosophy and English. I’ve hesitated to add my voice to these postings because my profession–as it evolved–barely touched on philosophy, and it’s hard for me to extricate the impact of discovering and studying philosophy as an Ole from the influence of growing up as a Hong kid.
Our house was on the edge of the hill near Thorsen Hall, and the whole campus felt like an extension of that home. Philosophy students visited and even lived at the house, and all sorts of faculty were family friends before they became my professors: Narum, Flaten, Rottsalk, Dittmanson, Maakastad, etc. Supper table talk topics ranged, of course, but ” What is (wo)man?” did come up, along with ethical questions. At a very young age I got the idea that reasoning was the only way to persuade my parents of anything; I was naively disappointed later when their sentimental notions and other stuff got in the mix.
So, what’s been my take away from studying philosophy at St. Olaf? I’m thankful for exposure to primary texts that required close reading and for some of the best lecture classes ever. (Walt Stromseth was a master lecturer, clarifying tenets in several ways, watching to see that students grasped the material. I still prefer this learning method to the sundry ways now prevalent.)
Over the years–in both my personal life and academic library work–I have appreciated having: more than a nodding acquaintance with key thinkers and schools of thought, since allusions and revisions crop up in all sorts of disciplines and media; a foundation of writing research papers that asked us explore substantive resources and use language with care; exposure to the effectiveness of the Socratic method in my Dad’s classes, where he revealed a patience I’d missed before; and a glimpse of the philosophy faculty as a working team that cohered & enjoyed each other despite varied interests.
As I considered graduate work in English after St. Olaf, I was deterred because at that time colleges would not hire spouses in the same department, and my husband was already in English at the U. of Iowa. The philosophy taught in the graduate program was a narrow analytic philosophy, not what interested me nor what St. Olaf had prepared me for. It was something of a struggle to figure out what to do, since by now we were a family. It was a very different time then for women, with contraceptives not readily available and no government interest in supporting childcare. When I was invited to apply an HEW fellowship, I leaped at the chance, even if it wasn’t quite what I wanted. That award enabled both my grad school and childcare for two young ones. Though costs of higher ed. are crazy high in this country, women have more equal options open to them today, and that’s a very good thing.
Now, in retirement, I have time to read more, write a little, and follow the eclectic interests that a philosophy background and my parents’ influence engendered. I may be one of the few who’s found time to read or scan most of postings so far. I’ve been surprised by how many phil. majors ended up as ministers ( my naivety, again), and noted the impact good teachers have had on our young student lives. I cheer all teachers who are able to engage their students and spark the yearning to learn. Thank you all!
David Almie, Class of 1967
I’m David Almlie, class of 1967, with majors in philosophy and English. I fell into philosophy by accident, when I dropped out of German class after the first two weeks of my freshman year, and grabbed hold of an Introduction to Philosophy class offered by Dr. Stoutland. He gave me a book of Plato’s Socratic dialogues to read as a two-week catch-up, and I immediately fell in love with philosophy, taking as many courses in it as St. Olaf would allow. My only claim to academic distinction was winning the $75 dollar prize (had to take it in philosophy books) for the best philosophical essay my senior year.
I cannot honestly say that philosophy did me any particular good, except that it gave me joy, and helped move me towards my undergraduate degree. Of course, a philosophy major is the most economically useless of majors without a more advanced degree to accompany the undergraduate one. I attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, became an ordained Lutheran pastor in 1971, and served parishes in North Dakota and Wisconsin, before retiring in 2010 after 39 years in the parish ministry. Dr. Hong, who was chairman of the department while I was there, said that every pre-seminary student should be a philosophy major. I don’t remember why, but I assume he thought that philosophy would give us a great context for our theology. Among the very good philosophy professors at St. Olaf while I was there, I was especially taken with Dr. Stoutland, because he always wanted to know what I thought, not just what the great philosophers thought.
Charles Ellertson, Class of 1967
I’m Charles Ellertson, and I graduated in 1967. That summer, I had a job tending bar on Hollywood boulevard, at M’Goos, a few doors and several lifestyles down from the locally famous Musso and Frank Grill.
Continued employment there seemed fated to end with the letter of the times, “Greetings from your friends and neighbors…” A fellowship from Duke’s philosophy department appeared to offer a brighter future.
During the first year, I became fascinated with modal logic, as offered by Romain (Bo) Clark. After completing two years of course work, Dr. Clark announced he was leaving for Indiana. If I followed, maybe one year of courses would transfer, the rest would be lost. But the rumor was that Bo would be replaced by an old-school math logician… In the end, I stayed & took the exams at Duke, after which “it was decided” I should change to Political Philosophy and write a dissertation on Revolution. This to increase the somewhat iffy prospects of getting a job in the market of 1972…
The catchphrase of William Bendix comes to mind.
A group of us decided to start a Media Center at Duke. Well, we convinced the administration that such a department would be useful, and they said “Okay, if you can recover all your costs.” I was was 28, the oldest of the group, and wound in a recording studio, loosely attached to the music department. After a while, a year peppered with recording senior recitals, highlighted by recording the Ciompi Quartet, seemed to offer a little too little. What was left of the Media Center was under the Business and Finance division of the University; other opportunities beckoned.
(Time out: what academic philosophy offers, stripped of any particular tenant, is the ability to argue. Along certain lines, of course. If those arguments are conclusive, so much the better. “Compelling” is usually all we can hope for. And of course, without emotional appeal… So practiced outside academe, with rather conventional bosses, philosophy can lead to dismissal.)
A chum from the now-defunct Media Center and I started a business. This in 1980. We started a word-processing company, where specific, dedicated equipment could change the architectural plans for a church into the plans for a bank in 12 hours flat. As I once did. Six months into this new business, Xerox personal computers sprang onto the market…
Oddly enough, our first job had been for Duke University Press. Another thing word processing equipment of that time could offer was to prepare manuscripts and drive a typesetting machine. So, after six months (and the Xerox), we became a typesetting company, offering services only to members of the Association of American Presses.
That was thirty-three years ago. Since then, a lot of books typeset, and a couple books co-authored — books which would bore everyone, so I won’t list them. I still work a bit, remaking type offered up for the commercial sector to meets the needs of scholarly publishing. Digital type founding, I suppose you’d call it.
Scott Husby, Class of 1968
I graduated from St. Olaf in 1968. Initially, I went to seminary, but found the path was not one I could walk. I wanted to work with my hands, and I happened to take up bookbinding. It has turned out to be my life. After a number of years doing binding and book repair for collections in the upper Midwest (including the Kierkegaard Library), I went to the Library of Congress in the mid-1980s for a concentrated internship in book conservation. This led to conservation projects for numerous institutions, including the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Walters Art Museum, and others. For several years in the late 80’s and early 90’s I was conserving Islamic manuscripts for the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian. In the late 90’s I accepted the position as conservator for Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University.
I left the Princeton library in 2007 to focus on a project I had started there, building a census of the bookbindings on incunabula in American library collections. This research continues, and I’m sure it will be a part of my older years.
I really can’t say how philosophy at St. Olaf has influenced all of this, other than to think it honed a contemplative life somewhat suited to a solitary and exacting craft. I do wonder if something may have grown out of late night hours browsing the Rolvaag Library stacks. Some books there had a deep appeal, not so much for the written content, but for how they were made. They were such gratifying material objects. Perhaps some seed was planted there.
I happily report that I am once again a Minnesotan, after far too many years on the east coast. I live with my wife, Tracey Cullen, in our home near Grand Marais.
Don Kjome, Class of 1968
I began St.Olaf as a math major and excelled in honors math under Dr Stanaitis. I took an Introduction to Philosophy course by Dr Stoutland–I believe in my sophomore year. Eunice Belgum was in the class, and the discussion was lively and amazing. I was hooked. I changed my major to philosophy. I did not have a definite career choice but after more philosophy and religion–under Faillettaz and Ditmanson I felt the ministry was my calling. I took new testament Greek and more philosophy my junior year. I felt I was doing well and enjoyed the course work; however by the end of that junior year I went to Dr Stoutland in mild despair. I was not sure I wanted a career in the ministry. I was committed to completing my philosophy major–but I did not see a long term future practical value (unless I entered the ministry). Dr Stoutland said I could do anything I wanted with the philosophy background. He said the purpose of philosophy is to learn to think critically. He suggested I consider medicine–especially the new Family Practice specialty–focus on treating the whole person (physical, emotional, and spiritual).
I contemplated and wrestled with what Dr Stoutland advised. I finally felt I had a new career path. I did not have enough science credits to apply to med school and did not want to completely alter my senior year plans. I definitely did not want to give up my 3rd year in the St. Olaf Choir. I took my 2nd year of Greek, studied Wittgenstein under Dr Anderson, and sang in Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. I graduated magna cum laude and phi beta kappa. In 1968 I enrolled at Luther Sem in St Paul (full time) and concurrently took organic chemistry at the U of M. In 1969 I applied to the U of M med school (with recommendations from Drs Stanaitis, Stoutland, and my organic chem professor). I was accepted to the class of 1970. I needed to drop Seminary in 1969 for more science classes. This left me open to the military draft. However by divine intervention my draft number was 365!
I completed med school in 1974 and family practice residency at HCMC in1977. I Have been a family doc for over 36 yrs.
I credit Dr Stoutland for a very significant influence on my career choice. I am impressed by the responses of numerous philosophy major grads–that they have been influenced by one or more of the philosophy faculty. I think this speaks well of the St. Olaf philosophy department. Keep up the good work.
David Schrader, Class of 1969
I am David Schrader, St. Olaf ’69. After St. Olaf I attended Harvard Divinity School for an MTS (’71) and then the University of Massachusetts for my Ph.D. (’75). I taught for four years at Loras College (Dubuque, IA), ten years at Austin College (Sherman, TX), and seventeen years at Washington and Jefferson College (Washington, PA). I finished up my career with six years as Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association. I retired a year ago, and now live in Sandwich, MA, on Cape Cod.
I grew up in Northfield, and knew Howard Hong’s family for as long as I can remember. Fred Stoutland was my Sunday School teacher my Senior year in HS. Bill Narum’s wife was my primary choir director at St. John’s Church. During my Junior year at St.Olaf, Al Anderson came for a year from Concordia and taught Wittgenstein. Paul Fjelstad also started at St. Olaf that year as did Bill Mann. I particularly enjoyed studying logic with Fred Stoutland (and later Burton Dreben at Harvard and Terry Parsons at U. Mass). Walt Stromseth was probably the most important influence on me at St. Olaf through my work with him on Philosophy of Religion.
Philosophy of Religion has surely been my longest-standing interest. I’ve also done a good bit of work in Ethics and Philosophy of Economics. While at Washington and Jefferson I became an Associate at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Philosophy of Science. I learned a tremendous amount from people at the center, and developed a strong interest in the history of the relationship between natural science and theology.
While I am retired, I continue to serve on the Board of Directors of the Fration Internationale des Sociétés de Philosophie (FISP) and to referee submissions for a couple of journals. My parents (at 92 and 89) continue to live in Northfield, and I get back with moderate frequency.
George Warren Somers, Class of 1969
I graduated in 1969 with a majors and departmental honors in philosophy and mathematics. I was Phi Beta Kappa and won the Ringstad prize ( along with David Shrader ). I went on to do graduate work at Harvard Divinity School ( MTS ) and then Duke University in philosophy ( ABD ). When it became apparent that tenure track teaching opportunities were limited at best ( a situation I believe that is still the case ) I went to law school at the University of Chicago. I can report that compared with philosophy, law school seemed relatively easy and I was able to do well at Chicago. I had the opportunity to join many of the largest and most prestigious law firms in New York and Chicago. That was not a path that appealed to me however and I began my legal career with a large firm in Indianapolis, where I made Partner and worked for 20 years. My area of concentration was Real Estate law ( representing developers of shopping malls, office buildings, etc ). In 1999 I left with two partners to form our own boutique law firm where all of us concentrated in real estate development. My legal career has been relatively successful ( named in Best Lawyers for many years as well as a #1 rankings in Chambers and similar type honors ). Starting in 2002 I also joined one of my clients in some real estate investment opportunities. I now both practice law and continue various real estate investments.
I have always valued the many years , both undergraduate and graduate , that I spent studying philosophy. The habits of rigorous thought required served me very well in my legal career and in business. I would tell anyone interested in a legal career that philosophy is one of the very best preparations one can have for law school. [ I seem to recall that some empirical studies in the 70’s or 80’s reached the same conclusion.] More importantly, however, philosophy simply enriches your life. By habit of thought you are often able to parse different points of view down to the underlying assumptions. This can help others at the least to understand each other better, and sometimes to reach common ground where they failed to see it. The examined life is indeed much richer with enjoyment.
Nancy Wilber, Class of 1969
I’m Nancy Wilber (’69). I majored in English and philosophy, moved to Massachusetts for graduate school and have lived since then in the Boston area. I worked in high schools, evaluated education programs, then did research and evaluation related to child advocacy and public health. Now I’m “retired” and have volunteered and done professional internships in chaplaincy in a nursing home and hospital and plan to continue as long as I feel called and my mind-body allows.
How has philosophy mattered? Partly through the discipline’s emphasis on clear thinking, partly by its enlivening of my curiosity and love of conversation about ultimate questions, partly through people-connections. Probably I was on a path towards lifelong learning before St. Olaf, but philosophy certainly nudged it along. Our lives are also influenced by our times–mine by being in college and/or grad school during the King/Kennedy assassinations, riots afterwards, the anti-war and women’s and lesbian/gay movements. Being able to work through what life has presented with other people with a philosophical bent has helped and stimulated me.
Early on I left a PhD in philosophy of education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Science “all but dissertation” because I thought that a PhD opened doors only to being an academic. Instead I earned a EdD from the Harvard School of Education, a professional degree appropriate for me. Nevertheless, I hope these responses will help others with academic opportunities such as I had to be more imaginative about life possibilities than I was in my early twenties!
There was a time during my public health career that I could not recall the word “epistemology” because I was involved daily with epidemiology. My brain had trouble with the word switch. Nevertheless, I always loved reading, thinking, talking about philosophical and ultimate questions. Now in retirement, my passion for this kind of conversation and meaning-making is at least as strong as at St. Olaf. I work with myth, story, others’ and my own life narratives and dreams, science, intuition, comparative religious studies, current events, nature, movies, and so on. The philosophical impulse is always there as I wonder about different pathways and limits of knowledge, including those that seem more of the heart and body than the head, although all seems interrelated to me now. I’m a Unitarian Universalist actively defining and redefining my own spiritual beliefs and practices. In addition, my work as a nursing home and hospital chaplain raises ethical questions continuously, as does ordinary living, although perhaps not always in such an attention-catching way as dealing with people whom society marginalizes, or who are in medical crisis or dying.
Eunice Belgum and I were at Harvard together. She invited me to a women’s consciousness-raising group in the 1970’s, a life-changing experience for me. I thank her for this and for her friendship. Thanks also to all those responsible for continuing the lecture series in her honor and making it accessible online.