Dear Luther College Class of 1953,
Sixty-five years ago, come early June, we marched across campus into Preus Gymnasium to receive Luther diplomas. “New” Main had been dedicated at the beginning of that academic year; its designation has long since been reduced to Main. The campus was modest, but it was ours. It was a launch pad into the lives we have now largely lived, we, the children of the Great Depression and World War II.
Time for some periodization of our lives, with special reference to the college that launched us. Were the 1950s as blissful and carefree as they are now often characterized? It is surely true that we as Americans were less wounded by the horrors of World War II than a lot of other nations and peoples. There was, I suppose, general optimism about the future, with an abundance of opportunities for college graduates. By the 1960s that optimism burst into full bloom in colleges and universities, resulting in rapid growth.
However, as we moved through the 1960s it became clear, especially on college and university campuses, that something was amiss. Racial minorities clamored for equal rights, women wanted to break out of traditional roles, and there was the war that seemed without end and the military draft that shadowed the lives of young men. It was “the best of times and the worst of times” on a college campus. It was a springtime of growth—swelling enrollment and sprouting buildings—but also an autumn of discontent with the status quo.
The decade began with a downer at Luther College: the loss of Preus Gym by fire, after 35 years of service as the multi-purpose center of the college. During the following decade, the 1970s, Luther College struggled toward the completion of a new center, the Center for Faith and Life. It may have been the most controversial project in the college’s history. We didn’t have sufficient funding and there was widespread disagreement, especially on campus, about the priority of the building. However, plans moved on to completion in 1977. And now, after 40 years of use, one can say with confidence that it has been and continues to be a genuine center. It is the face of Luther College to the thousands who enter it each year.
We had one international student in our senior year at Luther. We now have 150, from many nations though primarily from Africa and Asia. A substantial number of students are from American minority groups. And women students have access to most professional opportunities. One hesitates to announce “Mission Accomplished!” for the movements for change in the 1960s, but a lot of barriers have fallen.
Worshippers at First Lutheran Church in Decorah had a WOW moment on Sunday last. While the usual low level conversational murmur hummed along on the main level, suddenly the sounds of eight trumpets announced the beginning of the service from the balcony. One’s immediate instinct was to stand at attention and salute someone. Barring that, hands everywhere sprang up to turn down the volume on hearing aids. Those eight Luther students of the Luther College Trumpet Choir were fabulous. I would like to say awesome, but I have sworn an oath not to use that adjective; it has been used up and is a mere shade of its once proud self. This trumpet choir is scheduled to participate in the National Trumpet Competition in March, in Texas. They were so commandingly precise on Sunday that we were inspired to imitate the crispness of their play in our singing of hymns. Later in the service they played an anthem and the postlude as well. It is the only occasion I can recall when everyone stood at their pews, faced the balcony and listened in silence to the entire postlude.
Five of the trumpeters were women, three men, another sign of the revolution that has occurred in our lifetimes. We used to act as though some musical instruments had gender, especially trumpets. No more. And when the world of opportunity is open to all, we are all the richer for it.
The spring semester is when students provide evidence to a wider public of what they have been working on, whether academic or cocurricular. We have already enjoyed the “Homecoming” concerts of the Symphony Orchestra and the Nordic Choir. Both were excellent. Andrew Last ’97, the new director of Nordic, is clearly a winner. He has good rapport with students and the results are impressive.
The Regents Center is abuzz with activity, the spring sports groups getting ready indoors. The indoor track is available to us all for limited times in order to keep moving. The Fitness Center, with its array of exercise machines, is also available to me, and there, from the balcony level treadmill and stationary cycle I can observe the fitter generation on the main floor lifting weights and preparing for their more strenuous activities. I have perfected the six-minute quarter mile on the treadmill and have pretty much resigned myself to that level of accomplishment. A half hour a day, my doctor ordered. He didn’t say I had to reach a specific goal. The students below look so fit; it is intimidating. But they are exceedingly polite to me; no hint of scorn.
One recent campus development that is especially promising is the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement. A large endowment gift made possible the funding of the center, with a director and support for activities. The current director identifies opportunities to engage in ethical discussions in connection with events on campus, guest lectures as well as programming she plans herself. This experience in the shaping of responsible community will bear fruit in the character of the future communities of our graduates.
We would be pleased to welcome all of you to Homecoming 2018 (October 26-28) to celebrate the anniversary of our commencement, the 65th. You will receive more information on this in due time. In the meantime, please consider directing your gifts to alma mater to the Class of 1953 Scholarship. I am confident that we can eventually reach our goal of a $100,000 endowed scholarship fund.
Wilfred F. Bunge
902 W. Pearl Street
Decorah, IA 52101