Class of 1962 Spring 2018 Letter

Spring 2018

Greetings Class of ’62,

I have had reason to reflect lately that the Luther that we knew is passing away. There have been so many that have recently passed away; those who have given much of themselves that have made Luther a great school. 

How many students had come to Luther to sing in Nordic Choir or play in Concert Band because they wanted to experience the musical leadership of Weston Noble ’43, recognized nationally and beyond as one of the great collegiate conductors?

Then we lost Elwin Farwell, now recognized as a great president. In his inaugural address, and many times since then, he predicted that Luther was headed for genuine greatness. He was a higher education professional with a breadth of perspective to make such predictions meaningful and not merely an “encourage the troops” kind of cheap campaign talk.

Early last fall we got news that Robert Jenson ’51 was gone. Some faculty state that Jenson was likely the most intellectually gifted member of the faculty. While at Luther he attracted the most gifted of students and presented them with profound challenges such as working through Aristotle’s metaphysics in Greek, no less. His students were loyal to him and vice-versa. I recall my first presentation at the American Academy of Religion – based on my dissertation “Christians in the Roman Army.” It was an audacious piece of work, admittedly, but one thoroughly researched. Present at that meeting were Koester from Harvard, Ramsay from Princeton, Meeks from Yale, Morton Smith from Colombia, and Jonathan Smith from Chicago. What really elevated my spirit for this presentation was, in the front row, Robert and Blanche Jenson. Morton Smith was there to “score points” and put in place the younger scholars. His question he thought would stop me was off - way off - and I borrowed some of Jenson’s panache when I responded, “Well Professor Smith, if you really think about it…” I had come fresh from my oral exams and I can actually say “I had thought about it.”  I thought Jenson would collapse from hysterics because I thought that would have been something he would have dragged in from his debate days at Luther. It was great to have him there, one of my most respected teachers from all time. 

We also lost Tom Kraabel ’56 who, after taking the position of Dean, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which had also taken J.W. Ylvisaker ’21 some time earlier. Kraabel had not then had enough time to move Luther a notch or two up. Kraabel was, as I had written in an earlier class letter, a great mentor who sent me on a productive path to publication. His favorite saying was to declare that Luther’s problem was it did not know how good it really was.

Was it necessary to bolster Luther’s faculty by such praise? Yes it was. We must not forget that in the 30s and 40s the church, nationally, was contemplating removing support from one of its many “church schools” and Luther was at the top of the list. Only the work of faculty such as Preus, Qualley, and President Olson saved it. Now perhaps the spotlight shines on other schools for the Church. 

One can only stand in awe of those who came before us to save the school and now it stands beyond any such threat.  As we give thanks for these giants of the early to middle twentieth century, we must not fall to the other side of the road and think that we will not see their kind ever again. The times call forth people to meet the challenge of the new reality. It is likewise important to recognize the many powerful members of the alumni, if called to the challenge.   It is hard to imagine what kind of events those would be. They would rise up and support the school that has supported them. Coach Schweizer always said, and rightly so, that when your school looks good, you look good.

In closing, I hope you'll consider supporting current Luther students with a donation to the Luther Fund. Use the enclosed form and reusable envelope to mail in your gift or visit today! Thank you!

Sic semper,

John Helgeland
1962 Class Agent
[email protected]


Jane (Niemeyer) Lindner of Winona, Minn., died Dec. 13, 2015, age 75.

Karen Ruth Dahlen-Lacivita of Kewadin, Mich., died Aug. 31, 2017, age 77.

Full obituaries can be found on the Luther College website at:
If you would like a printout of the full obituaries from your class mailed to you, please contact us at:
[email protected], or 563-387-1509