I Spy Emeriti

When a Luther student graduates, it’s easy for them to imagine their former professors fixed in place, forever helming the head of a classroom, guiding lab or field research, or anchoring favorite campus spots. But just like their students, faculty do eventually move on.

And just like their students, the post-Luther lives of emeriti faculty are rich, diverse, and full of surprises. To learn what some of your beloved former professors have been up to in their months, years, and even decades of retirement, read on!

A liberal arts tradition

The liberal arts are well-represented at this table!

Every Thursday morning for the past 30-plus years, a group of Luther emeriti has met for breakfast. Magpie is their current spot (Ruby’s, before it closed, was their former). Participants have ranged in age from 65 to 95. They discuss events of the day, including what’s happening on campus. Current attendees include (left to right): Dale Nimrod (chemistry and computer science), Uwe Rudolf (German, accounting, international business), Ruth Caldwell (French and Italian), Harland Nelson (English), Mark Muggli (English), Jim Iverson (guest emeritus of physics at Iowa State), Alan Lerstrom (communication studies), Will Bunge ’53 (classics and religion). Not pictured: Carol Gilbertson (English), Dennis Barnaal (physics), Phil Reitan (biology). Dick Ylvisaker ’50 (philosophy) and John Tjostem (biology) have recently retired from the group, which was started by John Bale (English).

Ruth Caldwell, French

Luther doesn’t end with retirement! Several of us still do “study away,” now known as alumni trips. I have led two of these (Dante’s Italy; Sicily and Malta). Since 2020, the Alumni Office has offered “Paideia III” alumni book clubs, and I have led and participated in most of these. It has been so much fun to reconnect with former students and meet other alumni.

J. R. Christianson, history

I want to hear from Luther grads who worked with me on the letters of historian Marcus Lee Hansen (1892–1938). I am completing my book manuscript on Hansen, who was the first historian to describe America as a multicultural society. It’s been many years in the making. If you worked on the project, transcribed some of Hansen’s letters, researched, proofread, or worked with the Hansen letters in other ways, please send a message to christianson@luther.edu and remind me of your part in the project. I would also like to know what you’ve been doing recently.

J. R. Christianson

A March 17 podcast in the Renaissance Lives series from the Warburg Institute at London University focused on my richly illustrated biography Tycho Brahe and the Measure of the Heavens. It can be viewed at warburg.sas.ac.uk/renaissance-lives.

Ellen Drewes-Stoen, education; health and exercise science

Ellen Drewes-Stoen

I may have retired from teaching at Luther, but I am still teaching! I am a professional dog trainer and teach training classes at the Good Dog Center in Decorah. Let’s just say, I teach people AND often remediate dogs. I have written training articles for my national association—National Organization of Dog Obedience Instructors—where I hold three certifications. I have also written training articles for breed clubs and presented seminars in training and teaching methods. I enjoy showing Quasar, one of our dogs, in conformation and am currently training in performance. Quasar is a Schapendoes, Dutch sheepdog (rare breed). He has earned two championships and is a therapy dog with Alliance for Therapy Dogs. He visits Luther frequently, so you may see him with me or my husband, Erik.

James W. Eckblad, biology

I’ve been enjoying time in my woodworking shop recently. I make walking sticks and canes (using old golf club shafts), wood pens and bottle stoppers from branches of buckthorn, and a variety of turned and carved small gnomes.

James W. Eckblad

Ed Epperly, education

Ed Epperly

In November 2021, I released a book, Fiend Incarnate: Villisca Iowa Axe Murders of 1912. Published by Fourth Wall Press, it is available through Amazon and can be ordered through retail bookstores. This book is the product of years of research I pursued as a hobby.

Paul Gardner, political science

In 2020 I received a Fulbright Scholar Award to teach in Timișoara, Romania. Covid drove us home after 33 days. I applied for another Fulbright and received a second award for fall 2021. I taught two groups of Romanian graduate students about American democracy with a focus on the Black freedom movement.

Paul Gardner and his partner, Rebecca, hiking in the Carpathian Mountains in eastern Romania

Carol Gilbertson, English

Carol Gilbertson

I’ve been retired for over a decade now, and I find that I’ve moved into a whole new way of life—more relaxed but always surprising. For the first few years, I was wonderfully occupied with family matters—daughters’ marriages, grandchildren’s births—my baking hobby, and my continuing fitness workouts. The pandemic brought family health issues and my own Covid diagnosis but also the delight of our fifth grandchild, a marvelous gift in a difficult time. I continue to write poems about human life as I experience it and as I witness it in the wider world, with its joys, terrors, and griefs.

Bradley Hanson, religion

In March, Bradley Hanson (in the red sweater) led a Luther Lifelong Learner Seminar that featured his book.

I have a new book out, Finding Grace in Caregiving. Searching for spiritual practices to foster patience and kindness in caregiving for my wife with Alzheimer’s, I look to St. Paul.

Norma J. Hervey, history

Luther has given me the opportunity to do what I always dreamed of doing, and I am grateful. The ongoing relationships with graduates and international students I hosted is also a special gift. My dreams as an undergraduate were to see the world and to teach history. As I delayed graduate school until my children were all in school, I was 35 before I earned my first MA degree and 60 before I completed my PhD. Dreams denied? I have now been teaching in Prague’s Charles University from 2008 until 2018.

Norma Hervey

Since then, I have tutored students and given roundtable presentations and guest lectures to students and colleagues. After working with 30 students writing MA theses, I am still working with a student focused on Black history. I have also been involved with an NGO whose first purpose is to provide education to Czechs on racist issues. And I have recently been one of a crew of cooks preparing meals for refugees from Ukraine.

I have also been blessed with multiple opportunities to see most of the European countries as well as Russia and Ukraine, India, China, Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, Jamaica, Brazil, and Argentina. I managed to hike the Camino, the shortest route from Portugal to Santiago, Spain, and hiked around southern Ireland. Perhaps the primary gift has been attending Luther students’ weddings in multiple nations, sharing special occasions. Sometimes all of this seems surreal, but right now, with the tragedies in Ukraine and two years of a pandemic, I have also, unfortunately, experienced history happening. This has allowed me to contribute to the refugees, most of them children. As children are our primary assets, their suffering is a challenge and a grief. I still believe that education is the only means of solving the multiple problems to give all of them a future.

Laurie Iudin-Nelson, Russian studies

I have been enrolled as a full-time student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. My MDiv degree program will lead to ordainment in the ELCA. I am enrolled in the Collaborative Learning Program of the MDiv program, which means that for the four years of my graduate study, I serve concurrently at an ELCA congregation.

Laurie Iundin-Nelson

I am serving two rural congregations as vicar near Sumner, Iowa—St. Peter-Richfield and St. John-Stapleton. I was awarded an ELCA Fund for Leaders Scholarship in honor of H. George Anderson (former bishop of the ELCA, who was president of Luther when I was hired in 1992).

Harv Klevar, anthropology

A few years ago, Harv Klevar (right) visited Angleton, Texas, where he interviewed William Brown (center) and Waverly Jefferson (left) for the book he’s writing.

A few years ago I returned to Texas and had some success in meeting African Americans of my generation who had grown up near me but whom I had never come to know. After introducing myself, I had asked if I might hear their stories of growing up so that I might compare their experiences to mine and write them up in a book I hoped to publish as Being and Becoming: Black and Czech White in South Texas. Presently I am about four-fifths of the way through the work with hopes of completing the telling within the coming year.

Donna Kubesh, nursing

Busier than I ever thought I’d be! Continuing with a variety of hobbies. Serving on a couple of local boards. Volunteering—Pink Ribbon Mentors is one I’m particularly invested in, breast cancer survivors mentoring others. Also continuing to challenge my mind with two book groups, among other things.

William Kuhlman, music; college organist

William Kuhlman

On March 13, I participated in the American Guild of Organists’s celebration of women composers at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Tucson, Ariz. I played works by Libby Larson, Maria Thersia Von Paradis, Emma Lou Diemer, and Fanny Mendelssohn on a 64-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ.

In April, I presented a lecture for the guild entitled “Andrew Carnegie and the Organ.”

Bob Larson, theatre

After 50 years of teaching and directing (two in high school, 48 at Luther), the initial days and years of retirement contained a fluid of emotions and thoughts. To say I missed the daily engagement with students in the classroom and rehearsal hall is a major understatement. Theatre-making is a collaborative art, and working intently with gifted colleagues and engaging students in shared creative problem-solving were always gifts that I never took for granted.

Bob Larson and his wife, Marilynn, with granddaughter Maya Mukamuri ’22, a third-generation Luther student

Since retiring, a variety of projects helped keep the collaborative fire burning, though during these past two Covid challenging years, the embers cooled quite a bit. Post-retirement projects included: serving on the planning committee for the 50th anniversary of Luther’s Black Student Union, including shaping an ensemble performance piece for the celebrative weekend and helping refresh a one-woman show by Julia Mann ’09, Mixed Reality, a piece developed as her senior project that remains active; devising, with students, the initial Community of Care performance for first-year orientation; collaborating with Kristen Underwood on the one-woman play Natural Shocks, part of a nationwide focus on gun violence; stage directing Amahl and the Night Visitors, produced by the Oneota Valley Community Orchestra; shaping a Lenten series for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of word and dance focused on the poetry of Mary Oliver.

For the past three and a half years, a lively endeavor has been a joint venture with my spouse, Marilynn, as we have absorbed the rhythm, pulse, and heartbeat of the college through our granddaughter’s engagement with Luther. Witnessing Maya’s journey, listening to her stories, sensing her frustrations, relishing her accomplishments, meeting her friends, and occasionally doing her laundry have added a true dimension of joy to our retirement years.

Nancy Maloney, nursing

Nancy Maloney (left) volunteers with a respite program in Alabama.

Since 2016 I have been involved as a volunteer with the development of the Respite Program of the First United Methodist Church of Dothan, Ala. This program has two goals: (1) to provide caregivers with four hours of rest and relief (respite) from their caregiving tasks; (2) to care for adults with dementia (our participants) in an environment that is accepting, enjoyable, and provides activities that they are able to perform. (And if you have never played balloon volleyball, you don’t know what fun really is!!)

During our “time out” for Covid, we provided a monthly meal to each family, which we delivered. We also had drive-by parades around football games, Halloween, Christmas decorations, etc. to stay in contact and provide an outing. On March 2, practice began for the spring concert. They know their hymns, and they love to sing!

Some of us become participants as we age. I have asked them not to tell me when I move from volunteer to participant—I’ll just keep coming and won’t know the difference!

Jim Martin-Schramm, environmental studies; religion

Karen and Jim Martin-Schramm, with granddaughters Anna and Caroline, who live in Des Moines

I’ve been doing some pulpit supply at First Lutheran Church and some consulting work for the Clean Energy Districts of Iowa (CEDI). In September, I submitted expert witness testimony on behalf of CEDI in the Black Hills Energy rate case before the Iowa Utilities Board. I argued that the level of increase and new riders the company proposed would exacerbate the energy burden for many households served by Black Hills. The company entered into a settlement agreement with CEDI and the Office of the Consumer Advocate.

As a board member of the Winneshiek Energy District, I am currently convening the Lansing Transition Group, which is an ad hoc group that has been formed to help the city of Lansing and others in Allamakee County manage the impacts related to Alliant Energy’s decision to close the Lansing Generating Station by the end of 2022. The group includes members of the Lansing City Council, Main Street Lansing, the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors, the School District, and the Allamakee County Energy District.

We also bought a Peloton exercise bike, which was a wonderful way to work out during this long winter.

Mark Z. Muggli, English

Mark Z. Muggli

I indulge in some of the same experiences as many of my retired colleagues: reading, socializing, cancer, traveling, grandkidding, spousing, dancing, walking. But my most aggressive energies have gone into historic preservation. Since my retirement, our local commission, which I chair, has successfully nominated the Decorah Commercial Historic District, the Luther College historic district, and an expansion of the Broadway-Phelps Park historic district and has completed a project celebrating the work of local (and Luther) architect Charles Altfillisch. Historic preservation may not seem an obvious avocation for a lifelong student of literature, writing, and theatre, but perhaps my former students will recognize that I often approached those arts from a rather architectural/structural perspective. Life is good.

Harley Refsal, art

Harley Refsal

PBS’s Postcard program recently featured Harley Refsal, emeritus professor of art, as the subject of season 13, episode 5. “The world isn’t counting on a little whittled figure by any means, but we do need that here,” he says, tapping his heart, “and here,” he says, tapping his head. “It feeds my soul, and I am delighted when I can hook somebody else as well.” The episode is viewable on the PBS website here, and on YouTube.

Phillip J. Reitan, biology

In the early years of our retirement, Ruth and I did a fair amount of travel, both in the states and abroad. The later years (as ARMD took away much of my vision), I have been writing poems on nature, aging, and miscellaneous topics. I have also been writing mini essays (on one or two pages) on a variety of topics. Most of these provide an evolutionary explanation of human behavior. I have a machine that magnifies things from small to large. It allows me to write (Ruth types, but not for me to read, for I cannot read more than one word at a time. That would be like back in first grade). But I am thankful for TV.

Ruth and Phil Reitan


 May your DNA properly replicate
            and your Operons always operate.
May your Feedback Loops feed back
            and your caecum remain as a blind sac.
May your friends, like your coelom, always be true
            and may you find a niche at a trophic level appropriate to you.
May you outrun both predator and prey
            and ever strive for that ancient goal:
                    —Phil Reitan

Uwe Jens Rudolf, economics, accounting, and management

My spouse, Ruth Caldwell, and I continue to be active participants in the Magpie emeriti group, Lifelong Learner seminars, and online Luther book clubs in addition to extensive travels abroad. Ruth has co-led several book club discussions on Zoom. It has been a great opportunity to reconnect with many former students and meet alumni we had not previously known.

Uwe Jens Rudolf and Ruth Caldwell (to the right) traveled with Cy ’76 and Mona (Feller) Nelson ’75, professor emerita of acounting and management, to San Marino in 2021.

In November, we spent two weeks exploring northern Italy with emerita [of economics, accounting, and management] Mona (Feller) Nelson ’75 and her husband, Cy ’76, showing them our favorite haunts. This April, we are visiting former student Joyce (Krueger) Fürst ’74 in Austria, then driving to Prague to visit Norma Hervey (emerita professor of history), among other travels in Germany and Scotland.

I completed the third edition of the Historical Dictionary of Malta in 2018 and continue to follow events in Malta closely, prepared to update the work in the future. I hope to resume work on another long-delayed writing project, Where in the World Is Luther College?! It involves compiling biographies of the numerous Luther alumni engaged in interesting careers abroad. There are so many with whom I have been fortunate to remain in contact thanks to visits on numerous January Terms abroad, personal travels, and the World Wide Web! Luther has a truly exceptional network of alumni who love their alma mater! One of those alumni has recently helped me establish a scholarship fund called the Global Opportunity Fund. The purpose of this fund is to encourage students to seek internships abroad by helping to pay for international travel.

Kent Simmonds, philosophy

Lynne Sootheran and Kent Simmonds. Photo by Chip Peterson

Since retirement in 2005, I first returned to classroom work for a maternity leave, then January Term in Egypt and in Japan, a second time directing the Malta and Mediterranean Program, followed by directing the Scandinavia and the Baltic Program, while continuing January Term work for the Holocaust and for Buddhism in Japan and China. Needless to say, I learned a lot, and Lynne joined me for most of this work. One doesn’t direct a program alone.

We also traveled a bit—while we were in Malta and Norway—visiting family in Europe. Later we visited our daughter and some Nottingham friends in Australia. We ventured to southern Africa and to China and Tibet with Lynne’s college friends. We are now prepared and relieved never to enter an airport again.

We served three years on the board of Right Sharing of World Resources, a Friends’ (Quaker) organization devoted to providing small grants (microfinance) to very poor and disadvantaged women, mostly in India, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and soon Central America. We learned a lot doing that work as well.

I was pleased to play a few seasons in the Oneota Valley Community Orchestra as well as quartets.

We have meanwhile been stewarding some acres of creek, prairie, and woods nearby and are pleased that trout are healthy and the land much improved. We are now tired and aged and are preparing to move to a residence somewhere nearby that requires less footprint and less attention.

Jacqueline Wilkie, history; Paideia

Jacqueline Wilkie

I have returned to the hamlet of Selkirk, N.Y., where I’ve thrown myself into the restoration of a bungalow built in 1924—three years younger than the one I had in Decorah. It’s great to be putting that historical background to a practical use.