If you look for them, alumni and emeriti can be found almost everywhere at St. Olaf. Whether in the library, at the Cage, down at Skoglund or in Stav Hall, these Golden Oles are an active part of the St. Olaf community.
According to Judy Stromayer, director of campus recreation and coordinator of Recreation and Physical Education Athletics (RPEA) facilities, 31 emeriti, 43 retirees and 243 alumni had RPEA memberships for the 2004-05 school year, giving them access to Tostrud, Skoglund and the Manitou Fieldhouse. Just last year, an average of 85 emeriti and 93 alumni used the fitness room each month. The pool, however, remains the most used facility for retirees and emeriti.
Other senior citizens come to use the library, eat at the Cage or Stav Hall, attend campus events and talk to the younger generation of Oles. While reading in the new book room in Rolvaag last week, I came across one returning alum, Arthur Christensen '53. Christensen came into the room, chose a book, took off his jacket and sat down across from me.
To be honest, I was intrigued it isn't every day you see someone 50 years older than you reading a book by choice in the library. On my way out, I went out on a limb and asked him what brought him to St. Olaf.
Well, I'll tell you, he said. I just love St. Olaf! Christensen continued to tell me how he grew up in New York, but wanted to experience a real campus during his college years and decided to make the move to Northfield.
They had to get used to my Brooklyn accent, he joked.
At his class's 50th anniversary, Christensen's best friend and St. Olaf roommate showed him around his Northfield house and Christensen loved it. Soon after he returned to his Long Island home, he got a call the house next door was for sale. Christensen flew out from New York, saw the Northfield house, and bought it. Christensen joins over 20 members of the class of 1953 who also live in Northfield.
I just love this town and this community, he said about Northfield and St. Olaf. I feel at home intellectually, spiritually and aesthetically.
Christensen told me all the things he loves about St. Olaf, including the music, the students and the memories.
I can't believe how good the [St. Olaf] Orchestra is, he said. Those kids are amazing!
He showered similar praises on current Oles.
The students are so fantastic here, he said. They say 'hi' and don't even know who you are.
Rolvaag is not the only place on campus to find alumni and emeriti, however. Some dedicated breakfast-goers may notice that the coffee runs out around 9:30 on Tuesday mornings. It isn't just a weird Caf snafu, but a result of the professor emeriti regular breakfast on the second floor of Stav.
The emeriti professor breakfast meets weekly, and is comprised of about 30 professors who retired from teaching at St. Olaf but continue meeting to enjoy each other's company and the benefits of the college. When I asked members of the group why they returned to St. Olaf, most of them corrected me.
"We aren't coming back because we never left," said Tom Porter '51 with a laugh. The other professors laughed and agreed with him.
Porter taught and coached at St. Olaf from 1958 to 1990, and he recently co-authored a book, "The Greatest Game: Football at St. Olaf College," with Robert Phelps.
"I've lived and taught here, and I've put my roots down," Porter said. "You wouldn't just drop things and move."
Most of the emeriti said that they were not able to become true friends with professors from other fields while they were teaching.
Arthur Campbell, professor emeriti of music composition, said that all the professors are more friendly outside the classroom, and that, through the emeriti breakfast, he has gotten to know men he never would have met in a classroom setting.
Jim Walker, professor emeritus of Russian literature and language, echoed Porter's sentiments, saying that the weekly emeriti breakfast allows the men to really get to know each other.
I learn more about them now than after teaching for 30 years, Walker said with a laugh.
Many of the emeriti stated emphatically that their best friends came from St. Olaf. Jim Enestvedt '60 described his Ole friends as lifelong friends forever, and Christensen said that 90 percent of his dearest friends are from his time on the Hill.
Other emeriti and alumni said with a smile that they met their spouses at St. Olaf, including Stan Frear '47 who came back to teach English in 1962 and who started the English Department's Interim in Ireland trip in 1979.
Several professors get a kick out of meeting current Oles who are children of their students from years past. Vern Faillettaz, professor emeritus of religion, said that he has a little collection of pre-natal friends," such as Student Government Association President Thomas Rusert '06, who visits Faillettaz for tea.
Perhaps more than current Oles, "Golden Oles" feel a deep love, respect and attachment to their alma mater. Most emeriti and alumni agreed that they appreciate St. Olaf more as retirees than they did as students or professors.
"St. Olaf has been very good to us," said Jennings Feroe '35, a former member of the Development Staff.
After visiting with so many alumni, so many men who have a deep-rooted love for St. Olaf, I began to wonder where I will be when I attend my 50th class reunion. When I graduate, will I share similarly golden memories of my time on the Hill? Will I ever find myself in Rolvaag after Sunday, May 27, 2007 (not that I'm counting )? When 2057 rolls around, will I be living on St. Olaf Avenue, next door to my Ole best friend and roommate, going to Cantorei concerts and reading the Mess in my free time?
This article was supposed to explain why alumni come back to St. Olaf, but I discovered that many of them never leave. Why are they so attached? What brings them to the Hill when Christmas Fest is long over, when there isn't lutefisk or lefse in the Caf and when it is (finally) too warm for a Norwegian sweater?
It's a plain and simple reason, but a profound one. They love St. Olaf. And true love lasts a lifetime.