A Retirement Soliloquy
Coming to North Park College was in many ways easier than leaving. The process was quite simple. I talked awhile with Dean Albin Erickson, and then he suggested I go over to Wilson Hall and meet President Clarence Nelson. President Nelson asked about my graduate work at the University of Michigan, what kinds of philosophy I had been studying. We talked about the thought of Søren Kierkegaard and of the former Covenanter — the great Kierkegaard scholar — Professor Paul Holmer. Then he stood up, said he would have Dean Erickson send a contract, shook hands, and said good-bye. I do not recall meeting any faculty or other administrators.
A letter dated June 19, 1952 arrived in which Dean Erickson said he had the Board of Directors' permission to offer me a full-time contract for $3000. However, there was one hitch — enrollment was down, so he could offer only a part-time contract to teach one course each semester at a total annual stipend of $500. A possibility of two evening school courses during the year, at $150 each, could raise my 1952-53 salary to $900.
Among the many moonlighting jobs I had were cabinetmaking, carpentry, and delivering milk. For a time, I sold shoes on weekends at the Skokie Bootery. I remember once, on a Friday evening, seeing one of my students at the Bootery window, looking in at the display. My heart sank, please, don't come in, please. Well, he needed shoes, I guess, and he walked in to find his teacher as his salesclerk. I made some lame remark about taking care of his soul during the week and his soles on the weekend.
Now, seven presidents (Nelson, Olsson, Ahlem, Acting President Art Nelson, Hausman, Acting President, Latori, and Horner), seven deans (Erickson, Carlson, Edgren, Sandin, Nelson, Fellowes, and Acting "Dean" Gross), one provost, many divisional chairs, thousands of students and hundreds of colleagues later, I find it hard to hang it up. Teaching has been my life.
But then, I've aged. And like old deans, we professors don't die, we just lose our faculties. I was allowed to teach Bible in those early years, and I remember one course evaluation in which the student remarked: "This teacher is too young to teach Bible, a Bible teacher should be old, like Dean Erickson." The dean, I think, was pushing 45 at the time. Though, happily, I have not received any evaluations that commented, "This teacher is too old, etc...," there is my own inward sense that time is precious and short and that I have, still, many projects to complete. At my last physical, Dr. Ward asked me, "Are you retiring from something or to something?" It was an excellent question, and I realized that mine would be "to something."
I find, on retirement, that many people ask the question: "What will you be doing now?" When the query comes to me, I answer to the effect that I will be doing research in libraries, studying, reading, and spending time at my word processor. The answer somehow does not seem to satisfy most. Advice soon follows. Some have suggested that I will be in Muriel's way, that I will perhaps want to do more traveling, golfing, fishing, gardening, or, possibly, get more serious about some old hobbies. One of our colleagues said I ought to do more skiing now — "It will all be downhill from here on in."
Some have been very creative and pointed in their advice: One said that, since I have done a lot of carpentry, I ought to consider becoming a handyman; another person suggested that I take Zenos' [Hawkinson] example and give talks to Covenanters around the country; my 101-year-old aunt, who has boundless confidence in me, said that since Norbert Johnson has now retired, I should be considered for taking his place at North Park Covenant Church.
The other night at a dinner of our church friends, a pastor, seated across the table, suggested that I should consider leading tours to Israel. When I told him that tour-leading was not in my future plans, he suggested then perhaps I could become a Hi-League or youth counselor. When I answered that I was not looking for work, he continued his advice, pointing out how actually this would be good because of my education and experience and because young people really do like older people. Even after I again said, as politely as possible, that I had neither intention nor interest in such, he kept assuring me that young people really do like older people. I thought I might have to give him the "read-my-lips" routine.
I know that people are well-meaning in all this. And isn't it the case that everyone wants to feel employable? It seems we derive some enjoyment from thinking about new careers and new work possibilities.
I remember once being offered a cabinet-making job by a man from a local lumber yard who was installing some windows on a cabin I was building in the Upper Penninsula. He complimented me on my carpentry skills. I was fired up by his praise and by the prospect he was suggesting. A bit later, he asked me to cut a board that he could use to put the windows in place. Excited to help this expert craftsman, I picked up my skill saw, sawed the board to the exact length, and, at the same time, managed somehow to cut the cord of my saw completely in half. It was not the most gracious way to turn off a saw.
At this moment, I look back on 37 very satisfying and stimulating years of teaching young people. What a gratifying way to have invested one's time and energy! What a joy to see students grow intellectually and mature personally, socially, and spiritually! It has been my special privilege to teach on a campus where my own children were studying, I am proud that all of our four children — Kristine, Wesley, Paul, and Renee — are graduates of North Park College and I am happy to have had each one in at least one of my philosophy classes.
Enough of the past. My vision for the future, for myself and NPC as we go our separate ways, is full of promise. I am looking forward with great anticipation — if CREF/TIAA and Social Security come through as expected — to some good years of writing and enjoying life. I hope that the College will continue to offer a challenging, high quality, classical, Christian liberal arts education, for an uncommitted life has no purpose and "an unexamined life is not worth living."
One last thought — I've often been puzzled when I have heard that a North Park teacher has retired, and then the next year or two or three, I see him/her back on campus, teaching classes. It's confusing. I have said to myself that when I retire and wave good-bye, unlike MacArthur, I shall not return. For me, it will be a clean break! "Not so, Viking breath!" A couple months ago, Sonia and several majors asked me to teach the senior philosophy seminar next year. As I said, leaving North Park is not easy.
There have been the usual ups and downs, both times of joy and times of discouragement, in my experience here. Still, on balance, I would sum it all up by paraphrasing the parting words of the great Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein — Tell them I've had a wonderful life at North Park.
— May 20, 1990