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Q&A with Dorothy Parkander

A.J. Where would you like to begin?

D.P. Well, I came as a student in 1942 to Augustana in the fall of the major ‘movement' of all the young men on campus. They all left on the same train for Chicago for World War II. And so, really, after that September occasion, the school was pretty much a women's college. Except for the period of time-and that was very exciting for all of us- when the Air Corps cadets were stationed on campus. They added a great deal of, shall I say, ‘difference'. There was no communication, technically. The classes they took were separate classes, and supposedly you weren't even to talk to them when they were in the food line. But I lived in what is now the Emmy Evald the southwest corner, right on 7th Avenue. And there was quite a trafficking of my street floor window and the young ladies in the dormitory. About two or three in the morning they'd come in the windows. I'd wake up and say ‘Well, OK!' So it was very exciting I must say.

A.J. So what was it that drew you to Augustana in particular?

D.P. My father was a Lutheran minister in Chicago... it was the Depression, 1920s-1930s and so on. Augustana at that time was a Swedish Lutheran college, and the Scandinavian touch was very real. Some of the founders were still living. Very, very interesting people. But if you were a member of what was then the Augustana Synod, you paid only $50 a semester in tuition. And of course that was a drawing card certainly for ministers' kids to go. My sister went one year elsewhere and was absolutely furious over the fact that she was paying good money at a school where ‘evolution' was a dirty word, and so she wouldn't go back. Here of course there was no problem with somebody like Fryxell heading the geology department. So my sister was here, and when she was a junior, I came as a freshman.... It didn't occur to me to want to go elsewhere.

A.J. Did you come to Augustana with the intention to teach after you graduated?

D.P. Yes! My senior year the head of the English depart-ment and President Bergendoff told me that the position was waiting for me as soon as I got my master's, so I got my master's in '46-'47 and came back in the fall of '47 to teach.... At the time I graduated [from Augustana] there was only one woman Ph.D. on campus and she was probably the most powerful force on campus [Henriette Naeseth]. She was head of the humanities division, which at that time included English, all of the modern languages, all of the classics, the whole music department and the art department. And I mean, she was absolutely brilliant and let me tell you, a swashbuckling human being. But most of the people who came, came with master's degrees and then gradually worked for their doctorates. 

A.J. What was your teaching style?

D.P. It was lecturing. We had lots of discussion, but I loved the business of organizing something so that when you looked at a poem, for example, by asking certain questions, you could see the internal order of a poem and how one section made sense in comparison with another section and so on. At that time, for a long time, the only literature course open to first-year students was my course in world literature. That was not a survey course; it was a course in what I called ‘Heroes'-the Greek idea of the hero. We did Homer, the medieval idea of the hero where we looked at Dante and The Divine Comedy, and then the absurdist hero in Camus' The Plague or in something like Lagerkvist's Barabbas or Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. And so we had the ancient and medieval and the modern in that way. And it was great fun! But I would have as many as 80 to 100 students in my class. So a lecture was about the only way you could teach that.

A.J. What were the big technological advances when you were teaching?

D.P. Even before the mimeograph, we had a hectograph and Dr. Naeseth used to say, ‘Oh, those nasty purple things!' with the purple ink in them. The mimeograph was still going strong up until the day of the Xerox machine and that was, I suppose, the first real major innovation as far as equipment went. Then came the time when all the college typewriters were removed-and every department had to give its members courses in how to handle computers.... When I first came, [there were] four lonely members of the English department. We were in what had been a closet for band instruments. They removed the band instruments, and they put us in the closet on the top floor of Old Main! And it was horrendous because there was a big chapel at the end that included both the third and second floor; the chapel was huge. And it had a pipe organ, and then another little pipe organ because there were students, a lot of students, then taking organ; they had church jobs. And so you could get students practicing on two organs and then over on this side-the band and the orchestra rehearsing. And then, in back of us, the speech department with the orators rehearsing and the debaters rehearsing and the four of us, tucked here in this closet! It was just awful. So when we got East Hall, that was a great joy.

A.J. What do you think were your most important contributions to Augie, as a professor?

D.P. You know, I can't answer that question. I can only say that I never-from the time I was three years old- I never had any other dream than being able to teach. And from my first experience of a literature class when I came to Augustana, I was knocked for a loop! I was just thrilled.... And I would say it was very, very hard work the first four years. The classes were huge. We taught too many of them. I lived on four hours of sleep a night for close to 12 years. And it didn't matter, because quite honestly I loved what I was doing. Just loved it.... I would come back from Christmas just radiant to start again. That kept up for all 49 years I was here.

A.J. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close the interview?

D.P. I could say that I was in charge of the Week of Humanities when we celebrated the Centennial at Augustana. That one week was devoted to various aspects of the humanities. Our speaker was Mark Van Doren, poet and scholar, and it was his first public appearance after the revelation that his son had been told the questions before-hand on this hugely popular television program [Twenty One]. And, bless his heart, it must have been awful for him to come from Connecticut to here knowing that the cameras would be on him all the time. But President Bergendoff met him at the plane and hustled him into the President's house, put him to bed, and he was, he was absolutely marvelous. He read a lot of his poems, and at the end of his talk he talked to individual students until one in the morning. Every student who wanted to talk to him, he had time for. And when I wrote to thank him, I said, ‘There is not a single copy of any of your books in the libraries here; they have all been taken out.' And he wrote back and, I still am in tears when I think of it, he said, ‘It seemed to me that everything at Augustana was both beautiful and good.' Now isn't that wonderful? That remains a shining experience.