DENVER — We took our “road show” out West to visit with alumni, parents and friends in Denver and in Phoenix. My father and mother lived near both of these communities shortly after their marriage, and we often visited both areas when I was a child. I always look forward to returning.
About 50 guests joined us at the Denver Art Museum. We started the evening with a docent-led tour of the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. The exhibit featured O’Keeffe’s work from her years in New Mexico, along with some of the Hopi katsina dolls that she used in her work, as well as paintings by others whom she influenced. It was interesting to watch the Augustana graduates who are geologists comment on which of the pieces seemed to present the authentic geology of the region and which were more abstract.
During our discussion, the group was quite interested in the escalating cost of a college education. I agree that Augustana must do all it can to contain costs, but I’m also convinced that we must make raising money for endowment a higher priority, considering that Augustana has a relatively modest endowment for a college of its quality. The earnings on endowment provide needed scholarships for students, and doubling our endowment would help ensure that Augustana is accessible to all promising students.
PHOENIX — Our Phoenix event began with guided tours of the Desert Botanical Gardens, which were among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. We learned about cacti and other desert plants and their strategies for survival. Alumni and friends then gathered for a reception and program in an outdoor pavilion.
One of our alums commented that Grand Canyon University in the Phoenix area was once a small college, but had grown into a huge university due to the addition of online and evening options. He asked whether I thought Augustana might go in that direction. I was pleased to report that there is no desire among our board, administration or faculty to go in this direction. One of Augustana’s strengths is the consensus that exists in support of our mission as a residential liberal arts college. While online courses might be good at conveying information, professor to student education is best at helping our students become wise, ethical citizens motivated to make a difference in today’s world.
Coping with winter travel
We’ve been traveling quite a bit this winter and had enjoyed remarkably smooth travels until this trip. Our initial flight out of Moline was canceled due to last week’s anticipated snow storm, so Jane and I accelerated our travel by a day to beat the storm. And our flight home from Phoenix was canceled due to a major snowstorm in Denver, our connecting city, delaying our return by a day.
Having to spend an extra day in Arizona in February was really a treat. Jane and I immediately agreed to take a twilight hike in the Superstition Wilderness, about an hour’s drive east of Phoenix. It was an outstanding walk. The desert colors were spectacular in late afternoon, and became even better as the sun set, creating a warm orange glow over the high desert as the temperature dropped.
Jane and I are drawn to the wilderness, but most of our wilderness experience has been in the Northern Rockies and Canada. I agree with Charles Lindbergh who observed, “In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” I feel the same way — in the wilderness I see the beauty of creation uncomplicated by the challenges of everyday life. The wilderness renews my soul and my energy. It helps me have a positive and grateful frame of mind where I view challenges as opportunities. We are looking forward to another wilderness trip next summer, when we raft the Alsek River through spectacular mountains in the Yukon and Alaska.