Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Les Lindor, WCSA graduate and teacher, RIP
Our campus has in fact gone through multiple chapters. It's a reminder that education evolves. Nothing should be assumed to be permanent. These publicly-supported institutions must be responsive to public needs. Those needs evolve and thus the institutions.
We lost a prominent person with ties to the WCSA recently. Les Lindor passed away. We attended his funeral on Monday, 9/17. He could be written about in a great many ways, as he lived a multi-faceted life. His ties to the WCSA (and later West Central Experiment Station) were an important dimension.
Les was born in 1920 in Cyrus. He graduated from the WCSA in 1938 as the U.S. was emerging (maybe in fits and starts) from the throes of the Great Depression. He continued his education with the University of Minnesota, getting both his bachelor's and masters degrees from the St. Paul campus. My father Ralph E. Williams was involved in music education at the St. Paul campus.
Eventually Les and Ralph both ended up out here in the wide open spaces and bountiful farmland of West Central Minnesota. They ended up out here as next-door neighbors! We shared our acquaintance on Northridge Drive.
After the sad passing of Les' wife Virginia (Gina), I helped make sure Les got his proper desserts many weekends, delivering a piece of homemade cake (OK, made from a mix) to his house. Steve Poppe was impressed by that. Our dog Sandy also helped enrich Les' life post-Gina. We were happy to do what we could. His friendship certainly enriched our lives.
Engineering was Les' profession. He left the Upper Midwest for a time, plying his trade for firms in Pennsylvania and Texas as well as in Minnesota. There must have been a call in the back of his mind coaxing him to come back here. Farming was in his blood. He returned to Cyrus in 1947 to plunge into farming and to teach at his old WCSA. He met Virginia (Wempner) while a teacher at the WCSA. (That's how my father met my mother too, in an education setting.)
Les and Gina were married in the summer of 1952.
Perhaps the biggest adventure in Les' life was the year he and his family spent in the Philippines. Years later Les would tell us he was skeptical about whether many of his engineering insights were harnessed by a leadership in that country that wasn't all that committed. He did what he could there, under the umbrella of the International Cooperative Association.
A realization grew in the late 1950s that ag schools had seen their heyday. The nature of farming was changing. Kids no longer had to be sent into a compressed school year so as to maximize their availability for farm labor. Farm kids could live more like the town kids did. The time was arriving for the Morris campus to find a new mission.
Legend has it there was much anxiety and doubt in Morris over whether this campus could in fact find a future. The University resuscitated the campus but not in a way that promoted total confidence at first. Legend has it, it was sort of an experimental proposition at the start.
My father traveled widely as director of a choral group that built the fledgling institution's visibility. Eventually we became convinced this liberal arts newcomer had its feet planted firmly on the ground.
The WCSA was gone but some of its pillars remained, plying their knowledge for the West Central Experiment Station, known today by the (cumbersome) name "West Central Research and Outreach Center." Young people tend to call it "the rock."
Les was an old compatriot of Harley Hanke. I remember a most informative speech Harley gave about the WCSA, for a UMM Founders Day celebration. He smiled as he recalled the time a nervous young boy, at the start of a new school year, found that his parents left early before a meal in which the kids were supposed to be joined by their parents. Harley calmed the boy by saying "you can have lunch with me!"
Les retired from the U of M in 1987. He certainly didn't leave farming. Even in his final months at West Wind Village, he talked about the weather in a way that showed he was very sensitive to its effects on farming.
Les was legendary with his softball pitching prowess. I have no doubt he was the equal of Eddie Feigner who was a softball barnstormer. It was futile to try to bat against Les, we're told.
My friend Glen Helberg, who entered heaven just four months before Les, once said of Les that he had such a calming and steadying influence whenever disagreements arose. This was probably Les' trademark as a community leader, because in so many capacities he was a leader. He was no stranger to disagreements or controversy as he served on various boards and councils. He applied his calming hand to try to encourage consensus as much as possible.
I wrote about him when he was chair of the Morris school board. He worked closely with then-superintendent Fred Switzer who held the role when it seemed money was harder to come by for schools. Fred would later say he almost lost his job over the high school auditorium being built. But that auditorium looks mighty modest now next to our opulent concert hall, and I recall no controversy or hair-pulling over that concert hall being built. Heck, I can recall hair-pulling over our high school being built. The public seemed skeptical for a long time (around the late 1960s).
The 1968 gym was a huge step up from the old elementary gym/auditorium (where pigeons now reside), the latter being the kind of facility we saw in the movie "Hoosiers." But today the 1968 gym has gone low-profile as we now have an opulent new varsity gym. Maybe Fred is pinching himself wondering if he's dreaming as he looks at all this.
Times certainly change. We can't rule out that more austere times will arrive again. Pessimist that I am, I tend to remind people of this.
Les died on September 13 at West Wind Village, having reached age 92. We were happy to spend some time with him on his last Christmas.
Les and Gina had two children: Keith and Laurie. Laurie was born just one day before me, in January of 1955. Les and Gina had four grandchildren: Carl, Rachel, Christina and Bethany.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org