There was never any doubt. I was always going to be a Gopher! From about the time I was born until he died, my dad was a season ticket holder for Golden Gopher football. He had faculty seats, which in those days were right next to the band and directly on the 50-Yard-Line behind the Gopher bench. I remember many years sitting out in the cold at the old Memorial Stadium, drinking hot cocoa, and watching the Gophers. Except on a few rare occasions, we watched some pretty bad football since this was after the end of the true golden era of Minnesota football. Not many outside of the Gopher faithful know that Minnesota has seven national championships in football, with four within an eight-year period from 1934-1941. We came close in the early 1960s, but nary a whiff since.
Dad loved Gopher football. He loved having his great seats and rarely missed a game. Sitting with the faithful faculty fans was fun. They were much older than the typical fans, but were extremely vocal in cheering on – and jeering – their team. I never knew that old guys could get so boisterous, but Gopher football certainly brought that out of many. Thus, I became a lifelong fan as well. I would have loved to have played on the team, but had no background in organized football. I did, though, as a college student, spend hours kicking field goals off a tee on the Memorial Stadium turf. As a Freshman I met the new coach, Joe Salem, and he sent me an offer to try out for the team the following year. Unfortunately, that next year another Freshman joined the team – and his leg blew me away. His name was Jim Gallery from Morton, Minnesota, who had a fantastic collegiate career and went on to kick in the NFL.
So, even though I was never a Gopher, I still bleed maroon and gold. I scored well enough on my High School PSAT that the University of Minnesota didn’t even require the SAT or ACT test for admission. I was accepted into the College of Liberal Arts. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it was considered a step up from the “General College” that was for students they thought were less ready for the rigors of University life.
I probably should have started in General College since I didn’t fare too well that first year. It was not a total disaster, though. I enjoyed classes, but still was not too keen on studying. That would come much later – in law school. Still, I got by. I lived at home and commuted to campus every day. That wasn’t so bad except for those extreme cold Minnesota days when the busses always seemed to be running late! The biggest problem that I had was not just the lack of good study habits, but also the plethora of distractions on campus. I’m not just talking about young women, but also shops, libraries, bars, restaurants, and that Memorial Stadium turf. I mostly made it to campus in time for classes, but I also tended to miss way too many classes by doing something else that I found more interesting!
My second year was even worse. I was dating my future bride at the time and she attended the College of Saint Thomas (now the University of Saint Thomas) in St. Paul. That was a MUCH easier commute than going to the U of M and offered the added bonus of more time with my sweetheart. I guess my grades from the U were decent enough for me to get into St. Thomas. Of course, it also brought a significant student loan, but I figure that was the price for hanging with a special girl. As one might expect, that was faulty reasoning. We did some studying together at the St. Thomas library, but I generally did not like the classes I took, nor did I care for the campus feel. In many ways I felt like I was back in high school. That, together with academic probation that spring, caused me to head back to the Minnesota the following year.
The St. Thomas debacle basically set me back a year. I was still taking some basic classes in my third year of college. I maintained passing grades in all my classes, but things were starting to look rather bleak. My sweetheart was due to graduate the next spring and my best option seemed to be a degree in Political Science, albeit a year late. I felt a little scorn as I’m sure Amy was not too keen about my future prospects (nor was her father!). Sure, I was a nice guy, but someone had to put some food on the table. In those days, the man was expected to be the primary bread winner in the family. At that point, my key marketable skill was as a waiter. No offense to waiters, but Mr. and Mrs. Orme had higher expectations for their middle daughter.
College life was much better for me at the U. Though I still commuted from home, this time my friends and I had better acclimated into college life. It was fun to be back on campus with my sister Pam, especially seeing her play the tuba in the Minnesota Gopher Marching Band. We played together with many friends on University co-ed intramural sports teams, attended nearly every Gopher game, experienced homecoming and other campus events, and partied in and around the University. It maybe was not a “typical” college experience since I didn’t live on campus, but we certainly had a lot of fun. Pat, Jim, and I were still hanging out a lot together whenever we weren’t working. Those days, even more than high school, were really great times for me.
This was also a very scary time because none of us had any clue what would come next. It was the Jimmy Carter years and the U.S. economy was in shambles. Gas prices exploded due to OPEC playing games with the United States. Much of the world was in crisis and there was still a lot of political fallout over the Vietnam War and the Nixon years. The mood in the country was quite poor, jobs were hard to find, and layoffs were common. There was not much of a safety net for anyone. Ronald Reagan and other commentators rightly termed this as a time of malaise.
During one of my campus wandering that fall, I happened to stop by the University of Minnesota Armory. I didn’t have any particular interest in the military, but had always been curious about that large fortress-style building on campus. I was immediately hit upon by a faculty member from the Navy ROTC program. I received a great tour and sales pitch, but it quickly became clear to me that the Navy was not a good fit. Most of their program members were in engineering or other hard sciences. That definitely was not for me.
On the way out of the Armory, I encountered another faculty member. This time it was a guy from the Army ROTC program, Major David Pearson. He invited me into his office for a chat. I got a similar sales pitch, but felt much more comfortable with him. He didn’t give me a hard sell, but told me he thought the Army might be a good path for me. He explained that my Cretin Junior ROTC experience gave me a leg up in the Army. Because of that JROTC, I only had to complete two years of Army ROTC to get commissioned as an officer in the Army. I left still skeptical of something as extreme as joining the Army!
As spring came to campus, Amy began looking even more diligently toward the future beyond her Senior year. She dated other guys from time to time. I began to feel a smaller and smaller part of her future and didn’t want to lose her. I had met Major Pearson a couple other times during the winter and had started seriously thinking about Army ROTC. Between the fall and spring, Major Pearson became somewhat of a mentor for me and kept encouraging me. After one promising discussion with him that spring, I signed on the line and joined Army ROTC for the next year.
Year four was a big one for me. ROTC required that I keep what I recall to be a 2.5 grade point average. The pressure was on. I also had to start working out and running. I’d never done much of either and it was not easy. I took my first Army physical training test (PT Test) was that fall. We ran in an Army fatigue uniform and combat boots. Needless to say, I did NOT finish the two-mile run in under sixteen minutes, which was the standard for my age group at the time. That meant in addition to the “ROTC day,” I had to arrive on campus at 6:30AM for remedial PT three days per week. Fortunately, I made some friends along the way and the PT got a bit easier. Other than that, I really buckled down to get keep my GPA up. I was keeping up my part of the deal, but I still was far from a model cadet in the ROTC battalion.
ROTC day at Minnesota meant early morning formations and inspections every Thursday. It also meant wearing the uniform on campus all day. We wore the Army green dress uniform, not fatigues. That was an interesting concept in the early 1980s, especially in the political science classes on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota campus. There were still remnants of the anti-Vietnam war protests on campus. Many professors were part of the protest movements and were not always happy to see uniformed members in their classes. I was called “baby killer” and other crude names. I was spit upon on campus. Still, I was always proud to wear that uniform and even prouder of the leadership, discipline, and ethics training that was transforming me into a Soldier.
Amy graduated that spring (1983) and I headed to my first summer camp. This was truly my first taste of the “real” Army. My four years at Cretin and my first year of ROTC in no way got me ready for a six-week taste of what Basic Training is all about. More about Summer Camp in another story, but it was hell being away from Amy as she was embarking on a new career.
My final year at the U of M was a good one. I made both the A and B Honor Rolls that year. A little discipline seemed to be paying off, not to mention my strong desire to hook and keep that woman! I was enjoying my upper-level classes in political science, speech, and history. Pam and I took one of Dad’s classes together in the Mortuary Science Program. That was fun! It was also a treat for Pam and me to graduate together in the class of 1984. Dad was so proud and made sure that his robes were ready so he could welcome us onto the stage as a faculty member. My commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the Army was just a couple of days later. Amy and I were married a month later. Lots of things seemed to be happening all at once. This appears to be a habit for us that has been repeated many times in our lives.
The University of Minnesota prepared me well for life and taught me some important life skills, such as, how to work diligently in the midst of chaos; how to strategically choose classes to avoid too many brutal winter walks across the bridge from the East and West banks of the campus; and how to become more comfortable in my own skin. I grew up a lot during those years. Much I attribute to the Army . . . but that is yet another story . . . .
Fun fact: I later went on to teach Mortuary Law and Ethics, as an adjunct professor, for five years at the University of Minnesota in the College of Mortuary Science. I enjoyed that experience nearly as much being on campus as a student.