The Valley View Character(s)

This book described a unique group of Gustavus professors and administrators and their spouses who lived in the Valley View neighborhood of St. Peter, Minnesota. I think you would agree that each couple, though unique, collectively made an inestimable impact on the history of Gustavus. They each contributed in their diverse and special way. Floyd was the consummate academic, gifted and prolific in his research endeavors. Bea, “the energizer bunny,” still contributes in so many ways to the college and the neighborhood, from volunteering at the Linnaeus Arboretum to activities at her church. Chet was first the college geologist, then the Lutheran Church Collection archivist. Marian was the teacher, the historian, and the gardener. Esby was the student favorite, a great listener and counselor. Ruth was the unsung intellectual and Esby’s sounding board. Vic was the legendary swimming coach and camper par excellence. Betty maintained the Gustafson household and Vic’s swimmers. Boomer was the “faculty general” and the political schmoozer. Doris was the local teacher and Kyle’s stabilizer.

Doniver was the college historian; Gene was the college nurse. Ross was the overseer of the college’s money; Lavinia was the town nurse and servant. Ellery was the town’s administrative servant and its accountant; Aileen was the homemaker and consummate church secretary. Don was a coach and career advisor; Marlys was the helpful Book Mark employee. Ellis was the business teacher and Janet the secretary to Ellis’ Welsh, business fraternity, and Church secretaries enterprises. What a diverse group and all on one street.

The question that has always intrigued me is that given the Bards’ differences in character, personality, and interests, what, if anything, did they share in common? I believe these commonalities ranged from the rather mundane to the profound. Allow me to offer my assessment of these similarities. Undoubtedly, many of you who knew the Bards and their spouses will have your own insights.

First, most of the men and many of the women were avid sports fans and enjoyed attending sporting events. As you will recall, Boomer was the play-by-play announcer at Gustie football games for many years. His line, “The yardage was sufficient for the first down” became popular in all of football. Vic had his regular seat high up in the old Hollingsworth Football Stadium near the chimney where he could keep warm. Even then, he was always cold but he never missed a game. (It makes you wonder why he never completed that chimney in his own house.) Floyd made the walk from his house to most Gustie football games, one of the last people you would suspect to be a rabid football fan. Kyle and Doris could be seen at nearly every home basketball game at Lund Center, always in the same seats near the entrance to the bleachers on the south side.

Vic and Don were coaches, of course; in swimming and wrestling, respectively. Don loved to golf and hosted events at the Le Sueur Country Club where he could get in a round during meetings. And, as I explained earlier, he and Marlys regularly attended Minnesota Gophers football games as season ticket holders. Vic rigged a separate television antenna in his attic pointed to KEYC TV in Mankato, especially to pick up Vikings broadcasts. Doniver was a long-time referee for high school basketball games.

Chet wrote in a December 30, 1974 letter to a student, “Everything is fine in Minnesota now that the Vikings are in the Super Bowl. They and the Rams played a good game yesterday. The Vikings will have their problems with the Steelers. The running game and the defense of the Steelers yesterday were really something.” Chet’s comments are not those that might come from a casual fan. I thought I knew him pretty well, but didn’t realize until I read that letter that he was such an avid Vikings fan. No wonder I never saw him outside mowing his lawn or gardening on a Sunday afternoon. Of course, it was the Sabbath. (By the way, Chet was right on about that stingy Steelers defense. They defeated the Vikings 16-6 for their first Super Bowl win.)

I think that Ellis was and still is the biggest sports fan of them all. He has gone to at least 50 consecutive state high school basketball championships and is getting ready for another this year. He frequently attends Minnesota Twins baseball games with his son, David, keeping score as the good secretary he is. Ellis never misses a Gustavus home basketball game and I’m sure he keeps score there as well. I can’t tell for sure as he sits across the court high in the top bleacher right below the sports writers’ booth. And, as I already have reported, he is one of the most competitive racquetball players I have ever encountered.

Second, all the couples on Valley View Road, with one notable exception, prided themselves on their homes, lawns, and gardens. Marian and Bea set the standard for vegetable and herb gardens. I already mentioned Marian’s herbs and the gardening efforts of Chet. Gene set the bar high with her landscaped yard and extensive flower gardens.

Kyle and Don set the standard for lawn care. It always seemed that theirs was a contest as to who could mow the lawn the most times in a summer. Living across the street from each other, I’m sure that they could see who was headed out to mow. Kyle stood out in his yellow hard hat. Kyle’s mower would provoke a response from Don and the neighborhood would hum with the dueling Lawn Boys. The exception was Vic. He hated to mow lawn. He never had a garden. When I bought his house, he told me he was so happy we were going to live there because he would never have to mow lawn ever again. I cannot imagine Kyle or Don ever saying this. Vic sold me his old electric Black and Decker mower with relish.

There seemed to be a contest going on for years with respect to flower gardening. Gene Lund always came out on top. I never saw Doniver with a trowel in his hands, but Gene’s hands were always at work. She was a mad-hatter gardener if there ever was one. At all hours of the day or night, she would be trimming shrubs, raking leaves, clipping dead branches. You name it, Gene kept her yard like her house, immaculately clean, organized, and busy with all manner of bric-a-brac. She would single-handedly keep a garden store in business with the purchase of every kind of tree and evergreen bush, and this is not counting all the lawn furniture, trellis, gates, bird baths, bird feeders, rocks, and brick/stone borders. As you’ve read, Bea and Floyd were no slouches when it came to gardening either.

I never got the feeling that the time and effort and money spent to landscape their yards was a competitive thing among the Bards and their spouses. Rather, I think it was a shared sense of having Valley View look good. There was a real pride for them in that. They weren’t showing off so much as caring about the appearance of the neighborhood as a beautiful place to live and raise families and entertain guests. They literally made the neighborhood from a pasture, one house and one yard at a time. They were dedicated to keeping up the care of the place. And, as you’ve read, they worked hard on doing just that. They all cared about how Valley View looked.

Third, I always had the feeling that the Bards and their spouses respected one another. I would see this time after time when they would gather at someone’s home for a Block Party or holiday pot luck. There were no put downs, no critical comments, no back stabbing. And remember, these were highly competitive folks. Some of them became good friends for many years; the Montagues and the Johnsons; the Lunds and the Bloomquists; the Esbjornsons and the Johnsons. Not everyone was close like this, but I think they all appreciated the contribution that each couple was making to Gustavus, whether in teaching, coaching, or administration. I never heard a harsh word among them. Yes, there were heated debates sometimes, but nothing disrespectful. I always thought this ability to be civil to one another was an exceptional quality, especially given their vast differences in personalities and character.

Finally, it almost goes without saying that the Valley View Bards and their spouses had a shared deep love for Gustavus. I did not really know them until I moved to their neighborhood. By this time, they had been long tenured professors and some on the verge of retirement. But in conversations with them about their early days of teaching and in administration, I never heard any of them once mention the thought of leaving GAC. Their work here was not viewed as a stepping stone to a career somewhere else. This was their place; their love. And this feeling never altered for any of them. I think this shared love of place was the root of their long and illustrious careers at Gustavus. Each Bard was contributing in their own way to making Gustavus a special place.

If employment longevity is a measure for “love of place,” then these statistics tell a remarkable story. The following is a list of years of Service at GAC.

Vic Gustafson 50 years
Doniver Lund 44 years
Ross Bloomquist 42 years
Kyle Montague 30 years
Bob Esbjornson 33 years
Floyd Martinson 37 years (faculty) another 18 years as Research Professor
Chet Johnson 38 years (faculty) another 22 years as Lutheran Church Collection Archivist
Don Slarks 35 years
Ellery Peterson 36 years
Ellis Jones 30 years  (faculty) another 15 as College administrator

In total, the Bards either were on the faculty or in administration at Gustavus for 475 years. A conservative estimate would add another 125 years during which their spouses were also part of the GAC work force. Together, this amounted to 600 years of service.

The legacy of these Valley View couples will not be matched by another group. They all were fixtures of Gustavus life. What the college is today is in part due to the dedication of these men and women. Their spirits live on –



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The Bards of Valley View Copyright © 2018 by Bob Douglas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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