Kyle “Boomer” Montague was born on July 3, 1913 in Yankton, South Dakota with, I’m assuming, a booming cry. I think that could be the case since Kyle could really “belt it out,” as they say. For years, he called the play-by-play in that booming voice from the press box at Gustie home football games. He is credited with having originated the now oft-used phrase, “The yardage was sufficient for a first down.” More likely his deep, gravelly voice was due to all those debates he participated in while a student at Gustavus and later, as a lecturer at his alma mater and at William Mitchell College of Law. I suspect too that the “gravel” tone was enhanced by an ever-present pipe with the juices from its stem making their way into his vocal chords. He walked with his shoulders always thrust back, his chest pushed out and the ever-present pipe. In his three-piece suit, he cut quite an imposing figure walking across campus and at what was then called “the Faculty Table” in the old Canteen in the Student Union. You couldn’t possibly ignore Kyle Montague. His persona spoke of great confidence. Here was a man who thought pretty much of himself. How do you approach someone like that?
I am not easily intimidated. But being around Kyle could make me feel inferior and downright scared at times. Can you imagine what his imposing presence was like to undergrads in the classroom? I suspect that many students said a prayer before entering the Business Law classroom that “HE” wouldn’t call on them. After all, everyone knew that you better be prepared if you were asked to speak to Professor Montague. He was awarded the Senior Class Debate Award at his 1934 graduation ceremony from Gustavus. Chester Johnson remembered when he was a student at Augustana College, Rock Island Illinois, competing in a national debate tournament with Kyle and his Gustavus buddy, Millard Ahlstrom. In Chet’s wry style, he described Kyle as “the artillery which softened up the enemy battalions, and Millard was the charging guard which finished them off.” Kyle and Millard went on to win that national championship in debate.
I only once saw Kyle incredulous and almost speechless. It was when he was presented with the Edgar Carlson Distinguished Teaching Award at the 1978 Commencement Exercises. The faculty always sit together at this event, and I was seated fairly close to Kyle. When his name was announced as the Carlson recipient for that year, he had this look of incredulity. How was this possible? He mumbled something on stage about how “some students must have thought he was a good teacher,” but he looked as if he still found it rather hard to believe. I always thought that Kyle felt the award was more for his years of service on the faculty than for his innovative teaching.
Kyle passed away on December 30, 1995. In his “Remarks” at Kyle’s funeral, his neighbor and teaching colleague for nearly 50 years, Chet Johnson, said, ”Kyle loved his wife, daughter, car, and telephone, but not necessarily in that order.” Let’s start with Kyle’s love of the telephone. He was known to make phone calls late at night and in the early morning and in between. Can you imagine what his life would’ve been like if he would’ve had a cell phone? Chet Johnson relates that both he and Kyle were fans of the old Rumpole BBC series about a British barrister. “On Rumpole night we could count on at least three phone calls from Kyle: 1) ‘Rumpole is coming on,’ 2) ‘Rumpole is on,’ and 3) ‘Wasn’t Rumpole great?'”
Kyle called many people. He liked to rub elbows, so to speak, with the movers and shakers of Minnesota politics. There are pictures of him with former Governor Wendell Anderson and then Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Rumor has it that he was not wont to call them offering advice on all sorts of matters at all times of the day and night. He kept a number of tuxedos in his closet for those occasions when he could buttonhole them face to face. I remember when his girth exceeded the tuxs’ dimensions, he offered them to me. I was honored. What an assortment. I remember one in particular, a brocade coat in gold, as if I needed that to stand out in a crowd. I, unfortunately, was already too big for them, but later wished I would’ve taken them home as a reminder of the kind of life Kyle led or aspired to.
Every two years for as long as I knew him, Kyle would buy a new car. It was first a Cadillac, but then for quite a few years he switched to a Toronado. When they were no longer made, he returned to a Caddy. All were equipped with front wheel drive and maintained in tip-top condition. He did love his expensive cars. And he wanted something very comfortable and safe on his twice weekly commutes to William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. For 20 years, from 1959 to 1979, for four hours every Monday and Thursday evenings, he taught Contracts and other courses. Douglas Heidenreich, one of Kyle’s students at Billy Mitchell Law School, said of Kyle, “I quickly learned that he knew his stuff, and that he expected us to get to know it; that he would help us to master this abstruse subject, but by George, we had better pay attention.” Kyle was a demanding teacher, but apparently fair and helpful. Rolf Engh, another former student at William Mitchell, had this to say about him: “He was a lion of a man and he was tough. Not just tough, Kyle was really tough, but he was ultimately a kind man who taught me a great deal.” Kyle retired from Gustavus in 1979 after 30 years of teaching.
Like many of the other faculty members on Valley View Road, Kyle took a very active role in committee and other faculty work at the college. They considered it their duty. Doug Huff, long-time philosophy professor at Gustavus, said of Kyle, “He was a leader of the faculty, and ran the Faculty Senate for 20 years. We always had a president, but everybody knew that Kyle was really in charge.” Doug’s humor not withstanding, Kyle did make a big impact on college affairs. In the basement of his home were a TV room, a study, and what Chet Johnson called “the War Room.” Many important college decisions were debated in the War Room. One of the things that attracted me to apply for a job at Gustavus was that it had what was called a January Term. This was a time when students and faculty would participate in only one course for the month of January. It was hoped that both faculty and students would use this time in what today’s parlance would be called “to think outside the box.” Here was a month to intensively devote one’s thoughts to a single subject, hopefully outside your major, to travel to and explore foreign cultures, or to serve as a testing ground for new courses. This was an innovation in teaching and subsequently adopted in college curriculums across the country. It was formulated in Kyle’s War Room by some of the profs on Valley View.
Doris was Kyle’s willing companion in marriage. Although it was difficult at times to live with such a dominant personality, she certainly established her own identity. Doris was born on September 28, 1914 near Alexandria, Minnesota. She was the class salutatorian at her graduation from Wheaton High School in 1932. She enrolled at Gustavus that fall and graduated with honors in 1936. She stayed in town after graduation and became the librarian and a high school English teacher in St. Peter from 1936 to 1938.
She met Kyle when they were both students at Gustavus. On a stroll down “Hello Walk” during her freshmen year, a friend introduced Doris to the BMOC (Big Man On Campus), Red Montague, as he was called then. Whether it was love at first sight I don’t know, but they married in May of 1938 and stayed together for 57 years.
They lived for eleven years, primarily in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where Kyle was a lawyer. They moved back to St. Peter in 1949 when Kyle accepted a position in the Economics and Business Department. The lot at 723 Valley View Road was originally purchased by Grant and Gleva Hanson. Grant was the head librarian at Gustavus at the time, but later left to become a librarian at Iowa State University. Kyle and Doris bought the lot from the Hansons and subsequently built their home there.
Doris did not let her homemaking and Kyle stifle her career. She taught at Waukesha, Wisconsin from 1939 to 1946 and as I said, she was an English and speech teacher at St.Peter High School. She also taught English, speech, theater, and journalism at Cleveland High School from 1954 to 1972. She also held other jobs such as a buyer for J. C. Penney when they lived in Wisconsin. She also worked a stint as secretary in Gustavus’ Media Center in the 1950s.
I will end this chapter about Kyle and Doris with something that happened on graduation day of 2012. I was invited to the Montague’s old house to have a beer or two at a graduation party. The house was then rented to an unknown number of Gustavus students. I knew one of them from class and, as I was getting ready to leave, he motioned for me to come into the garage. There among all the trash to be hauled away the next morning was a box. It contained all sorts of memorabilia from the lives of Kyle and Doris. It had Kyle’s Edgar Carlson Award and tributes and awards from the William Mitchell College of Law. There were also two paintings. Both were presented to Doris for her contributions to the art world. I believe one was from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The other was from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I was taken aback seeing all of this. Here were the special appreciations of the lives of two people ready to be dumped with the trash of the students. Fortunately, the student asked if I might be able to do something with the box. He didn’t feel right trashing it. I was grateful to be able to preserve it.
All of Kyle’s awards and memorabilia are now in the Gustavus Archives in the Folke Bernadotte Library. One of Doris’ paintings is in the possession of Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Peter where Kyle and Doris were members. I learned that she was in charge of the art work in the Library at the church and thought it was a fitting place for the painting.
Doris continued to live at 723 Valley View Road for seven years after Kyle’s death in 1995. She passed away on January 22, 2002. Fortunately, part of their lives live on, thanks to a sensitive and thoughtful Gustavus student.