An Augustana Story
THE MAVERICK FACTOR CONTINUED....
...beyond Hasselquist's imaginings-but surely in part because of them.
Photo courtesy of Augustana
Elisabeth Schmidt Nations wasn't Scandinavian, wasn't Lutheran, wasn't even on the Allied side in the Second World War. Yet she taught for nearly three decades at Augustana (from 1961 to 1989), bringing expertise, zest, generosity, and a fierce sense of social justice during a time when the college was exploring its core values in the face of cultural transition. One of her many bumper stickers read "ERA won't go away." It's a fitting index to her character. No effort for equity "went away" from Nations' agenda.
She was born just outside of Berlin, in 1921. She joined the Hitler Youth, a decision that was to haunt the rest of her life and drive her commitment to inclusivity. An ardent student with eclectic interests, she entered the University of Berlin in 1941 and was studying history and literature, German and English, when the Russian Army invaded Germany to break the Third Reich. Her political affiliation put her in danger. So she walked from Berlin to Heidelberg-nearly 400 miles-to safety. Ultimately she came to America as a war bride.
And here, with the support of her husband William Nations, she began all over again. She earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, and then, while she was teaching a full load and at an age when many faculty look wistfully toward retirement, she finished her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. She taught "any and every" course in the German department, according to Dr. John Sirevaag, then department chair, who hired her. And that eagerness, that hunger for the life of the mind, spilled over into her research interests. They included feminist studies, East German women writers, nineteenth-century German literature, local history-some supported by grants from Augustana and other organizations.
A conversation with her rarely included small talk. Shy and awkward in purely social settings, she bloomed in study groups, or among people who shared her interests. She was a fearless and articulate observer. More unusual, she was also a careful listener.
She consumed life omnivorously, the way she read books: art, politics, history, literature, cultural patterns, ecology. She traveled the globe, often to remote regions outside the well-worn tourist track, always carefully studying the area she planned to visit. Her postcards were amazing distillations of what she'd seen and learned. She changed her hair style and color with astonishing frequency, loved her stiletto heels, took in a succession of eccentric dogs from the local animal shelter, cooked with flair and daring. Students and faculty alike enjoyed her energetic, almost headlong hospitality.
It's as if, for her, life had veered when she was young, and now she had to race to catch up. She seldom moved slowly. She'd zip across campus, or down the halls of Old Main, because she had many places to go. And yet no student or colleague who encountered her was an interruption. She'd always stop, smile her wide warm smile, and invite them into her world of ideas as she invited them into her home.
She was a fighter, surviving serious illnesses. But in the end life caught up with her.
Or maybe not. Maybe she caught up. On one of her last outings, a colleague remarked what a rich and varied life she'd led. Elisabeth nodded, her neat gray bob (the current hairstyle) shaking energetically. "Yes," she said. "And it is enough."
--Ann Boaden, Department of English
with help from Drs. John Sirevaag and Nancy Huse
Tannenbaum Trimming 2009
Christmases past are living in my living room....
Today, it's Elisabeth shining from the tree.
In her twenties, she walked
From Berlin to Heidelberg
When the Russians came.
I knew her as war bride professor,
Not religious, but loving
This season of the burning tree.
Every Christmas she gave gifts the same-
Special ornaments now in my hands.
Here, blown glass of Monet blue;
There, velvet heart from Uzbekistan.
Long-ago friend, I hang these toys.
O, I am glad you walked,
--Dr. Nancy Huse, Profesor Emerita, Augustana College