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The place that never leaves you . . .

September 14, 2015

We have had a few visits with Super S and his “Plus One” since they left to chase their dreams and what God has called them to do.  This previous summer, I had the opportunity to go back and relive some of the “glory days”.  During that visit, I realized that even though I would truly miss my son, the one whom I have spent hours in hospitals and clinics for the last seven years, I truly wished for him to have the stories and experiences college had for me and my sweetie.

The transformation from trepidation to excitement began at Super S’s graduation weekend when we learned of a wonderful opportunity which Sal could attend back at a place our hearts hold dear – our alma mater. S’s godmother told us about a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) camp which Sal and her son could attend together. Be still my science teacher’s heart!

Maybe I am wrong in my thinking, but I believe most graduates of small colleges and universities keep a spot reserved in their souls for the place that launched them into adulthood. Graduating from the same university a couple years apart, my sweetie and I often speak of our years there with the same nostalgia. Our time at Mayville State University was a cherished part of our lives.

I just didn’t know how much so until I made a pilgrimage there to spend a week with Sal while she attended camp, mere steps down the hall from where I spent hours earning a chemistry degree.

Due to serving in a war thousands of miles from that idyllic place, my husband and I did not graduate together, and a few months after his commencement, we loaded up the truck and moved hundreds of miles away. Once upon a time we had family living in the town that shares its name with the university, but after they moved away, our trips to our old college home grew farther and farther apart. Other than a recent funeral, we hadn’t spent quality time in the area in close to a decade. Within seconds of arriving in the small North Dakota town which rests on the edge of the rolling Red River Valley, floods of memories and “Oh, we have to do this or eat there!” came rushing into my thoughts.

The first place we stopped when rolling into town.

The first place we stopped when rolling into town.

The School of Personal Service is a motto that expects much and often delivers more. I don’t think I realized how much so until my mini-me and I spent a week there, including residing at the farm where I was a nanny during my college days.

Sal and I toured every inch of Mayville State, ate at all my favorite local dining establishments, spent an afternoon at the nearby lake, and soaked up every adventure at the farm. While she learned about science, I spent my hours reminiscing and working on my book. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain a switch magically clicked into high gear, my body remembering the long hours spent studying in that environment, and some great book writing came pouring out. If I could survive the intricacies of PChem (Physical Chemistry), writer’s block would have no chance in these hallowed halls.

Catching up with the world while taking a break from writing

Catching up with the world while taking a break from writing

Every friend I encountered brought me back to our days there. Catching up and recalling memories of days long ago sometimes brought laughter and sometimes a few tears. The very best recollection was how the school’s motto proved to mean something more to my family than just launching our careers.

It all started my senior year when half-way around the world a larger country decided to invade a tiny neighbor. America heard the cry for help and sent the Army, including a very young North Dakotan to fight for freedom. At that time, I was already dreaming of returning to the South with plans of an internship in one state and graduate school in another. Patriotism is another one of those things small towns do well, and Mayville State was no different. A huge banner that looked like a parchment scroll was hung in the cafeteria listing the names of our soldiers in the desert. I spent one quarter at a different university, returning the next fall to the place I truly loved. During the one quarter’s absence, my sweetie began his studies. Our paths never crossed and we never met. Every day when waiting in line for lunch, I would ponder that list of soldiers knowing everyone on the list except one name. Mayville State was tiny; so, I began to ask others if anyone knew of this “Dan Stevens”. Sadly, no one did, and I began to wonder if he was fictional, the Comets’ own version of “G.I. Joe”.

I did leave the safety of academia and set off to Tennessee for an internship and later to Alabama to study more chemistry, coming back to be in a wedding and at Christmas to visit my family. During that holiday visit the school’s motto became more than eloquent words etched on the school’s emblem. Even though Christmas meant time with the family that reared and raised me, I couldn’t resist visiting my “other family” – some of the most amazing and truly dear professors. A small suggestion happened innocently enough by two of them. There was this nice boy in the Chemistry and Math courses, who the Doctors’ thought I should probably meet. I had never really been on a blind date before, but my reverence for those two faculty members pushed me to agree to this crazy plan.

One blind date and the rest is history. School of personal service . . . it doesn’t get more personal than handpicking your husband for you.

Coming back to school for a one week reminded me of all the university had bestowed in my life. I left there with much more than a degree and a stunning panoramic photo for our wall. I gained a confidence to tackle any challenging problem, a compassion and desire to serve others, a resiliency that would serve me well in dark days, and a lifetime of memories of lasting friendships, including the love of my life. After a couple days back on campus, I realized that while I had left Mayville State . . . Mayville State had never left my heart.

Its impact etched permanently, like a powerful force in the universe – once a Comet, always a Comet!

Mini-me and I just outside Old Main on her last day of STEM camp

Mini-me and I just outside Old Main on her last day of STEM camp

Oh and by the way,it wasn’t until years later, after we were married and Reed was a newborn I realized who I had married. I woke up one night after dreaming of my college days, and blurted out in the darkness, “Oh my goodness! You ARE Dan Stevens!”

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