By Vi Englund
For the first time in fifty two years I returned to the campus of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. It is located just a good eyeful of distance east of the Rocky Mountains, halfway between Cheyenne and Denver.
When I was on the campus it was a Teachers College and they had a College High School. I attended high school in 1937 and 38. This was the first year James A Michener joined the faculty with a position in social studies. He remained four years as a professor. My family migrated to California.
After roaming about the world I made this pilgrimage because Elderhostel offered a week long class on the history of the South Platte.
In the first orientation meeting twenty three silver haired students from all parts of the United States were asked, “Why are you attending this program?”
My response: My mother Elmyra Josephine Paterson was born in Greeley in 1888. Before she was sixteen, her mother and other assorted relatives had made two roundtrips to Saint Jo, Missouri. Many people were riding by train at this time, but this crew made the journey by covered wagon. They followed the old overland route through Julesug to the Missouri River. I thought if I learned something about the history of the South Platte I would discover why Grandma was so restless.
The high point of the week was meeting Robert W. Larson, Professor of History. He had just published a book called
I showed him a page from a newspaper printed August 27, 1977. It had an article and picture of James A. Michener and on the same page a picture and article of me autographing my book Professor Larson said, “Come with me. We must have this article and your book in our archives. You are an alumni.”
We exchanged books. Mine went to the archives and his came back to St. Mary’s.
He said, “Anything else you publish, please send it to the archives.”
During the week I attended informative classes and attended the many interesting functions arranged by Elderhostel. This included a trip to the Rockies to the shadow of those beautiful twin peaks.
I spent much time walking over the campus and re-discovered the yerning for learning that gripped me when I was fifteen. I know now, this yearning was nourished by the atmosphere of this particular school.
One afternoon, Nancy Kisvater, Director of the Elderhostel Program volunteered to take me out to the South Platte.
We found the house I was born, I studied the fields where my family labored. I recalled following the plow and my father, picking up arrow heads. I had a box full. I looked at the river, it is puny compared to the Potomac. But over the years the Platte has changed the terrain. The big slough was gone but enough water remained for fish. I watched the slow moving carp in the murky water, and the memories went swimming by of life on the sugar beet farm.
On August 4 I received a copy of the August issue of the The Chesapeake travelled by truck from Lexington Park to Washington D.C., by plane to Memphis and by plane to Denver, and again by truck to Greeley. All in twenty four hours by Federal Express.
As I stood by my grandmother’s resting place and looked at the stone, I thought of those grueling long trips by covered wagon. My mother described to me the hardship and the time – the long slow time of those journeys.
And then I thought of another story. The Doctor had told my grandmother she was going to die. A few days later she looked up at my father and made her final request. “Henry, will you take me for one last buggy ride.”
Over a half century the Platte has changed the terrain of the river bed. Over a half century time has changed the terrain of my thinking. I feel a kinship with those pioneer people who struggled for their life on the Great Plains.
Maybe someday some grandchild will wonder why Grandma was going to sea in a sailboat when everyone else was zooming around in a jet.
I only hope when my time comes that I can say with gusto, “Please take me for one more buggy ride.” Or in my case it might be – one more sail – for I love the sea.
Shaping Educational Change. It is about the first century of history of the University that was founded in 1889.The Strand. Dorothy Shannon, of the Enterprise had interviewed Michener on the Eastern Shore, and she had written the article about autographing my book.
So I took the August copy of The Chesapeake, with my article about the sea and placed it in the archives of the James A. Michener library.
(Editor’s Note: Vi Englund, who penned prose for The Chesapeake, was a world traveler who sailed the Caribbean doing charters with her husband Glenn. They owned the former TravelTours in Lexington Park until her death. She certainly got her ‘one last buggy ride’)