A Tribute To Joan Mondale

The Minnesota community paid tribute to Joan Mondale yesterday in a wonderful funeral at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. The musicians, some from the Minnesota Orchestra, and the superb choir provided a beautiful musical background for the service. Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn, Bach, Stravinsky, and Vaughan Williams wrote the music played in this celebration of a noted patron of the arts. She was, after all, known as Joan of Arts. 

Rochelle Olson wrote a wonderful account of the ceremony in the Star Tribune here that reports on what people said. Jimmy Carter was perfect. 

I attended the funeral with my friend Jay Swanson and his wife Ellen Dahl. Jay was  kind enough to drive. I ended up seated next to Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff and her husband Matthew Knopf.  We shared a hymnal.  Matthew and Jay are lawyers and are Dorsey Whitney partners, where Walter Mondale has been working for the last decade or so.

I had the distinct pleasure of knowing Joan Mondale, who actually lived for several years down the street on James Avenue.  In one memorable discussion of cooking and spices,  I found myself advocating for Tellicherry Black Pepper as the superb spice.  I think I used the term “piquant” to describe it. Joan was not so sure, so I went to my stash of Tellicherry, ground some fresh, and delivered it to her home. She was very gracious about the gift.

I am honored to know and count the Mondales as friends and neighbors. Ted was a law school friend and is running the local Stadium Commission. From all accounts given yesterday, Joan was the charming and talented equal partner in this dynamic family.

Abraham Lincoln, the Morrill Act and the National Academy of Sciences

I heard a speech by new University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler on Saturday, April, 20. He is an impressive person, a chemical engineer by training, who now runs one of America’s largest, and best universities. He began his speech by telling us, the Men’s Club of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, that Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the North’s worst year in the Civil War, signed the Morrill Act (http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Morrill.html) in 1862. The act created the land grant colleges, of which, the University of Minnesota is one, by granting 30,000 acres per congressman to each state “not in rebellion against the United States.” The act was extended to Southern states after the war.
The Morrill Act was sponsored by Justin Smith Morrill, a Vermont congressman, (later Senator),  Its purpose was to “promote education in agriculture and engineering.” It is the main building block of the rapid expansion of public higher education in the late 19th century.
I thought the comment about Lincoln was very interesting as he was dealing with defeats on the battle field, and difficult generals, and yet had time to plan the nation’s future. He also signed an act in 1863 that created the National Academy of Sciences, whose members “were to promote science, medicine and engineering.” That is leadership.

Kaler then spoke of education today. He pointed out that the cost of education today is less than an inflation adjusted cost in 1967. He urged government to get with it and increase its support for education.
Kaler then spoke of the “achievement gap” or the academic performance gap between racially diverse student populations. He surprised the group by saying that Minnesota had the third highest, trailing only Michigan and Wisconsin. This prompted later conversation on possible reasons, but Kaler did not suggest any. He did mention that in early childhood education, the first three years are the most critical and that it is important to engage the very young in conversation. This can be reading to the child, but I think it is equally important to engage in conversation. We should be able to do this.

The mornings talk covered Lincoln’s focus on education, government’s decline in support for education and the importance of early engagement in the educational process.
I found this discussion to be most important as it indicated that Eric Kaler is continuing the work begun by Justin Morrill and Abraham Lincoln. We should all hope he succeeds, and I think he will.