Bea Knodel doesn’t recall dealing with distracted students during her 31-year career as an English professor at Bemidji State College and Bemidji State University. She began as a half-time freshman English teacher in 1964 and retired from the university in 1995.
“There were no computers and there were no cell phones,” said Knodel, who still lives in Bemidji with her husband, Ray, a retired BSU math professor. “I can’t imagine teaching in a classroom where the students have cell phones. When I first started we still called the students Mr. and Miss. I had a young man come up to me after class and ask me the first name of the girl who sat across the aisle from him because he wanted to ask her out. And he could not, he told me, imagine approaching her and saying, ‘Miss Jones.’ I can’t remember when we stopped using Mr. or Miss. Maybe about the time we started to smell marijuana when we walked through the union.”
Bea has fond memories of her time on campus.
“I just loved teaching,” she said. “It was a fun place to be. Dr. Sattgast (Bemidji State president from 1938-64) was big on we should be a friendly college.”
She said it has been rewarding to see some former students succeed in their careers.
“There are a couple still in Bemidji who I still see occasionally,” she said. One is Beryl Wernberg (retired Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department communications officer). “Once upon a time she was going to be an English teacher, and I have told her I think we missed such a good bet. Dave Moffett (a Bemidji financial adviser) was another English major. I’m still rewarded by what they have done. They turned out to be wonderful people. They would have been very good teachers.”
One of Knodel’s colleagues in the English department was the late Jon Hassler, who later wrote many award-winning novels about small-town life in Minnesota. Knodel was not surprised by his success as an author.
“He was just a good writer,” she said. “And this sounds old fashioned, but he told a good story. A beginning, a middle and an end. Characters that you cared about. My favorite is ‘North of Hope’ about a young man who ends up being a Catholic priest, which maybe was not the best thing that he could have done. So in a way there’s a sad undercurrent to it. Jon was originally a quite devout Catholic, so this was not an attack on the church or the priesthood. Part of that book takes place in what has to be geographically Red Lake.”
Knodel has many memories of her time at Bemidji State. One was about student unrest during the Vietnam War.
“There were a lot of young men who were concerned,” she said. “They weren’t protesting, but they were very concerned about the draft.”
She also remembers attending an interview session in 1994 when Jim Bensen was in the running to become BSU’s president. “I came home and told Ray, ‘This guy is gangbusters, you’ve got to go hear him.’”
Ray Knodel talked about Bemidji State’s growth and some of the challenges that came with it.
At one point, the math department was located in Deputy Hall, but there was not enough room for all of the professors.”So they took one of the dorm rooms on the main floor of (now demolished) Sanford Hall and converted them into faculty space,” he said. “I was the only one in the math department who was not in Deputy. They wanted a connection with me, so we strung a wire from the roof of Deputy over to the roof of Sanford, ran it down an outside wall and into my window so I had a telephone connection.”
Ray was hired in 1961 and retired in 1992. He saw a lot of faculty members come and go in those 31 years, but didn’t give a lot of thought to moving away.
“I thought of it as being a permanent job,” he said. “When I got here I liked the job and I liked both the college community and the city.”