Course Descriptions: Fall 2017

Craig Breimhorst: Fun-eral—Another Spin on Death.  Let’s talk.

4 Mondays, 9:30-11:30 (Sept. 25, Oct. 2, 9 & 23), Rice County Historical Society, Faribault.  Tuition $30.  Limit 20.

This four week course will explore our ageless fascination with death through stories, rituals, experiences and new ways of approaching the conversation including a new program called Honoring Choices (, which helps people in advance care planning.

Craig Breimhorst, a former volunteer Hospice Chaplain from Faribault, is a semi-retired pastor.  He has shared many a conversation with people making decisions about death for nearly 40 years in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Good grief, that is a long time.

Dan Van Tassel: Sonnets and Soliloquies—Words and Forms to Express Heart and Soul

8 Mondays, 10:00-12:00, Village on the Cannon.
Tuition $50.  Limit 20.

The focus of our study and source of enjoyment in this course will draw from the glorious repertoire of English sonnets and soliloquies. We’ll explore these popular genres from their earliest expressions, tracing the development of the sonnet from its Renaissance origins on through the various periods of literature as well as its continuing vogue in modern British and American literature. As a parallel emphasis, we’ll witness the explosive popularity of soliloquies among Elizabethan playwrights, notably Marlowe and Shakespeare. We’ll read, examine, and discuss the respective contexts of chosen signal soliloquies from Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s Richard the Third and Hamlet, observing how soliloquies function pivotally to advance characterization, theme, and plot in each play.

For an expanded description, click here.

Daniel E. Van Tassel, author of Back to Barron: Life in the Heartland at Mid-Century, grew up in Wisconsin, graduated from St. Olaf College, and earned graduate degrees in literature from the University of Iowa. He taught at Concordia College, Pacific Lutheran University, and Muskingum College, in Ohio, where he served as academic dean and professor of English. He and his wife Rhoda moved to Northfield four years ago upon retiring after living a decade in southern California, where he was on the faculty at Cal State University San Marcos.


Lawrence Archbold: Symphonies from Mozart to Mahler

8 Mondays, 1:30-3:30 (Sept. 11-Nov. 6, no class Oct. 2), Village on the Cannon.  Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

A survey of European and American orchestral symphonies from the “first great age of the symphony,” music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, to the “second great age,” music of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Mahler. Ability to read music not required; works will be studied with the aid of charts and diagrams. Listening skills and terminology concepts will be a focus. Additional topics include musical techniques, cultural developments and the political backdrop of music’s Classical age of the Enlightenment and its Romantic age of the “long century.”

For an expanded description, click here.

Lawrence Archbold: A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, he taught music history courses and organ performance at Carleton College for thirty-four years until retirement in 2016. While his career has focused on the study and performance of organ music from many periods, he developed several courses at Carleton for non-major students interested in survey courses of various genres of Western art music, including symphonies and operas. He also taught throughout his career a popular survey of Western art music from its beginnings in the Middle Ages through to the present day.

Jerry Mohrig: The History and Chemistry of Chocolate

8 Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30, Village on the Cannon.
Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

We will examine the allure and romance of chocolate while probing the history of cacao from the Mayas and Aztecs to its embrace by 18th century Europeans and finally to modern America. We will also explore where chocolate comes from, its constituents and chemistry, its health effects, and how chocolate’s many varieties are manufactured. The class will hold a chocolate tasting session. Three predecessors of this course have been taught by Jerry in the past, the most recent in 2012. Past students have suggested that it’s time to give other Elder Collegium students the opportunity to learn more about one of our favorite foods.

For an expanded description, click here.

Jerry Mohrig taught at Carleton College for 36 years and is an emeritus professor of chemistry. He has also been an amateur historian most of his life and believes that there is nothing wrong with having fun while learning the chemistry and history of chocolate.


Bob Nyvall: How Plant Diseases Have Affected Human History

4 Tuesdays, 10:00-12:00 (Sept. 19, 26, Oct. 3 & 10), Northfield Senior Center 106.  Tuition $30.  Limit 18.

This course treats the causes of plant diseases, their symptoms, and how they have affected human history.  Plant diseases have always been mysterious, especially before microscopes revealed how fungi, bacteria, and nematodes (and, with the electron microscope, viruses) live and breathe among us.

Prior to the discovery of the “plant germ theory” plant maladies were ascribed to vapors, witchcraft, and creepy, crawly things.  Many American Irish know their ancestors came to America because of a famine in Ireland but do they understand how the famine occurred and the social and cultural implications surrounding immigration?

Plant diseases have affected the well-being and history of human beings dating from Biblical times to the present.  And recently, plant diseases have caused significant economic losses to farmers and changed the landscape of our cities.

Plant diseases can be confused with other causes including chemical and insect injury.  Class participants are encouraged to bring in samples of plant maladies from their yards or wherever they find an “interesting” specimen.  We try to understand and distinguish plant disease symptoms from symptoms of other maladies, and to separate plant fact from fiction.  Plant “how to do’s” are discussed, including fertilization, pesticide use, and plant stewardship.

Robert Nyvall taught and did research on plant diseases for 36 years at Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota. In the winter he does a diagnostic service for the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai.  This course combines his love of history with the science of plant pathology.

Gerald Hoekstra: Music in the Courts and Cities of the European Renaissance

8 Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30, Village on the Cannon.
Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

When we visit the great cities of Europe today we marvel at the wonderful palaces, churches, piazzas, and city halls, many of which date from the Renaissance Era. They offer a glimpse into the lives and activities of the people who inhabited them, as do the beautiful sculptures and paintings that grace their walls.  But these spaces are largely mute today.  They bear little witness to the sounds of the worship services, ceremonies, and daily life that took place in them. This course will examine the soundscape of Renaissance Europe by focusing on music and musical life in some of its greatest courts and cities. Sample topics: music at the Burgundian Court of Philip the Good, music in Florence during the time of the Medicis, sacred music in the Sistine Chapel, and ceremonial music in the piazza and Basilica of San Marco of Venice.

Gerald Hoekstra taught music history at St. Olaf College for 33 years before his retirement in 2014. His specialty is the Renaissance Era, and in addition to teaching courses in music history, he directed the St. Olaf Early Music Singers and the Collegium Musicum, both of which performed music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.


Jan Linn: Politics and Religion—Unholy Union or Marriage Made in Heaven?

8 Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30 (Sept. 19-Nov. 7), Northfield Senior Center 106.  Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

This course will begin with an historical overview of Western Christianity’s relationship with political powers.  We will then look at New England Puritanism and its legacy; the roots of and reasons for the Second Amendment; and Christianity and how Christianity, in spite of the separation of church and state, became a de facto state religion in mid-20th century America. Our discussion will then turn to the reaction against a Christianized American society and the predictable negative reaction by evangelical Christianity to the influence of secularism. We will move from there to examine the rise of the Christian Right and legislative efforts to make religious beliefs into state laws. That will set the stage for a discussion of whether or not it is possible for our nation to find a balance between freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Finally, we will examine the future of church/state relations in the context of a potential politicized Supreme Court and the future role of religion itself in American life.

For an expanded description, click here.

Jan G. Linn (D. Min.) has been a college and seminary teacher as well as a pastor. He is now a full-time writer and the author of fifteen books including his latest, Evangelicalism and the Decline of American Politics (forthcoming this summer).


Steve Soderlind: Liberty and Laissez-Faire

8 Wednesdays, 9:30-11:30, Village on the Cannon.
Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

This course will respectfully challenge the proposition that liberty matches best with small, timid government. Exploring the matter from many perspectives, we will find complexity. The size of government for the sake of liberty depends on historical and social circumstances.

Using Soderlind’s book Liberty and Laissez-Faire (Archway Publishing) and supplemental readings, we will begin with definitions and proceed to sensible connections, measurements, and germane literature from economics and policy studies. Our discussion will touch on venerable contributions from Smith, Malthus, Mill, Marx, Hayek, Friedman, Rawls, Arrow, and Pope Francis, among others. It also will sample policy histories and touch on contemporary issues like global warming, urban-rural disparities, employment volatility, voting rules, and epidemic obesity.

Steven Soderlind taught economics for over forty years, specializing in urban and regional economics, social choice, and the history of economic thought. He also led international travel studies and taught across the curriculum in statistics, great works, and the history of science.


George Kinney: Waste, or Talking Trash

8 Wednesdays, 1:30-3:30, Village on the Cannon.
Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

In 2013, the average American generated 4.4 pounds of solid waste per day.   Of that, 1.5 pounds was recycled. About 30% of municipal solid waste (MSW) is packaging. Nearly 80% of products in the United States are used once and then discarded.

But – isn’t recycling the answer? Recycling rates in Minnesota are increasing quite slowly. Often, due to market glut for collected recycled material, or lower costs to buy ‘virgin’ material, the collected recycling is landfilled (the government pays to collect recycling, then pays additional fees to bury it). Although recycling aluminum is the most cost-effective, since mining bauxite is so expensive, only half of aluminum cans are recycled (5% of plastic is recycled).

What will organics composting do to the waste stream? Our local Northfield Organic Composing group will give us an update.

This class will explore the history of our current MSW system and look at the various ways to manage the large volumes of MSW generated, including the expansion of the Rice County Landfill. In addition, this topic touches on many issues, such as resource use, toxicity of wastes, environmental concerns, government regulations, and the public/private management of wastes.   This is an updated version of a Fall 2016 course.

George Kinney has done environmental work for over 30 years in both the public and private sectors. He holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Chemistry and worked for Dakota County for 25 years in the areas of hazardous and solid waste regulation and enforcement, household hazardous waste, and cleanup of contaminated dumps and other sites.

Perry Mason: Philosophy and Psychiatry—Some Questions

8 Wednesdays, 9:30-11:30, Northfield Senior Center 106.
Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

This course will consider some philosophical questions about psychiatry and mental illness in general, though without presuming to offer an exhaustive coverage of relevant issues.

The most basic question concerns how mental illness or disease or disorder is to be defined. Are mental disorders best conceived on “the medical model” as illnesses for which we should seek cures or at least amelioration, or should we think of them as non-medical “problems in living” for which we should seek practical solutions or improvements?

A second basic question can be put broadly this way: What are the various mental disorders?  If there are different kinds of disorder, how do they differ and how are they similar?  And how, then, are they to be categorized or classified?

A third question arises already in the second one: how are diagnoses to be made?

Emphasis will be on discussing helpful articles from disputants in the area; these will be provided in electronic and/or duplicated form.

For an expanded description, click here.

Perry Mason: Retired Professor of Philosophy at Carleton, after 36 years of teaching. Chief areas of teaching include ancient Greek philosophy, philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and early modern European philosophy.


Mike Leming: Southeast Asia and the Spice Tour

8 Thursdays, 9:30-11:30, Northfield Senior Center 106.
Tuition $50.  Limit 18.

This course will provide a survey of historical, anthropological and sociological issues related to the society and culture of the spice trades (Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India). The course provides an historical context for understanding the history and  culture of countries involved in the spice trades with Europe (especially England). There will be special emphasis and analysis of Thai social institutions and culture. Topics include Malaysian, Thai, Sri Lankan, and Indian history including family organization, political and economic structures, gender roles, and minority groups and cultures.

Mike Leming is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at St. Olaf College. Leming’s research has primarily focused on the sociology of religion, the sociology of the family, social thanatology, and Thai culture and society.

Leming has also devoted much of his career to studying and teaching about the people of Asia, most notably Thailand. He has traveled and studied and taught in most of the countries in East and Southeast Asia. In 1990 he led St. Olaf’s Term in Asia and was visiting professor at Chiang Mai University in 1995.

For the past 17 years Mike and Ann Leming have directed the Spring Semester in Thailand program ( that is affiliated with Chiang Mai University; they live in Thailand during Minnesota’s winter months.

LaVern Rippley: The German Novelle—A Distinctive Narrative

8 Thursdays, 1:30-3:30, Northfield Senior Center 106.
Tuition $50.  Limit 12.

The German Novelle is a tale in prose that communicates one central event in a straight-forward narrative depicting a single conflict that progresses rapidly to a pivotal, cathartic conclusion. At each step in the account is a symbol, an object that converts to a motif registering as a concrete physical object (a tree, a stone, a flower, a horse, an insect).  And this motif hoists readers into the drama of spiritual, emotional, passionate, religious, and communal dimensions of human existence.  It all makes for fascinating reading and discussion.  Authors will include Thomas Mann, Gerhart Hauptmann, Franz Kafka, and Gottfried Keller.

LaVern Rippley, following 50 years teaching German Studies at St. Olaf College, is a Professor Emeritus who has taught courses diverging from German language to Interims circling the Baltic Sea, courses on Nazi Germany, the German Forty-Eighters, the Novelle and many others.


Sam Ouk: Understanding Our Immigrants and Refugees

5 Thursdays, 3:00-5:00 (Oct. 5-Nov. 2), Faribault Diversity Coalition, 324 Central Ave.  Tuition $35.  Limit 30.

This class will teach participants about the journey of refugees. The program will be divided into two halves. The first two classes will look at the struggles of refugees and their difficult journey to get to the United States. The remainder of the classes will focus on their resettlement experiences in the United States. The second part of this session will focus primarily on learning about the resources and lack of resources available to refugees. We will take a trip to visit the Buddhist Temple and the Mosque, which are the community centers of our Cambodian and Somali refugees. Finally, we will discuss the positive opportunities we have in Rice County to engage and learn more about our diverse communities. This course is a repeat from Fall 2016.

Sam Ouk’s family survived the Cambodian Killing Fields and immigrated to the United States in 1982. Sam has his Master’s in English as a Second Language education from Hamline University. He taught ESL for six years in Rochester, MN before becoming the school district’s ESL Coordinator there. Recently he moved to work in Faribault as the ESL Coordinator for the school district. Sam is also a board member for the Faribault Diversity Coalition. Throughout his life, he has been actively involved with refugee work and has also written on the acculturation experiences of refugees.

Dan Geslin: Exploring the Jesus of History and the Christ of Experience

7 Fridays, 9:30-11:30 (Sept. 15-Nov. 3; no class Oct. 13), Northfield Senior Center 106.  Tuition $45.  Limit 18.

Probably the most widely read—and most loved—book of the current search for the historical Jesus is Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. This will be our primary text as we explore the creative tension between what we can know about the Jesus of history and what people may experience of the Christ of faith and/or the life of the spirit. With plenty of time for sharing our own experiences and spiritual insights, we will supplement our discussion of Borg with short hand-outs from William James, Paul Tillich, Diana Butler Bass, and The Gospel According to Mark.

Dan Geslin grew up in Anoka and holds degrees from St. Olaf College, the Pacific School of Religion, and the Iliff School of Theology. He is a retired pastor, having served churches in Minneapolis, Cleveland, Denver and Maine.  Dan represented the United Church of Christ on an ecumenical team of five writers (Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, UCC) who wrote the six-volume Feasting on the Word: A Worship Companion, a collection of essays, prayers and poetry for use in worship in synch with the Revised Common Lectionary. He is owned by two whippets, Pip and Arrow, who run 35 miles an hour.


Diane Hagen: Laura Ingalls Wilder—Becoming a Writer

6 Fridays, 9:30-11:30 (Sept. 22-Oct. 27), Paradise Theater in Faribault.  Tuition $40.  Limit 20.

We will examine Laura Ingalls Wilder’s journey as a writer and assess her daughter Rose’s influence on her writing. Some biographers have questioned Laura’s writing skills and suggested that the primary and most skilled writer was Rose. In recent years, Laura’s autobiography Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography was published for the first time and shines a new light on Laura’s life and works, showing that Laura and Rose both used material from the autobiography in their fiction.

We will also look at the influence of the Little House books on mid-20th century culture, from the 1930s when the first books came out though the 1970s when the loosely based TV show “Little House on the Prairie” appeared on television.

We will use the book Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill, the editor of the autobiography. Laura’s books, especially The Long Winter, will be discussed.

Diane Hagen is a retired Clinical Social Worker who has enjoyed the Little House books since childhood. She has visited most of Laura’s childhood homes and the home in Mansfield, Missouri where she wrote her books. In several communities she has portrayed Laura Wilder at age 80 looking back on her life.