Beautiful to Me

We put a single question to members of our extended community. We wanted to know, “What is it, here at St. Norbert College, that is beautiful to you?” Their varied answers build up a layered and lovely composite, an image of a unique place.

A member of the crew team, Rebecca Larsen ’12 is out on the river long before most of us are reaching for our first cup of coffee. “It’s really calming when the river is super-smooth and you’re the only thing disrupting the water. The rest of the world isn’t awake yet but the creatures are. There are geese and pelicans moving overhead. There’s a kayaker who is usually out and says hello. Early, there is mist on the water. It can be very relaxing."

Debi Faase (Teacher Education) came toSt. Norbert after a career as a teacher and elementary school principal in Milwaukee, Wis. “I find beauty in the blossoming minds of my students, in the inquisitive spirits of my colleagues, and so very strongly I find beauty in the Holy Spirit that fills the air on the grounds of the campus, the halls of our buildings, and the classrooms all around. Of course I feel this Spirit inside Old St. Joe’s, but when I leave St. Joe’s I do not feel as though the Spirit was kept inside. I carry the Holy Spirit with me as I teach my classes, learn from my colleagues, and engage with my students. To me, this is a place of wonderment, of God, and of home. St. Norbert is a part of me and its beauty is something I carry with me, and have carried with me, for almost 30 years of teaching. Where do I find beauty atSt. Norbert College? The real question is, where don’t I?”

The Rev. Joseph Tamas Kelenyi, O.Praem., of Hungary, is studying at the ESL Institute. He is struck by the architectural harmony and thoughtful design of his temporary home. “It is clearly visible when we see the old statues and the brand-new elements next to each other. The old and the new, the classical and the modern, history and the future get along well and complement each other. This attractive harmony communicates unity and peace both inside the buildings and out."

Amber Vlasnik ’02 was among readers who chimed in via the magazine’s Facebook page. “I distinctly remember sitting outside one spring evening and listening to my friends laugh together and speak at least four languages. Thinking of those sounds makes me happy, and it was indeed beautiful.”

For Blake Henson (Music), our question struck a deeper chord. “There is a duality of being an artist and the challenges that the artistic path brings. However, there isn’t a clear paradigm for allowing the artistic opposites within oneself to harmoniously co-exist. For a period of my creative life, it felt so much better (and easier) to just do one rather than keep the two in perspective and balance. I could be in a spiritual place or a grounded place. But it is now very clear that being truly centered requires us to be and to live in this mystical ‘crossing point.’ This is the point in us where our desire for human connection to others is counterbalanced by a rootedness firmly established in what we believe to be so – a ‘force,’ as M.C. Richards states, that goes up into the light and down into the ground; a love for others and an affirmation to love oneself; an ability to use breath to share the fragility of our inner core with others and ourselves; the ability to move between hard focus and soft focus; the ability to understand and perceive our circles of attention; the ability to deeply understand where all these opposite impulses exist harmoniously within us.”

Colorado native Jessica Novitsky ’05 remembers what it was like to find her feet at St. Norbert. “I picked Burke as a dorm two years in a row. Call me crazy, but I loved the beautiful old building. More importantly, it was where I met six of the most amazing people I have ever known. Ten years later, I still have to say that the ‘717 girls’ are probably the most awesome part of my memories of my time atSt. Norbert, and are my closest friends. The beautiful part is that I know I’m not the only St. Norbert grad who has had that experience. Finding those lifelong friends is something that I think every one of our alumni shares.”

Bill Bohné (Art) loves his work of opening his students’ eyes to the beauty around them. “I was reading an old catalog from Rockland College that dated from around 1909. They offered a class called Sketching, which everyone had to take. They felt that art was indeed a language and that learning to see was like learning to read. I thought, what a fascinating idea! Learning to see is even more important now because, as we continue to increase the volume in the culture that surrounds us, whether it’s on television or in the media, it becomes more and more important to learn to see critically.” 

The training regimen of a champion athlete led Jenny Scherer ’11 to appreciate her college from all sides. “Running across the bridge from downtown De Pere back toward St. Norbert – seeing the sunlight shimmer off the water and getting a great view of the gorgeous brick buildings on campus. Beautiful and different in all four seasons! Doesn’t get much better than that!” 

His latest role as campus ombudsperson means Ken Zahorski (English, Emeritus) is on campus several times a week. “Beauty is being startled into joy by the autumnal gold of the colony of birch overarching the benches in the rest area between Boyle and JMS. Beauty is walking down the corridor of Boyle Hall during peak classroom occupancy and witnessing the contagious passion of instructors as they guide their students down the paths of learning. Beauty is in the joyful caper of a colleague minutes after being told s/he has received tenure. Beauty is the first day of class when everything seems possible, and the last day of class when a student writes at the end of an exam paper, ‘Thanks for the class. I learned more than I ever thought I would.’ Beauty is in the face of a student finally mastering a concept that has been as elusive as the philosopher’s stone. Beauty is receiving an e-mail from a student you had in class a quarter of a century ago telling you that that experience changed his/her life. Beauty is the treasure trove of memories retired professors carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

For artist Brian Danaher ’98, the arrival of June brings memories to mind. “There are so many beautiful things about St. Norbert: the buildings, the colorful trees in the fall, not to mention all the memories that come rushing back when walking the campus. If I had to pick one thing, it would be Old St. Joseph Church. It was renovated shortly after my wife [Natalie Hilsgen ’98] and I graduated, and we were so impressed with the transformation that we decided to be married on campus, 10 years ago this month.” 

Living across the river from campus, neighbor and college trustee Ed Thompson has developed a deep love for the college. “I think the atmosphere breathes accountability: We attract people who know about accountability; they know what’s needed and how to go about it. At one president’s dinner, our coaching staff came to talk about why they were here, and to introduce one of their players. Almost to a person, they talked about how they were dedicated to being a part of not only our athletics but also our academic success. Parents recognize that if they send one of their children to St. Norbert College they will give that child the best education, and prepare them for life.”

Catherine Kasten (Center for Norbertine Studies) enjoys watching the weather roll in from her office in the Mulva Library, where she enjoys the most extensive view on campus. “Every single day the landscape changes. Every day, we have a new picture. I love to watch the thunderstorms rolling in. The day we had 80-mph winds we stood back, away from the windows, and watched the trees bending to the storm. During snowstorms, it’s like we’re in our own snow globe.”

Amanda Sigl ’14 and Teena Carroll (Mathematics) have been using origami to understand organic compounds. “Our origami nanotubes were created to provide a physical model of a complex chemical structure. This helped us visualize the three-dimensional aspects of these submicroscopic molecules, which cannot be viewed without the use of an electron microscope. I was impressed with how flat pieces of paper, folded into specific shapes, could be combined into such beautiful and unique structures.”

It is winter memories that come first to Jill Gonzalez ’88. “I remember walking down Third Street at night, during my freshman year, after the first large snowfall of the season. Looking down toward Main Hall, all lit up, the lights illuminating the snowflakes and the quiet of campus under the new blanket of snow. I’ll never forget how magical (and cold!) that night was.”

Bald eagles and red-tailed hawks on their morning patrols keep parking officer Harry Vandenplas company on his rounds. In the afternoon, his colleague John Kazik repeats the circuit. “I love walking around,” says Kazik. “This is not a hectic place, even when the students are changing classes. People are friendly and outgoing. My work is like a nice stroll for me every day. It’s calm. The wildlife adds to that. And the college has done such a good job with the landscaping. I enjoy it every day. Makes up for the weather!”

Things look pretty beautiful to our smallest students. Bonnie Lueck (Children’s Center) helped us put our question to the youngsters in her care. Their list is a lovely thing in itself. “Flowers. Friends at Old St. Joe’s. Trick-or-treating. The new cafeteria. Celebrating Jesus. The grounds. The manger scene at Christmas. Happiness. Feeling safe. Joy every day.”

And Emily Disselhorst ’13 sums up what it means to live in community. Even on my worst days, I find a way to smile because of you. You are the person I walked past on my way to class. You are the person I sat with at lunch. You are the person I confided in when I needed help. You are beautiful to me, because you are you.”