Susie Klingner returned to Fairbanks for the first time since graduation for her 50th class reunion in September. While on campus, she gave an oral history interview with archivist Leslie McCartney of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection, Rasmuson Library.
After Susie graduated from UAF in 1964, she went back home to the Midwest to teach. She taught varying ages, from preschool to university level, and varying subjects, from ballet for football players to math, science and horticulture. She spent much of her time traveling the world as well, including several trips to Israel, where she gave a lecture on Alaska in Hebrew. An excerpt from her interview follows.
Q: How did you come to Alaska originally from Quincy, Illinois?
A: I always had a bit of a nomadic, wild streak in me. I was 19 years old, and I had written for the college catalog [to be sent to me], and when I read it, I was hooked. It was because of the professors that they had there, [especially] Dr. Skarland for anthropology. I told my father I wanted to be a cultural anthropologist. My father had his own engineering firm along the Mississippi River, and he told me if I wanted his help, I had two choices: I could be a teacher or a nurse. I chose teaching because I could study different cultures at the same time.
[After I got here] I met Dr. Skarland in the commons one day when I was feeling sad and missing my grandfather. He told me I could call him Grandfather.
I lived in McIntosh, a converted men’s dormitory. The Lathrop [Hall] boys would come over when the aurora was out and play their guitars underneath the windows for us. This was back in the day when they locked us in the dorm at night.
Q: What year did you come to UAF?
A: 1962–1963 and 1963–1964, my junior and senior years. My early childhood school was an influence on my choice to come here. It was a small country school, first through eighth grades, and I loved the closeness between teachers and students. I chose UAF because of the small teacher–student ratio. I also had read about Dr. Michael Krauss [and was interested in linguistics]. I thought compared to Harvard that I might go up there and not spend very much money. Tuition was only $100 at that time for out–of–state students, and after one semester you were considered Alaskan and didn’t have to pay anymore.
I admired every professor I had; they gave you so much time. In class and out of class. They would come to the commons and talk to you. You could go to their offices. I remember being in Dr. Kang’s office for four straight hours; he was helping me understand the different sounds of “s” in Korean. Dr. Krauss taught us Hebrew after we [Sandra Scott Stringer, Greg Zwiebel and Jacqueline King] petitioned him to teach it. [He was doing research on Eyak at the time]. I signed it not knowing that I’d be spending four hours every Sunday studying Hebrew with Dr. Krauss! His scholarship was outstanding. He really cared about us — he really helped me to blossom and to grow, and to see language in depth and how the structure is put together. Later on at what is now the University of Colorado I wrote a paper on modern noun formation in Israeli Hebrew. One hundred percent, without Krauss’s instruction I couldn’t have done that. It also helped me later in life. I lived in Jerusalem and studied archaeology at Hebrew University under Ya’akov Meshorer, the curator at the Israeli Museum. I want to say on this tape: “Thank you, Dr. Krauss.” There was a U.S. Army chaplain, Rabbi Sy Gitin, who came to teach the spoken language, and I didn’t like him very much. Dr. Krauss told me that my reading and writing ability in Hebrew and my speaking ability in Hebrew was the difference between a genius and a fool, so he suggested I learn from the rabbi. It taught me to be open to things that were difficult for me and to broaden myself.
Q: You came here wanting to study anthropology but ended up in education?
A: I ended up studying education and taking a really wide variety of classes. I felt I could not be an effective teacher if I didn’t know many subjects. I wanted a wide variety of studies so when I relate to children in the classroom, I can find out what their interests are and how I can enhance their learning ability to make them reach their goals. My original goal was cultural anthropology and I knew I could come here and be immersed in other cultures so I was basically doing cultural anthropology even if my degree didn’t say so. I continued to do that in the Middle East and wherever I traveled: with the Aboriginals in Australia and different cultures all over Europe.
Q: What are some of your memories of campus?
A: On Engineers Day, engineering students filled up a psychology professor’s hallway with chairs so he couldn’t get out of his office. Earlier that same day there was a horrible explosion and a close friend of mine, Karen Wahto ’64, who lived across the hallway from me in McIntosh, ran over to my room because something had blown out her window. The mining students woke everyone up with the sound of explosives that unintentionally blew out several windows around campus. There were chemicals in the toilet so after you went to the bathroom the water turned green.
In McIntosh Hall we could do anything we wanted, decorate our doors, etc. In the winter many would be more sedentary and depressed so I would do things to make others happy. I used to ride a bike up and down the hallway and I would go outside at least once a day no matter the temperature. While in the dorm I would put one foot on either side of the stairwell and wiggle my toes up the wall to the ceiling and read my book there, literally climbing the walls.
Web extra: The complete interview is available for checkout.