The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 11, 2009

Lifetime learner — a college grad at 70

Steve Brown started taking classes in 2000

By Brian Ojanpa

MANKATO — Steve Brown wasn’t about to fold his tent when he was dealt a triple whammy a decade ago.

That’s why the 70-year-old deserves to hold his head high today when he not only graduates from Minnesota State University but speaks to the assembled crowd as well.

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you do with what happens to you,” Brown says.

His domino effect of personal setbacks began in 1998, when he had both knees replaced, followed a few months later by a stroke.

The third indignity came when his doctor bluntly told him the time had come to put himself out to pasture.

“He thought I was pretty much at the end of my whatever. But that was his opinion. I had a different opinion.”

The native of Huntley, near Fairmont, entered the armed services after high school, then spent his working years as a printer and a chef.

Rather than sidling into retirement, his physical challenges steeled his desire to remain productive.

He was hired as a food service worker at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and took his resolve a step further by enrolling at Minnesota State.

His says his children were stunned.

“They were, like, what are you doing that for, man?”

He says they didn’t think he would last long as a college student. Truth is, neither did he.

He began taking classes in 2000 — one here, one there — to test the waters of higher education, and things went swimmingly.

Then one day during his second or third year at MSU, he was walking in Armstrong Hall when he espied some wall posters.

“He thought they were groovy and he decided to become a geography major,” says MSU Geography Department Chairman Don Friend.

The posters depicting various nations flipped a switch within Brown, and in MSU’s Bresnan Arena today he’ll receive the fruits of his matriculation.

He gives thanks to his MSU instructors and particularly lauds his supervisors at Gustavus, who enabled him to tailor his work schedule around his class sessions.

Friend says the MSU Geography Department’s most non-traditional student is soft-spoken, humble and loves learning for its own sake.

“He’s thankful for, one, still being on the planet and, two, for the education that has been provided for him,” Friend says.

At each MSU graduation several students are selected to give short speeches.

Brown’s address will last two minutes, tops. That’s not a lot of time. Then again, words from the heart don’t require filibusters.