By Myranda Bolstad (BA English ’04)
Last month, I used my key to unlock my parents’ door and carefully navigated my way through the maze of winter gear that occupied most of the porch. It wasn’t that it was tossed haphazardly into my path, but a dozen students – preparing to camp for a few weeks in the Arctic – come with a lot of gear.
These students belonged to Morten Asfeldt’s outdoor education program, and were on their way to the Hoarfrost River. Morten is my godfather. His winter students have been sleeping on the floor of my home for a decade, and his summer students for twice that long.
I’m not entirely sure how it began. We moved to Yellowknife in 1994, when I was newly in my teens and my younger brother was still shorter than me. The first summer we were truly settled in, Morten must have called to arrange a visit while he was passing through with his students. On hearing that their high school friend and his students were going to stay in the campground, my parents insisted they camp in their backyard instead. The students could pitch their tents on the grass and save on the campground fee.
My parents have been housing and feeding Augustana students ever since.
I joined this year’s group for dinner: my mom’s favourite dish, chicken curry with apricots on rice. I mostly observed as they sat around the table, sharing what they’d seen over the course of the day of the little city I call home.
A highlight for many was the Buffalo Air hangar, where Buffalo Joe himself (of Ice Pilots fame) had spotted them and invited them inside for a tour. It made my heart sing a little to know that this would be their first glimpse of the goodness of Northerners. We are people who will open our homes and hangars to these students. I knew, like Morten surely knows after seeing it time and again, that they would come back changed.
While Morten remains our family’s strongest connection to Augustana, he is not the only one. We Bolstads have started a legacy.
As a teenager, my grandfather stayed in his Old Main dorm room when Camrose Lutheran College served students finishing their high school education away from the small Alberta towns they’d grown up in. My dad enrolled in CLC for his first and second years of post-secondary education. My mom followed my dad to Camrose: they met and fell in love in Whitehorse when he returned home for the summer after his freshman year. My brother (Joshua Bolstad, BA PhysEd ’09), his wife (Mandi (Dewar) Bolstad, BMgmt ’10), and I were all Augustana students. Perhaps 15 years down the road, my nephew may be able to say the same.
I can’t speak to why other students choose Augustana, but I can speak to my own experience. As a shy, nerdy bookworm who’d spent years in small classes, I was not ready to take on a university that boasted more students than my city. I applied to Augustana because I wanted to be more than a number to my teachers, and have the comfort of knowing people in the area. My godfather and his wife taught at the school (and occasionally fed me real, home-cooked food), my grandparents lived in Fort McMurray, and my great-grandfather picked me up once a month to stay with him for a weekend in Falun.
Augustana was supposed to be my transition school, a freshman year to get my bearings before going on to bigger, better things.
As it turned out, there might have been bigger things, but there were not better. I loved going to Augustana. I loved the campus and the community. My teachers were intelligent and interesting, and they cared. I made some incredible friends, many of whom I am still close with today. These aren’t just friends I keep on Facebook so we can send each other lives in Candy Crush. I’ve gone to their weddings, attended their children’s birthdays, and slept in their homes. As someone who did eventually go on to attend a much bigger school in a much bigger city, pursuing a post-graduate degree in Scotland, I can say that I have been incredibly blessed through my association with Augustana.
I have been back to Augustana many times since graduating. Sometimes I pop in to say hello to professors who still remember me by name. Sometimes I just walk the campus in summer, when the students have gone home and I can relive fond memories. And sometimes Augustana comes to us.
This year, it was not just Morten and his students. Augustana wanted to honour my parents in their own hometown. Dean Allen Berger came up to host Yellowknife alumni and my parents’ friends at a dinner where he presented Cathie and Kevin Bolstad with the 2013 Lois Aspenes Award “in recognition of their significant contributions to the life of Augustana”. With him came Trina Harrison, a former classmate and the Alumni and Special Events Coordinator. It felt incredible to hear of the many things my parents had done for our school, and share the celebration with students past and present.
I got my own chance to give back a little the next day, before Trina and Dean Berger jetted home. I took them to the Gold Range Bistro, a “greasy spoon” diner and local favourite attached to the infamous bar, for breakfast. My mom joined us for a tour of the city, because in true Yellowknife style, my car refused to start in the -30ºC weather.
It was wonderful to share new experiences with them: their first time on an ice road, a tour around the small First Nations community of Dettah to which the road connects, and my personal favourite, the Northern collection at the bookstore where I work part-time. They even got to take a peek around the museum when their plane ended up delayed several hours, which I hope soothed the sting of the inconvenience.
My family will always be connected to Augustana. We’ve crossed paths and made ties with Morten’s students, and I’m certain we’ll see more cycle through in years to come. I overheard my dad mentioning to a friend that, when Morten reminded him that they had been hosting students for nearly 20 years, he and my mom might soon welcome a student whose parents slept on their grass in those first years.
The thought is incredible. It’s amazing.