THE CENTER FOR WESTERN STUDIES
By Ron Robinson
It is daunting enough to speak of Art Huseboe before his family, friends, and colleagues, but it is even more daunting because I can’t help imagining Art listening in, like Tom Sawyer at his own obsequies, wondering what stretchers I will try to get past you. Art was a man of many parts, and hundreds of people were close enough to him to believe they knew him well. I can only offer my view as a colleague and friend for over 40 years, as a collaborator on a few projects, as the recipient of his generous support and encouragement for my writing, and as a victim of his persuasive powers, succumbing to his requests to undertake various tasks for the good of the Center and for the enlightenment of mankind. I cannot claim to describe Art Huseboe any more thoroughly than anyone else, but I can perhaps illuminate some of the things I believe made him what he was. For he was a man of intellect, a man of vision, and a man of feeling, and I hold that all these attributes issued from a single source - and that source was love.
Anybody who has had a career in education knows it is not teachers alone who teach us. Our curiosity is fed by parents, by siblings, and by friends; it is nourished further by reading, and it is impelled by that greatest teacher of all - experience. One experience that I am sure taught Art early on was his activity as a Boy Scout. He spoke of it often to me, and showed me photographs of himself at camp, in Native American garb, bare-chested and rangy in his teens, and obviously enjoying himself. It is an image that seems at first at odds with the urbane and sophisticated person he seemed later on. But as a Scout and later as a camp counselor at Lake Shetek, he learned one of his most salient qualities, leadership. He also learned a prodigious repertoire of campfire songs that he could summon at will as he led sing-alongs on bus trips with students to and from productions of the Guthrie Theater.
Art’s mastery of the sing-along songbook isn’t the only thing that escaped his resume - just in case you’re thinking he put everything in that prodigious list. He had a sense of playfulness which I maintain is essential to a vital imagination. I came into our shared office once to discover Art crouched down, playing with a stripped-down windup car, and beaming with delight. He was fascinated with novel mechanical ideas, and he was a great fan of Buckminster Fuller. Art came up with an idea for a combination helium-hot-air balloon, one enclosed within the other, which he was convinced could circle the globe without setting down.
When Art heard the first Christopher Reeves Superman movie was to be released, he invited me to the Sioux Falls premiére, and we had a grand time afterward discussing whether the flick lived up to our conceptions of our childhood super-hero. He could play Name That Tune by the hour, and could duplicate not only the melody, but the lyrics as well. The only person who I think could come close to challenging Art at a game of Trivia would be my good friend Curt Ruud. And between the two of them - as Bill Geyer reminded me the other day - they could tell you anything you wanted to know about Sioux Falls in the 30s and 40s. Teamed with their mutual friend Bob Steensma, they could add endless footnotes to the city’s history.
In his student days at Augustana, Art was a double major in English and in Drama. He was an assistant to Earl Mundt, dramatic director for many years. It was there that he met one of his good friends, later a good friend of mine, Phil Bruns, the renowned motion picture character actor who got his start in Mundt productions. When the college finally tore down the old barracks building housing the Little Theatre, Art rescued the door that had hung on the entrance to Earl’s office. And at Earl Mundt’s retirement party, Art enlisted me in a non-PC comic dialogue from an old 78 record. It seems that both he and Earl had memorized the skit and often did spontaneous recitations of it. It was appropriate that the Fantle Building came to occupy part of the site of Earl Mundt’s office and of the Little Theater, for Art’s histrionic talents were matched only by his brother Ken.
One teacher I know had tremendous influence on Art - and on me and on a host of other students of our generation - was Herbert Krause, the author, poet, ornithologist, and Shakespeare scholar who was a fixture at Augustana for decades. Nobody modeled a passion for learning as Herb did. His enthusiasm for knowledge was contagious. And the scope of Herb’s interests – truly those of a Renaissance Man - validated Art’s wide-ranging curiosity. It was Herb’s revisionist view of the history and culture of the West - and his desire to establish an archive of materials from which writers and scholars could add to our knowledge of the true West - that led to the creation of the Center for Western Studies. Looking back, it seems almost inevitable that Art would come to direct that institution.
Like Herb, Art realized that learning was best achieved by emulation, and in his classes he demonstrated the passion that he felt for the subject matter. My senior year as a student at Augustana, 1956-57, was also Art’s first go as an instructor, and he was immediately popular. When I returned as an instructor in 1962, he’d been back from graduate school for a year, and his enthusiastic lectures on English Literature were already legendary. But his enthusiasm extended to all his classes. In those days, everybody in the English Department, regardless of rank, taught Freshman Composition. I know that Art made seemingly mundane but essential things like grammar and punctuation as vivid as possible. One of his techniques was to assign each member of the class a role as a part of speech. Then he would get everybody up on their feet and have them join hands to form sentences. It was a brilliant device. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to forget what a conjunctive adverb is, if you’ve actually been one.
Art published noted studies of Restoration dramatists and 18th Century poets - and he was a pronouncer for the annual Argus Leader spelling bee. He wrote the definitive study of the Arts in South Dakota - and, because he knew everybody by sight, he was the regular commentator for the KELO-Land broadcast of the Vikings Day Parade. But you must not think that his academic achievements came as effortlessly and painlessly as lesser activities. At the time of some of his greatest output as a scholar, he was beset by a painful eye condition that allowed him only a short time each day to devote to research and writing. It was a frustrating time for him, but he soldiered on, driven as always by the love of knowledge.
Beyond knowledge, however, lies vision - an imagination vast enough to see the larger vistas of past, present, and future. As director of the Center for Western Studies, Art expanded upon Herb’s original vision and strove tirelessly to see that the center was sufficiently supported and promoted. His vision and energy will help to propel and guide the Center - now under the capable direction of Dr. Harry Thompson - well into the future. And his efforts for the Center, as well, were driven by love.
For Art was, perhaps above all else, a man of feeling. And much of that feeling derived from a close partnership with his beloved wife, Doris. Like Art, Doris had humble beginnings, but she went from being a farm girl to being one of the most recognized and awarded supporters of the arts in South Dakota and the region. While each had distinct and separate careers, they were united in their love for each other, for Augustana, for Sioux Falls, and for the Arts. In a moment of quiet reflection after Doris’ death, Art told me that when he and Doris discovered they could have no children of their own, they had decided to adopt *en masse* the students of Augustana. That revelation explains much of what made Art and Doris what they became.
Among the poems that Art contributed to Words and Savages, the book we put together along with illustrations by Carl Grupp, are these three stanzas from “Six Rubaiyat,” with which I close.
For we, who out of darkness take our flight
One beat of wearied wings beyond the door,
So while the blood flows on its rich career
Read In Memory of Arthur R. Huseboe