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Making a stop at his alma mater

August 10, 2013
By Jim Tate , Marshall Independent

Bruce Hagen felt a sense of pride as he took the tour of SMSU with 15 of his friends last Tuesday.

"The place has changed so much," he said.

Hagen, a Slayton native and 1971 charter class member, was part of an unusual group of retired educators from the St. Louis Park area who came to Marshall as part of an annual outing earlier this week.

"We have breakfast together every Wednesday morning," he said. "Then, once a year, we pick an area and go for three days - see the sights. The first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in August. This is our 14th year of that."

Hagen graduated with an accounting degree from SMSU. He started his college career at the University of Minnesota - his parents lived in the Cities then - transferred to St. Cloud State and transferred again to SMSU.

"I got a brick," he said, referring to the brick that charter class members received when they walked across the stage at the first commencement.

He married his wife Lelia (Dahlberg) in 1968. She had graduated from the U of M and found work in St. Cloud.

"I had two years of college at that point, so I transferred to St. Cloud," he said. "She was then offered an art teaching job in Slayton and took it, so we moved back to Slayton, and I commuted to SMSU."

The group is comprised of 16 retired teachers who taught at St. Louis Park, one from the Minneapolis school system and Hagen.

"I was asked to join four years ago," he said. That number goes up and down a bit, depending on the time of year, but the core group remains the same.

Two of the ringleaders are Phil Frerk and Rollie Hanks. Frerk coached the St. Louis Park girl's basketball team to state championships in 1986 and 1990.

They are a fun-loving bunch, and on Tuesday, sang "Happy Birthday" to at least two people on campus, even though it wasn't their birthday. You can tell from their banter that they get along famously.

Later that day, they had dinner at the Marshall Golf Club. Wednesday it was stops at the Pipestone National Monument and the Fagen Fighters World War II Museum in Granite Falls. On Thursday, it was a stop at the Hanley Falls Farm Machinery Museum on their way home.

"We got to a lot of colleges. We've been to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, over to Illinois, to northern Minnesota. Pretty much all over," he said.

Hagen retired in 2000 following a career with KPMG, Norwest (now Wells Fargo) and, finally, GE Capital. He spends eight months of the year in Osprey, Fla., and four months in Chanhassen.

"I like the way the campus is now. And I liked it when I came here. It seemed comfortable. It was an energetic school to attend. Everything was new - the students, the buildings, the professors, everything," he said.

He is a great admirer of the university's first president, Howard Bellows.

"He brought so much charisma to the campus," he said.

"I had wanted to get done in two years, but not all of my credits transferred. I was in the service before I transferred, so the GI Bill really helped. I was carrying heavy credit loads and had to get a waiver to do that, but I was able to muscle through," he said.

Hagen said that he was a student representative on the landscaping committee.

"We planted the first tree on campus. It was out in this area," he said, pointing to the front of Founders Hall.

He recalls Mike Bodigheimer as being an influential instructor during his time at SMSU.

Hagen and his wife have two sons, Keith and Chris.

The itinerary for their trip listed each day's stops and some helpful tips for the travelers. The final item under "Other Information" - and an indication of their collective sense of humor - was this: "Don't forget your pills!"

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