Established on 06.03.2020 by Jack A. Schwandt and Karen Hillger  †

The Reidar Thomte Award for Curious Students was established by Jack Schwandt ('52) and his wife, Pamela. The fund is for curious students who need financial help to stay at Concordia. They may be students who quickly find their way to a job after college, or they may be without clear prospects and yet discover their calling later in life. They may be high achievers, or they may be wandering souls in search of themselves, or they may be both achievers and seekers. Whatever they may be in college, our hope is that they are seized by curiosity while there and that afterward, they will follow wherever it leads. If they do so, it is likely that they will bring credit to Concordia College and grace the lives of others, wherever they live and whatever they do.

For more about the story behind the creation of this award, read "What Happened" below.

The purpose of the Reidar Thomte Award for Curious Students is to provide encouragement and support for curious students at Concordia College.



by: Jack Schwandt
Class of 1952

Reidar Thomte was my teacher. I did not know at the time how blessed I was. Now I do.

He was a professor of philosophy at Concordia College from 1948 to 1973, a Kierkegaard scholar, and a well-published one. His work was recognized. He was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, rarely given to faculty members at undergraduate colleges. He taught other courses and managed to keep his passion for Kierkegaard from disturbing what else he taught, most of the time. We knew that Soren Kierkegaard was always present in his classroom.

My respect for his scholarship came later; it was his classroom show that first captured my imagination. One day in class, he was laying out the main elements of Kierkegaard's teaching about the esthetic way of life, as it is found in Either/Or, Volume I. The richness of the book defies summary, but we do learn this, that the esthete is a human type who looks, and the looking and talking about the looking is what the esthete does. It is the main business of esthetes to talk, perhaps to write about what they see. Esthetes keep their distance. They are refined, easily pained, and they take refuge in beautiful things.

Of a sudden, with his usual high speed and good humor, Professor Thomte offered us an example of the esthete: It was the professor or the tribe of professors; after all, their main business was to observe and talk. They enjoyed the mysterious world of faculty life, so it seemed to me. Here, then, was a professor poking fun at his own tribe.

I ventured a question, the sense of which was that our esteemed professor was calling the authority of professors, his own authority included, into question. He had a ready answer "Sch-vant, Sch-vant," there is a difference between professing and confessing.

Professors talk, and as talkers are unavoidably esthetes; the professors who confess put themselves into what they say, stand behind their words without apology. The confessors do not merely talk but are wholly invested in what they say, sometimes to their own peril, as we know from the stories of our martyrs. That was the sense of our teacher's answer to my question. It was an answer with a long tail. I got the distinction and remembered it, but understanding its importance took years.

Henry James helped later on. When I read his The Portrait of a Lady, I saw an aesthete in motion. Gilbert Osmond loved beautiful things and embodied "all the stately effects of human life" on a grand scale and yet was an unattractive man, as his wife was to discover. She is Isabel Archer, the heroine of the novel, and in Chapter XLII, James describes what she has learned about her husband. James later wrote that this chapter "is obviously the best thing in the book."

There I was, though, at nineteen and in my second year of college, years before I read James. I had tasted Kierkegaard and met "Tiger" Thomte. Here I was, two years later, at twenty-one, in my last semester of college, and still a mess. I was in his classroom for the last time.

The course was devoted to a single book, Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments.

We met in an upstairs classroom of the Old Main. Our teacher came briskly into the room, sat in a chair behind the desk in front, and walked us through our assignment. He told us on the first day that we were in "for a lot of fun" because the full title of this book was an instance of Kierkegaard's joke-filled way of making his case. The Postscript, apparently an afterthought, is a big book, and the Fragments, the main book, a short one. That is a joke? Yes, it is. He gave us a tip, and our encounter with the Postscript was exciting and full of Kierkegaard's jokes and of Reidar Thomte's.

We read the Swenson-Lowrie edition of the Postscript (1944). My class notes tell me that our last assignment was a portion of its last chapter. I remember clearly the main event of that last day of class. Professor Thomte concentrated on a single passage in the concluding chapter, pages 536 to 537 and especially page 537. Johannes Climicus, one of Kierkegaard's fictitious authors, speaks and says that the "whole work," all of the Postscript, turns on the distinction he makes in this passage.

Here is where he distinguishes between "the man of distinguished talents" (academic degrees, accomplishments, natural talents, and so forth) and "the simplest man," who lacks the gifts of intellect and "the circumstances of life" enjoyed by the intellectual ones. To the point: the simple man and the man with the gifts of mind stand as equals before the sovereign claim of Christ on their lives and on the lives of others, always and everywhere and with no exceptions.

I bought my copy of the Postscript on 26 February 1952, near the beginning of my last semester at Concordia, and I still have it. It is a book for a lifetime. It is one of the resonant gifts Reidar Thomte gave me. That last day of class was another of them.

I began to see him more clearly. His academic self was bound by his church life, by his confession. The same was true of Sidney Rand and Cyrus Running, the other members of the "college within a college" who saw me through those perilous years before sending me on my way. I took five religion courses with the young Professor Rand, including his two-semester course for freshmen on the Old and New Testaments. Those courses were an important part of my education. So was the course on aesthetics I took with Cy Running. ("Aesthetics" is an alternative spelling of "esthetics"). He was a painter and also a musician. He taught me how to look for beautiful things, or to hear them, and how to begin to talk about them. He was quick-witted and funny, yet also sad. His face was tinged by sadness. How can we bear up? Are our lives part of a divine comedy? I had come across this question in Freshman English, as it was then called.

Geneva Mauseth, a member of the English Department, was also a member of this rescue team. I took the standard two-semester English course with her, but it was well beyond standard. We read large swatches of Homer in the first semester and of Dante in the second. She had the magic touch and left me with the desire to return to these authors. I have kept both the two-volume Homer she assigned, "Done into English Prose"  by  Lang, Leaf, and Meyer, and also The Portable Dante, which includes Lawrence Binyon's translation of The Divine Comedy.

Geneva Mauseth was also a genial and exacting composition teacher. She marked up my essays in helpful ways and was full of good advice. She continued the work that began in Enderlin High School with Lillian Syverson and Elizabeth Ann Reitan, the former a Concordia graduate and the latter from St. Benedict's. They asked questions, encouraged me to follow my interests, and helped me with my writing. I praise their names. Miss Mauseth, a St. Olaf graduate, was succeeded by another of them, Pamela Anne Poynter, who became my wife, my "lynx-eyed" editor, and the director of our ongoing seminar in literature.

We often talked about our teachers. One of Pam's teachers, and a dear friend of ours, often said with a twinkle and his characteristic "serious levity" that an undergraduate education "worthy of the name" should prepare students either to go to Harvard Medical School or to become Minnesota dairy farmers. My teachers at Concordia, the members of the "rescue squad" I have named, would agree with him.

They had practical, everyday church loyalties, and recognized the importance of Concordia's daily morning chapel service, which they attended regularly and sometimes spoke. They were not simply creatures of their separate disciplines. Luther's teaching about vocatio, vocation, was the key to the freedom that became each of them. What their students did with their lives, what they "did" for a living, was less important than the spirit and discipline they brought to their work, whatever that work might be. That is "vocation" briefly stated.

With these teachers, in and out of class, the discipline of the mind and spirit came along with the subjects they taught. Being their student was a great gift to me, a gift that, in turn, I aimed to pass on to my students. "Students I Have Known," an appendix to this essay, shows by their varied lives what vocation means. "Varied," I emphasize, not only or especially academic.

We can easily imagine one of today's Cobbers working on an assignment from one of today's faculty members. Our student is sitting on the chair by Prexy's Pond. He or she has come to the last quatrain of W. H. Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"

    In the deserts of the heart
    Let the healing fountain start,
    In the prison of his days
    Teach the free man how to praise.

A copy of the poem is attached to this essay.

The student is in the company of a great poet and this poet's music, his way with words, and the poet's imagination stretches the sight of the student, what the student now begins to see. His teacher had noted in class that Auden speaks of "the desert of the heart." Might that be an allusion to the Desert Fathers? The teacher had also noted that Auden gives his readers Yeats' death date and dates the poem itself a month later, both at the beginning of 1939, and so several months before World War II began and the date of another Auden poem, "September 1939."

Curiosity may work in this student, as it might, or in many other ways. Our student is but one example. He is lucky to be a Cobber. He hears a new way with words, sees a poet's imagination at work, hears of the seeing and doings of the church in the deserts or in the work of baptism ("Let the healing fountain start''), and learns a set of historical facts. All of this in one poem, and not a long one.

The poem, however, will not catch every reader.

    For poetry makes nothing happen; it survives
    In the valley of its saying where executives
    Would never want to tamper; it flows south
    From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
    Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
    A way of happening, a mouth.

May this poem happen to our student. May he or his sister or any curious student who is seized by it carry its humane gifts into the world of work, and may each of them be duly grateful. These gifts are less likely to be claimed in other kinds of schools or at best to be at the margins of what they offer to their students. Auden is at home but, as a many-voiced poet not too at home, in a humane education and at schools that make that education possible. May our student bring Auden along after college, own a book of his poetry, and remember Concordia. Other students may well bring other gifts.

Concordia does well by itself when it gives shelter to curiosity and when it honors old warriors like Reidar Thomte, who provoke curiosity. The college does much the same when it recognizes its other members, well known or less well known, for what they have given to the school.

We do something comparable, in another domain, when as Americans, we ceremonially remember our dead on Memorial Day. In many cemeteries across our land, Americans put flowers on the graves of their loved ones, and do whatever else they do on that day, a holiday.

We act more formally at Arlington National Cemetery, where we bury some of our veterans and their spouses and remember them. In one of its formalities, a group of three soldiers, called a "detail" in the Army, stands guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, always. These soldiers are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, the "Old Guard," which is permanently stationed at Arlington.

A bow toward these practices at Arlington suits the moment when we remember Reidar Thomte, a combat-ready soldier in a different kind of war.

26 August 2020
Soli Deo Gloria



(d. Jan 1939)

by: W.H. Auden


He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty.
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed: he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse.
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed.
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper; flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest:
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

February 1939
(Collected Poems, ed. Mendelson, 1976)




by: Jack Schwandt

I have known the seekers on this list. A few of them date from my own college years. There are others, early and late, not listed here, whom I name in my heart. I must note that there are executives on the list who are unlike the type observed by Auden in his Yeats poem. These executives have been shaped by one or another feature of humane learning and by the question of faith. They know what they know and do not know. They are different.

Our pastor for life; North Dakota wheat farmer; foot soldier in Vietnam and head of a business empire; big-time professional French horn player; home-maker and book collector and reader of Samuel Johnson and a thorough-going Johnsonian; Navy pilot and lawyer; insurance and real estate man and state representative and then state senator and well­-married and a faithful churchman; heroic single mom and college teacher; keen student of literature who became an AIDS doctor in a difficult place; curly-headed campus bright star noted for her WWI doughboy hat, coarse brown shift, and clogs, and curious about Gothic script which led her to a doctorate in German and a dissertation on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, then to jobs teaching undergraduate German, at the American Library Association with responsibilities for "kiddy lit," and to her own business as a free-lance editor when she has faced the learned ignorance and barbarous prose of a number of dissertations from the nearby university, a famous one; implement dealer and devotee of race cars and of car races; home town guy who could have stepped out of a Willa Cather story -- he works in the local post office and is a college dropout ("it interfered with my education"), a book collector and  serious reader who dreams of singing Mozart at Glyndebourne; high tech business consultant and avid golfer and no stranger to sorrow; able student and finely featured and with a bright disposition, then an Army nurse and much affected by her service in Vietnam; a quick-stepping Silicon Valley executive and an evangelical woman who is disciplined by the disciplines of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises; mail carrier; classicist and union carpenter and published local historian; fixer of foreign cars; CIA executive "on the analytic side" who rose to its top ranks after a doctorate with a dissertation on Botswanian politics and a light-footed and brief stay in the Academy; published historian and gentleman; inquisitive college hockey player and practicing therapist and a reflective man who reads books and gives a good account of his life and who is also a keen sports fan and a lively commentator on the politics of the day and of his city; major league professor of English who sees his profession with uncommon clarity; another professor of English who from graduate school went straight to the big show and who writes books that enjoy scholarly acclaim and who is otherwise doing well professionally; Kierkegaardian and business executive and avuncular lawyer in the manner of Judge William; an amorous butterfly, skilled ice-skater and downhill skier who took another kind of dare and read Kierkegaard and began to see herself anew, a lawyer and a penitent and a deeply ironical and every Sunday member of "that Lutheran church on the comer;" CIA staffer who became a published scholar and teacher at a private college and who knows whereof she speaks; classicist and organist and keen politics student and a lawyer who started by turning away from the lure of the big city and the big firm and the big starting salary and instead went back home to an attractive small city firm and then to an attractive wife and then to being the  father of three fine sons; health care executive and twice published baseball historian; reporter who writes clearly and has a keen eye for the odd-ball story and for the telling detail in the local news ... before the local news vanishes in the haze of "the news;" the Uncle Vanya in our life, so much like Chekov's; convivial and tuneful family man who has a well-trained voice and is a benefactor of his college choir, top insurance executive who retired early and became a philanthropist, stung by Kierkegaard when young, a man who "ain't gone back on his raisin" and who honors his mother and his father too; big city policewoman; Kierkegaardian and conductor of the orchestra of a major ballet company and a biker who has been known to bike from his East Coast home to the annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, and a man with an extraordinary family; retired transportation executive who is a citizen of the Republic of Berkeley, "bounded on three sides by California; "two dauntless and high speed church historians who see the alternatives clearly; 1st Cavalry Division officer in Vietnam, then in the Special Forces, fluent in German and posted as a military attache to our embassy in Bonn, Germany, a good story teller with many good stories to tell; deep-down Kierkegaardian and Lutheran pastor who with her Danish husband serves Starup Kirke in Haderslav, Denmark, in Søren's native land; an executive in a major corporation and then co-founder of an upscale urban inn and then a grade school teacher in one of her city's impoverished neighborhoods; small town civics teacher; notable insurance man and serving pastor who suddenly reappeared in my life at an opportune moment; missionary; medical missionary; blond, curly-headed high school sports star and a pencil-slim Marine, gifted musician and a ham actor always on the ready with comic routines, accomplished Kierkegaard scholar and one­ of-a-kind teacher, an admirable man with an admirable family; forceful neighborhood redeveloper who gets things done, also tender hearted, a woman who enjoys a city-wide reputation, knows everyone, board member of a Federal Reserve Bank ... and much more; high school teacher, a humanist with broad literary tastes and a published  Kierkegaardian and an amazing man; varsity basketball player and Marine officer and high school English teacher; dear and quiet man who commands respect and is a hard rock drummer and a peace advocate who established the John Lennon Society and also the John Lennon Memorial Park in Olmito, Texas, where he arranges an annual concert in Lennon's name; gifted organist and church musician and lover of Bach and teacher of all things musical and an accordian player and a friend to many and always to more, well-married, and a biblical woman.