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2010-11-26 / Features

Vision of the frontier

By Aaron Kelson HTF Contributor

Last Thursday evening my wife, Roxanne, and I attended the play “Casey at the Bat” performed in Gilbert at the Nelle Shean School. We were anxious to watch our son, Caleb, perform in a play for the first time. Caleb was the umpire whose main lines were “Safe!” and “You’re Out!” We were proud of him and were grateful for all the people who worked hard to make the event possible for Caleb and all the cast members. The play’s director, Dana Chandler, deserves special mention.

As we waited for the play to begin, I looked at the two large statues situated on either side of the stage and wondered who the statues represented. After the play I examined the statues more closely. Each statue has a small plaque on its base, but no names. Apparently one statue was a gift from Gilbert’s class of 1910, and the other was a gift from the class of 1911.

With the help of a friend, Rebekah Tweten, we identified the one on our left as Sophocles (497-406 B.C.) the greatest poet and playwright who lived in the ancient Greek city-state of Athens. After doing additional research, I believe that the statue on the right is of Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), who is widely recognized as being the father of Greek tragedy. He was a mentor and, later, a competitor of Sophocles. Sophocles is credited with writing as many as 130 plays, while Aeschylus produced roughly 80. Their works reveal a profound understanding of human nature. Their philosophies helped to provide the foundation of our own beloved nation. I wondered what Sophocles and Aeschylus would have thought about the production “Casey at the Bat.” Surely they would have been pleased, as Sophocles once wrote, “Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.” This ability to connect the present with the past and the future is critical to

humanity. We call the ability to see beyond the present “vision.”

Our region has long been blessed with vision. Just two years ago the city of Gilbert celebrated its 100th anniversary. By 1911, when the city was only three years old, a school literally on the frontier of the United States dared to align itself with the greatness of Sophocles and Aeschylus. I have tried to envision what the presentations of those statues must have been like. Where were they purchased? On what dirt roads were they hauled to their destination? How did students whose families were largely linked to the back breaking, endless toil of logging camps and truck farming have the audacity, the fortitude, the vision to connect their own experiences and education to such notable philosophers? In 1910, Northern Minnesota wasn’t exactly the center of the western world. Yet, last Thursday evening, Sophocles and Aeschylus gazed solemnly at the audience gathered to watch “Casey at the Bat.”

Residents of Gilbert in 1910 may not have been rich in monetary terms, but their vision was a priceless resource. As the Proverb says, “Without vision, the people perish.” They did not perish. During this Thanksgiving season, I find myself reflecting often on the gift of vision and of how grateful I am for the people I know who possess this gift.

When I think of these people, first and foremost is my wife, Roxanne. Remarkably, she had the vision to marry me. I simply cannot imagine my life without her and our six children. We’ve had to navigate some challenges along the way. Aeschylus would have told us not to worry though. He wrote, “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.” Vision gives one the courage to face storms, and the Kelson family is certain that without it our journey never would have begun.

Many other people have shown me that vision is alive and well in our region. Regretfully, I can only mention a few here. I think of Lisa Kvas, Director of the Center for Ideation and Innovation at Mesabi Range College. Lisa’s attitude is that if you are engaged in doing something good it will succeed eventually because good people will rally to the cause. Don’t be overcome by the uncertainty of present difficulties, Lisa tells me, when I find myself struggling to move a new initiative forward. Whenever she reminds me of this, I always know in my heart that she is right. She has the same vision-filled spirit that I’ve long admired in the incredible Gawboy family from Tower. Jim and Becky Gawboy have provided a home and love for many children in need. Sophocles would have smiled at their efforts, for he wrote, “One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life. That word is love.” Love and vision always go together.

I remember the scores of non-traditional students I have worked with at Mesabi Range College over the past nine years. So many have been like the Stevens family from Chisholm. Both Dave and his wife Connie are back in school working hard to make a career change. Dave and Connie have more ability in their little fingers than I have in my whole body, but necessity being what it is, they are back in school again pursuing a hope-filled vision. Sophocles said, “Always desire to learn something useful.” He would have been proud of their path.

I think of Keith and Sherry Johnson from Aurora who have worked selflessly year after year to provide opportunities for young people (and some not so young) to build their confidence and self-esteem through athletics. Staffing the pool in Aurora at 5:30 a.m., organizing road races, taking aspiring skiers on long trips to where the good snow can be found is who they are. What vision the Johnsons have! Aeschylus wrote, “From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.” Keith and Sherry understand this. What an honor it is to know them. I think of the Eveleth-Gilbert girls’ swimming relay team that just participated in the state meet. Going up against swimmers with better training opportunities than we currently have here can be intimidating, but they adopted the motto, “If you have a lane, you have a chance.” I think of the entrepreneurship club at Mesabi Range College. Just being near these vision-filled young people never fails to help me see new possibilities. As I reflect on the spirit of the Iron Range in 2010, I know that the vision of 1910 is still very much alive. And for that I am profoundly grateful.

In my classes at Mesabi Range College, I often refer to J.R.R. Tolkien’s powerful saga, The Lord of the Rings. One of the reasons I remain such a devoted Tolkien fan is that the theme of vision runs throughout the entire work. Tolkien told us that when people are willing to hold fast to a shared vision of a worthy future, instead of losing their vision in the dust that is always stirred up by present concerns, any challenge can be overcome. A classic line from the movie version, definitely a favorite of mine, comes from Gimili as the much diminished armies of free men prepare to march against the far more numerous foes in Mordor: “Certainty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?” What foe can stand against a people filled with vision like that? The graduating classes of 1910 and 1911 in Gilbert had that kind of vision. And, that kind of vision endures in our area still.

This Thanksgiving I want to express my deep gratitude for the gift of vision and for the people I am privileged to know who feel that it is not amiss for us to align ourselves with the greatest achievements of mankind. You are my heroes. May your sight never dim.

Aaron Kelson teaches at Mesabi Range College where he also works on a number of initiatives that are completely dependent on people with vision.

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