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Hamline University honors George Vane

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

Honorary degree for local resident is just the latest in long and distinguished career

By JAN WILLMS

George VaneReceiving an honorary degree in humane letters May 23 from Hamline University (HU) is just the latest in recognitions and awards that have been bestowed upon George Vane, who taught English at Hamline for 40 years.

When he completed his master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1948, Vane mistakenly thought a message of interest sent from HU was an invitation for an interview. He showed up on the campus unannounced. That impromptu meeting resulted in being hired, and HU has been a big part of his life ever since.

“I was only planning to stay a couple of years,” he reminisced, “because everybody had told me this was the land of ice and snow. I was from Illinois, and we had decent winters. I thought this would be too much. But, I liked it, and I stayed.”

Vane said he arrived at Hamline at a time when it was experiencing a lot of changes. “Hamline had been a small liberal arts college, a church-related college,” he said. “But with the end of World War II that was changing. GIs were coming in as students, and they weren’t interested in a lot of the old stuff that was going on.”

“There were changes in lifestyles,” Vane continued. “Hamline had been a place where women had to sign in and out. There had been a lot of literary societies for women. Those went away.”

Vane said new things took their place. Through government grants, foreign students were arriving, and that gave a global aspect to the university.

“And then, of course, they started building,” Vane said. “When I came, there were these old buildings. There were a lot of beautiful elm trees that went, as the building progressed. It’s a different campus now, and I think a beautiful campus. It used to be very drab.”

Vane said he also saw many changes in methods of teaching over the years. “They’ve changed since I’ve been there,” he noted. “I don’t know if I could fit in now,” he joked. When he first came, he taught four classes of freshman English and an intro to English.

“That went on for a few years, and those were some of the hardest days,” he recalled. “I had hundreds of essays to correct every week. As I continued, I got to teach more and more of the things I liked. As the department changed, so did our teaching methods.”

When asked his favorite course to teach, Vane answered without hesitation, “Shakespeare.”  He said he taught the course using lecture, discussion and use of media.

“I felt the students needed to hear, and they needed to see, to really understand Shakespeare,” he noted.

Vane earned a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in the 1950s. He received the Merrill C. Burgess Excellence in Teaching Award in 1967, Faculty Member of the Year award in 1988 and the Outstanding Faculty Award in 1994.  The George Vane International Scholarship Fund was created by alumni in his honor to encourage student study abroad programs. He traveled with student groups three times to England. He has traveled extensively, both during and after his career at Hamline, to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, India, Iran, Lebanon, and South Africa.

During two of the trips Vane co-led with students to Great Britain, the group made brass rubbings. Hamline has a collection of around 1,100 rubbings, possibly the largest collection in the United States. After his retirement, Vane spent three years writing the guide to the extensive Brass Rubbings Collection. He wrote detailed descriptions of the rubbings and the persons they memorialized. He also assisted with making the collection available online.

Vane’s close connection to Hamline continues today. Since 1992, he has volunteered in the University Archives, where he spends four mornings a week. “It’s in the library, in another room hidden from everyone else,” Vane explained. “I think some people don’t even know it exists.”
He said he loves the work because it’s about Hamline’s history. “It gets me out, and it’s enjoyable,” he said. “With archiving you never run out of material because there is always new stuff coming in.”

He is currently working on a project that involves a cache of letters from Henry Osborn, a professor at Hamline from 1887 to 1933, and his family.

Vane, who is 92, credits his work with “keeping me going.” He looks back on his long relationship with Hamline with joy. “I started in 1948, and they can’t get rid of me,” he quipped.
He came to Hamline after a tour of duty in World War II, which he said gave him a little different perspective on things than some of the other instructors had. He was there during the Korean War and the Vietnam protests. “Things that went on at every campus during that time hit us,” he said.

Vane said the most meaningful change for him personally was World War II.

“I was taken out of college and put in the army for three, four years. It certainly made me much more aware of what the world was like. Before the war, I had never thought I would be a university teacher. When I came back, I had a different perspective of myself and my abilities.”


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