Fifty years ago, an administrative assistant in the president’s office at Northland College rolled a piece of paper into a typewriter, dated it “March 27, 1972” in the upper right corner, and then transcribed a letter from Malcom McLean (president of Northland College 1971–87) to Sigurd Olson and Robert Matteson.
McLean wasn’t just pen pals with Olson and Matteson. He wrote to Olson—a pioneering and prominent leader within the American environmental movement—and Bob Matteson, a US State Department retiree relocating to northern Wisconsin’s Lake Namekagon, to tell them that the Northland College Board of Trustees issued the final seal of approval for the environmental institute Matteson proposed—and which would be named for Olson.
The Board’s approval and subsequent letter to Olson and Matteson marked a turning point for Northland College. An early leader in environmental education, the College’s commitment to a new environmental mission grew from the seeds planted by this vote and the keys on that typewriter.
The full text of the letter is below.
March 27, 1972
Dr. Sigurd F. Olson
Mr. Robert Matteson
Dear Sig and Bob:
Let me just get off a brief note to you both to tell you that the Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution establishing the Sigurd Olson Institute of Environmental Studies. The actual wording of the resolution reads:
“Resolved that an environmental studies institute be formed at Northland College; that this institute be named in honor of a distinguished Northland trustee and environmentalist, Sigurd Olson; that the broad purposes of the Sigurd Olson Institute of Environmental Studies be to educate college students and the northern regional community in sound environmental practices as well as to enhance a deep appreciation for the heritage of nature and to develop a proper correlation between the benefits afforded to man by nature and their use by man; and that the Institute be organized generally along the lines suggested in study papers submitted to the March 1972 meeting of the Board of Trustees.”
The deed is done, and we are all very pleased here. I took the liberty of reading your moving letter, Sig, to the Board, and all members were grateful for your expression of full support and your faith in the future of this enterprise. In another action, the Board set up a four-man trustee committee which will have the charge of being particularly well informed on environmental matters. This committee, which will obviously call on you, Sig, and with which you will want to have a special relationship, Bob, will include Tad Bretting of Ashland as chairman, and John Kreher, Gene Johnson, and Wes Hotchkiss. And finally, the general time table will be for Bob to come out on April 13 for conversations with all on campus who are involved in environmental studies. We will iron out any rough spots that still exist in our working papers, and with the broad endorsement given by the Board, we will plan to announce the formation of the Institute a few days after Bob’s visit, perhaps around April 20 or so. We will also announce Bob’s appointment as Director of the Institute at this time. The upshot should be an impact on local, regional, and even national media that will be as great or greater than anything ever done by Northland.
One thing that we will need from both of you has to do with suggestions of media that should receive our news releases on the initiation of the Institute. We will, of course, send the release to regional media, with special news notes for Duluth-Superior area, for Ely, for St. Paul where Bob is well known, for Washington where Bob resides and Sig is well known. What about other outlets? What environmental publications should receive this? What special purpose media exist which would be interested? What entities, like the National Wildlife Federation, should receive a card to the effect that the Institute has indeed been brought into existence? Guidance on these matters will be appreciated.
So, as the militant ladies say these days, right on.
Cc: Mr. Phil Weston
Mr. Kenneth Bro
Mr. Tad Bretting