Making an Impact: Professor Lee Beloved for Bringing History to Life

Dr. Art Lee, professor emeritus of history, came to Bemidji State University in 1959 after teaching high school for six years in Osseo, Wis. His lively lectures attracted students from all majors until he retired in 1995. In a Feb. 28 interview, Lee explained his unique approach to teaching: “Don’t use notes. Don’t stand behind a lectern. Tell jokes. Laugh. Do dumb things.”

In addition to captivating students in the classroom, Lee wrote “University in the Pines,” a definitive history of Bemidji State that was published for the university’s 75th anniversary in 1994. He also authored “Lutefisk Ghetto: Life in a Norwegian American Town,” published in 1978. Many students recall reading his humorous take on life in an ethnically specific Wisconsin town at the end of World War II.

Dr. Art Lee in the classroom, 1995.
Dr. Art Lee in the classroom, 1995.

When the BSU Alumni & Foundation posted Lee’s photo on its Facebook page, many alumni and former colleagues took the opportunity to share their memories and appreciation of him. Here is a sampling of those:

“He was my favorite professor. Everyone showed up for class because he made it fun to learn. He always told us what a great job he had.”
— Cheryl Koplin, ’86
 “I’ll always remember the story he told about the WPA workers building Memorial Hall and not being able to get the big cement mixer out after the doors were put in place.”
— Philip Dahl, ’75
“In his large survey classes, somehow he knew everybody’s name and where they were from. Even the little towns.”
— Michael Frickstad, ’76
“One of the best profs ever! I loved his 11 o’clock history class. I just walked past that room with my son on his freshman orientation and registration!”
— Pamela Miller Raden ’86
“Great professor. Loved his music, props, outfits, stories and enthusiasm for learning. I looked forward to his class!”
— Stacy Bahr ’97
“Returned from the service in September ’70; enrolled in his WWI class, as well as one on big bands. Certainly helped in the transition from military to civilian life. Nam grad ’69-70.”
— Michael Liapis ’74
“It was rare at BSU, or any college I’m sure, to look around the room and see nearly every student either smiling or intensely focused on what they were hearing. But you could always observe this in Art’s lectures.”
— Eric Brugman, ’97
“He was an outstanding professor. I enjoyed his lectures, and he brought the subjects into perspective and humility. Being in his class was totally uffda in the best sense of the word.”
—Todd Palm ’95