Morgan Kjer, Remembered


One of the things for which I have never thanked God enough has been His brilliance in selecting inspiring people for me to meet along the path of my life-- people I would later realize had everything to do with the shaping of my destiny.

One such inspirer for me was Morgan Kjer, my teacher and my friend, who has just recently departed his beloved Otter tail county for more idyllic waters in the High Country across the big ocean to the east.. I owe Morgan much, because he opened so many doors for me.

The first was the door to my profession. I was well on my way to becoming a wildlife biologist--until I stumbled upon his Living Books class. But he brought so much life into the plays and stories we studied, that I changed my major to English, a move I've never regretted.

The second door Morgan opened for me was the door of self confidence. That was because I "lucked" into taking his speech class. Speech was a subject I had shunned in high-school, but the first class I found myself in spring quarter of 1958 at NDSSS, turned out to be– You guessed it-- my old fear, the dreaded Speech 133. An at its helm, an imposing-looking, steely-eyed, eloquent man by the name of Morgan Kjer.

What kept me from dropping out from sheer cowardice, was the realization that several of the others in the class were as petrified to be there as I was. Moreover the atmosphere of the class was up-beat and full of good will and light banter, so a guy wasn't as afraid to venture out as he might have been in less friendly circles.

My first speech was a hyper-ventilating disaster about making soup-burgers-- where I instructed the class to toast their buns in the oven before doing anything else.. Morgan tried not to laugh; he suppressed most of it, but I still remember the gales of laughter from the class and the realization that humor would be my friend in getting through a lot of uncomfortable things. Still, I sat down trembling.

My real break-through came later in the quarter when I came out with the argument that the bluegill was, pound for pound, the gamiest fish in Minnesota. Morgan, an inveterate walleye addict, didn't much agree. But the cheery few moments of give and take on the subject opened up the realization that Morgan liked fishing just as much as I did. We were in fact blood- brothers in the watery pursuit of the fish.

The following week-end just after the ice went out, I hooked a huge Red River buffalo-fish and hauled it all the way over to Kjer's house to show Morgan. A lot of people might have made fun of me for toting in a carpy-looking non-walleye like that; but Morgan graciously shared in my enthusiasm, mainly I think, because he realized the ice was out and there were fish to be caught. That's also when I had a chance to meet his wonderful wife, Meg. We all became co-experimenters in the sampling of our first meal of buffalo-fish which she so kindly prepared.

I can't remember whether we liked it or not but we had great fun eating and talking fishing, Morgan did get in one comment that I still remember. He said, "Gene, I know now for sure that the bluegill isn't the gamiest fish in Minnesota—it's the buffalofish." Then he laughed that eloquently-silent laugh of his.

That May 15th I was given the great honor of going with Morgan on his opening day walleye trip to Prairie Lake. Morgan opened the season each year with his father in law, Magnus Sather. We had a fun and successful outing, and Morgan introduced me to long-line trolling. It's still one of the most effective walleye catching techniques I know of. We all caught limits that day and I still remember how good those walleye fillets tasted that we devoured there in that wonderfully warm and cozy farm house where Meg grew up-- not far from Pelican Rapids.

Well, I went on to Moorhead State, got my degree, and became a high school English teacher. At the end of my third year I received an invitation by phone to apply for a job at Wahpeton Science. Could it really be? The thought of working in the same dept. of English as Morgan Kjer made that decision fairly easy–that and the fact that most of the fifty year old teachers at Pillager High looked burned out and sixty-something. It was the stress of the discipline war which took up at least ten minutes of every class. The thought of being able to teach in a place where students paid to be there and learn made the decision an easy one. So I became a Jr. College English instructor Later I would come to discover that Morgan had not a little to do with my receiving that call from Dean Hektner. Just one more little thing for which I owe my old friend Morgan thanks.

Ironically, only a year or two after I came to that job, Morgan got the opportunity to teach at North Hennepen J.C so it turned out that I wouldn't see much of him until he finally retired to his place on Swan lake near Fergus in 1991. There, I would have many chances to visit and fish with my old friend and benefactor.

The great thing that drew me so often to fish with him was that he had the kind of mind that liked to "launch out into the deep for a catch"–especially of the deep things of God and the deeper issues of ethics and morality. As teachers, both of us shared the love of works that had deeper spiritual messages. Morgan was especially drawn to Melville's epic novel, Moby Dick, much as I was enthralled by Shakespeare's "King Lear.. I am convinced that Morgan was the greatest authority on Melville's white whale anywhere in the mid-west. He revered that book as if it were scripture and I think he would have included it in the Bible if given the authority.

So we would sit out on Swan lake catching bass, pike and panfish while we " took upon us," as King Lear put it, "the mystery of things, as if we were God's spies." And like Lear and Cordelia, we two, (not in a walled prison, but adrift on that lovely lake), "wore out pacts and sects of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon."

Not that we actually agreed on everything. I had my Shakespeare, he had his Melville, I'm a republican, he is a democrat; I'm a full-gospel charismatic, he a straight-laced and reverent Norwegian Lutheran. But we both respected each other's opinions despite our inability to understand how the other could, at times, believe such nonsense.

You see, I didn't love Morgan because of what he believed; I loved him for the rare qualities I saw in him that were so often quite lacking in myself. In spite of his penetrating intellect and tenacious ability to debate a righteous cause to the last breath, he was at heart, an amazingly gentle man, quick to take in lost dogs, lonely neighbors and especially foster children–not to mention a wayward fishermen or two--desperate for some meaningful conversation.

Morgan also had a kind of integrity that I have witnessed in very few others. Unlike myself often all too handy with cuss words, Morgan was a man I never heard use even a lower case profanity much less take the Lord's name in vain. When it came to matters of principle, as in his refusal to join the Minn. teacher's union, he was as immoveable as the pole star. In spite of the lawsuit and the alienation of all but one fellow teacher at North Hennipen, he stood his ground, unwilling to compromise his principles by going on strike with all the others. He stood by the contract he had signed.

In his last defense of principle, was against changes he did not agree with in his beloved church, he stood with his face "like a flint" squarely in defense of the preaching of "the word alone." He believed, with the determination of a true Captain Ahab that the preaching of the word was alone the indispensable central obligation of the church.

So I feel proud and blessed in God's gifting me with such a friend as Morgan. One thing we both agreed on without the least doubt, was that God's hand is always there wthether we see it or not—not necessarily creating the predicaments we get ourselves into, but to be there when we call on Him.. And that His Word is alive and powerful, established forever," and ready to sing forth the truth for anyone with "ears to hear". It is everywhere in Shakespeare and Melville-- springing out when one least expects it to-- especially in the great flights of eloquence at which both excel.

St. Paul in Phil. ch. 4 lends us ample justification for thinking such passages divine:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things (kjv)

Except for the word ‘lovely', all the other qualities Paul names are easily seen in the person & character of Morgan Kjer; and as for ‘lovely', that word gives all of us permission to seek the voice of God in every "lovely" work of literature or art or music anyone under God's inspiration has ever created. More than that, we look at a man like Morgan–"strangely and wonderfully made" and so amazingly gifted, and we have to conclude without hesitation, embarrassment or excuse: "Heavenly Father; Hallowed be Thy name!" For only You could fashion such an amazing incarnation of contradiction, charisma and charm as Morgan Kjer.

I'll be looking for you in the High Country old friend, after those golden trout up there just daring us to take them on. I hear that their river-keeper was the greatest fisherman who ever lived. Fare-well voyager; farewell friend–"I follow thee."
And, Oh------"Hast thou seen the White Whale?"

Gene Pinkney (2/02/08)