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Going the Distance

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UMD Associate Professor Jim Miller with his family
Team Ginny: (l-r) Charlie Thorstad, Sam Miller, Jim Miller, Anne Aldag, Matt Aldag, and Jay Miller. All photos courtesy of the Miller-Aldag family.

To Help UMD Student Teachers, Family Establishes the Ginny Aldag Memorial Scholarship Fund.

UMD Student Teacher Supervisor Ginny Aldag  
Ginny Aldag  
UMD: Matt Aldag running in Grandma's Marathon  
Matt Aldag ran Grandma's Marathon.  
UMD: Anne Aldag running in Grandma's Marathon  
Anne Aldag ran Grandma's 5K.  

Matt Aldag, his sister, Anne, and their stepfather, Jim Miller, live in different parts of the country: Matt in Washington, D.C., Anne in Minneapolis, and Jim in Duluth. But this past weekend, they didn’t let distance stand in their way. They came together for Grandma’s Marathon, spurred by their shared love for Ginny Aldag, Matt and Anne’s mom and Jim’s wife.

They were joined by Jim’s sons, Jay and Sam Miller and Anne’s boyfriend, Charlie Thorstad, and turned the weekend into a reunion of sorts to honor Ginny who passed away from cancer in September 2012. As they told people about their plans, it also became an opportunity to raise awareness about the scholarship that bears Ginny’s name and honors her memory.

Ginny Aldag wasn’t from Duluth. She came here in 2002 after marrying Jim who is an associate professor in UMD's Department of Geology, but for Ginny it quickly became home. “Mom really grew to love Duluth. That’s why this weekend was meaningful, to take part in something so ingrained in Duluth's culture,” Matt said.

“Mom was a big advocate for family. She would have liked this, because it was a reason for us to get together,” Anne said. Matt ran the full marathon. Anne ran the 5K.

A Lifetime of Education
Education was a focal point of Ginny’s life. She taught 3rd–5th grade for 25 years, guiding hundreds of young people to be curious about the world around them. She also encouraged her own children and her stepchildren to be lifelong learners. “She cared a lot about our education. She helped us in constructive ways. We were very lucky to have that,” Matt said.

Ginny didn’t just teach learning, she lived it. “She was always doing logic problems, crossword puzzles, thinking games. She got us involved as well. We used to fight over who would complete the crossword puzzle," Anne laughed.

“She was a master Scrabble player. It got so it was hard to get people to play with her. She was that good,” Jim said.

At UMD, Ginny was hired to teach math but, because of her extensive teaching experience, she was soon recruited to be a student teacher supervisor in UMD’s Department of Education.

“She was a great supervisor. She knew what student teachers were doing right and what they were doing wrong. She gave them lots of feedback,” Jim said.

Ginny always had high standards: for herself, for her colleagues, and for her students. “She was a tough teacher, one you may not have liked when you were her student. But later on in life, you would appreciate her toughness and the person she helped you become,” Anne said.

Each semester, Ginny had up to 15 student teachers under her supervision. She expected her students to immerse themselves in their student teaching experience. However some student teachers, due to financial need, would also have to work.  

“It always troubled her when she had a student who had to hold a job while student teaching,” Jim recalled. “She knew they could have done better if they could have focused on one thing.”

Looking Toward the Future
As Ginny’s cancer progressed, she and her family talked about a memorial of some kind. The Ginny Aldag Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in the UMD Department of Education. It will be awarded to a student who demonstrates financial need during their student teacher semester. Once the scholarship is endowed (and they were only about $2,500 away from that goal as the race weekend began), it will lessen the financial burden for a UMD student teacher each year.

“This is the most fitting way to honor mom and to help people,” Matt said. “It’s what she would have wanted. It’s what she did want,” Jim added.

The family looks forward to the day when the first recipient is announced and together they can attend the spring scholarship banquet. “It will be fun to meet the student,” Jim said.

Recently a bench was installed along the Lakewalk, near 32nd Avenue East. It bears an inscription: “In Loving Memory of Ginny Aldag: Wife, Mother, Stepmother, Daughter, Sister, Friend, and Teacher to us All.”

Matt, Anne, and Jim will tell scholarship recipients about Ginny. They will talk about her passion for teaching, and they will know that they are helping her work to live on.

For more information, visit the Ginny Aldag Memorial Scholarship website.

UMD: Aldag and Miller family
Anne, Matt, Ginny, and Jim. All photos courtesy of the Miller-Aldag family.


Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, June 2013

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