The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth
Volume 18• Number 2 • Summer 2001

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Life of the Mind

Three alumni who keep coming back to UMD


There are a few people who can’t get away from UMD. They attended college, they graduated, and for one reason or another, they find themselves lured back by the intellectual stimulation of the campus. Some have been asked to speak in classes and some have been asked to work on special projects. This article features three of these very special people, the sought after alumni.

Learning from the Past

Betsy Rosenzweig helps bring the lessons of the Holocaust to UMD students

(Right: Holocaust survivor Henry Oertelt and Betsy Rosenzweig)

Betsy Rosenzweig, ’77, has been walking UMD’s halls and thinking about the Holocaust since she was in high school. She was intrigued by that part of World War II and in order to write a paper on the topic, she visited the UMD Library. She even met Walter Bauemler, the UMD professor for whom a Holocaust lecture series is named. Now, 20 some years later, she still walks the halls, turning over thoughts about WWII. Rosenzweig is in her fourth year as one of the community members on the Baeumler-Kaplan Holocaust Memorial Lecture Series committee.

This past April, the committee brought Holocaust survivor Henry Oertelt, from St. Paul, Minnesota, for the annual lecture. “We know the survivors won’t be around a lot longer so our focus is on bringing one each year,” Rosenzweig said.

Henry Oertelt wrote the book, An Unbroken Chain, One Man’s Survival. At UMD, Oertelt told the story of eighteen heart-stopping incidents, or chains in his life. He recounted his life as a child in Hitler’s Germany. He told about wartime Berlin and his experience in the concentration camps. He narrated the account of his eventual liberation, many days into a death march, when he saw tanks bearing the U.S insignia and he realized he would be free.

Rosenzweig said that Oertelt chose the motif of a chain with 18 links, (18 or Chai, which means life in Hebrew), to explain why he was one of the lucky ones to survive. “The passage of time has made Oertelt’s message even more pertinent,” she said. “Oertelt is a humble man and he told his story in such a heartfelt way that everyone in the crowd could identify with the situation. The students were especially engaged.”

Engaging students, Jewish and non-Jewish, is important to Rosenzweig. She was not raised in a Jewish family and that is one of the reasons she was invited to be on the committee. However, Rosenzweig is married to a Jewish man, Michael Rosenzweig, and her father-in-law is a Holocaust survivor. In addition, each year Rosenzweig visits grade school classrooms to share the story of Hanukkah and its critical message of religious freedom. Those things, combined with her status as a UMD alumna from the Communication and Science Disorders program, made her an ideal candidate. When Shirley Garber, a long-time Duluth activist and UMD supporter, made the call to invite Rosenzweig to join the group, Rosenzweig said yes.

College students made up over half of the audience at Oertelt’s lecture and the film, The White Rose, which was shown later that evening. The film told the story of a college student group in Nazi Germany who resisted Hitler and were caught, imprisoned and executed. They had secretly printed and distributed anti-Nazi pamphlets that revealed the truth about concentration camps. Rosenzweig believes that college students today have a lot of that same spirit. “My generation resisted Vietnam and worked for civil rights,” she said. “Students today are adamant about recycling, they are in the environmental movement and they are passionate about peace and justice. They are impatient, where some of us are complacent. They want to change it now.”

The Holocaust Memorial Lecture brings up some serious issues. “It makes you think about what one human group does to another group,” Rosenzweig said. “We can ignore genocide in Rwanda, Afghanistan and Bosnia. We can let ourselves be lulled into a false sense of peace, but when we see a film like The White Rose, we are forced to think about what we would do in that situation.”

With people like Betsy Rosenzweig and the rest of the Baeumler-Kaplan Holocaust Memorial committee, we aren’t allowed to forget the sobering facts of the Holocaust. They push us to remember the despair and challenge us to place hope in the human spirit.

About Baeumler-Kaplan Holocaust Memorial Series: The gifts of the Baeumler family, Leonore Baeumler, the Northland Jewish Fund and many others insure the future of the Holocaust Lecture Series, which has been bringing lectures, films, and discussion groups to UMD with the support of the Alworth Institute, the College of Liberal Arts and the Chancellor’s Office. Mrs. Baeumler’s husband, Walter, was a professor of sociology at UMD for 28 years and frequently taught courses on the Holocaust. He was born in Germany where his experiences in the ’30s and during the War made him deeply aware of the human cost of prejudice and hate. Mortrud Kaplan, also honored in this endowment, was a lifelong resident of Duluth. His family commemorated him by supporting endeavors that explored the plight of Jews and Judaism. For more information about the series view the web site at For endowment information contact Colleen Holwerk at 218-726-7833.

Finding Safety

Luther Christensen comes to UMD with AIDS prevention education

Luther Hans Christensen, who graduated from UMD May 2000 with a BAS in Psychology, works in HIV prevention and education for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, a private, nonprofit AIDS service organization. He has strong opinions about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender populations.

Christensen feels it is important to reach out to queer youth. He says that gay and lesbian teens have a challenge entering the gay community. Too many young people don’t have understanding families and friends. They don’t know where to turn.

Hopefully, teens find a safe haven like Together For Youth, a teen group held at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Duluth funded by Lutheran Social Services. Christensen worked with the group for two years as part of an internship under Paula Pedersen. Luther tells a story about one of the kids he met. “One night a young man in a jean jacket and bleached-blond hair, I'll call him Bob, came in and dropped down on the worn couch.” Luther said the boy was quiet, but, “After an hour of listening to the other kids, he spoke for the first time. Bob stood up and confessed, ‘Do you know how scary it was to ask for directions to a gay teens meeting in a church?’ He made us laugh and we could feel him open up.” Bob wasn’t 16 yet; he couldn’t drive, so he rode the bus or got rides from friends. Over the next few months Christensen noticed Bob smile and talk more. That first night, Christensen said that Bob acted ashamed, sad, lonely and nervous. “Those are typical emotions and when they are severe, we worry about suicide.” Studies on youth suicide consistently find that lesbian and gay youth are two to six times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens. Lesbians and gays may account for 30 percent of all completed suicides.

Places for gay and lesbian teens to gather are rare. Youth come to Together for Youth from the Iron Range, from rural areas, from the North Shore and from the Twin Ports. Christensen says that a safe place to meet, even if it is only once a month, is extremely important, “Everyone needs at least one place where you can fit in, a place where you can be yourself.” Everywhere else, these teens have to put up a facade.

Gay and lesbian teens sometimes can’t find safe environments and then they resort to risky behavior. They can be taken advantage of by adults, they might visit public sex environments like wayside rests; and they often attend parties where other illegal and dangerous activities are taking place.

Christensen encounters at risk youth on a regular basis. “I give them all the information I can about where to find safe support.” That is one of the tasks he performs at his job. Christensen works to confront and alleviate the effects of the HIV disease in Wisconsin. His organization, ARCW, provides aggressive HIV education and prevention; comprehensive services for people affected by HIV disease; clinical research on HIV treatment, and HIV advocacy.

There are only two staff people in his Superior, Wisconsin office and they each take on a different role. Tim Robinson, case manager, provides services to between 20 and 30 people living with HIV in the northern Wisconsin area. Christensen works in HIV education and prevention. Luther distributes safer sex materials, and he conducts AIDS prevention education.

Christensen also performs anonymous oral HIV testing. He has valuable information for college students; he has been asked to return to UMD on a number of occasions. He can speak candidly about HIV and AIDS and the way in which it affects different populations. The information he presents about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender populations is honest and direct. His former advisor, Paula Pedersen, has invited him to speak in her psychology classes. “I am honored to be invited back,” Christensen said. He credits Paula Pedersen for inspiration and another professor, Kate Maurer in the Composition department, for acting as his mentor. “Kate is a great person. She does small things that make a big difference. She often would refer to her boyfriend as a partner. This is a graceful way to level the gap between queer and straight people.”

Christensen also visits the Queer Student Union, a UMD student group, and he offers confidential and anonymous AIDS tests for UMD students. He takes a simple oral sample and gives it a number. He doesn’t send the laboratory a name. “HIV positive people can actually be dropped by their insurance companies. The companies may even drop coverage of a healthy person if they find out someone has been tested.” Christensen can give tested people their results and the insurance company will never be able to find out.

“I enjoy coming back to UMD,” he said. “There is a new student support program, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Services, and their director, Angela Nichols, is doing an incredible job. We didn’t have that kind of program when I was in school and we needed it.” The program provides a service to a vulnerable population. Christensen said, “So many students are awakened to their sexuality during their college years and it is a shaky time. Sometimes parents are so upset, they cut off support.” Christensen has been assisting Nichols with the program. He said, “We are always looking for mentors and for internship opportunities and someday, we hope to establish a scholarship and emergency fund for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students.” The new UMD program is taking thoughtful and caring steps, and with the guidance of alumni like Christensen, the program ensures strong student support.

To reach Angela Nichols at UMD Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Services call 218-726-7300.

Power Play

Julie Unulock guest directs in the UMD theatre

When Pat Dennis, the head of the UMD Department of Theatre, called Julie Unulock and invited her to return to UMD as a guest artist, Unulock jumped at the chance. It wasn’t just a chance to direct another play and it wasn’t just the opportunity to work in the familiar Marshall Performing Arts Center. It was a chance to collaborate with the playwright, UMD 1992 alumna Jeannine Coulombe.

The two had never met, but they developed a relationship over the phone and the internet and then in November 2000, while Coulombe’s play was in rehearsal, Coulombe also came back to UMD. “It was a rare treat for the cast to meet the playwright,” said Unulock. “The sessions were rich and rewarding.”

Unulock was drawn to the play’s topic. “I am attracted to plays about the human condition and plays about women and women’s lives.” Jeannine Coulombe’s The Vacant Lot is all of that and more.

This spring Coulombe was recognized for the script at the American College Theatre Festival. Coulombe earned $2,500 and won the National AIDS Fund/Council of Fashion Designers of America-Vogue Initiative Award for Playwrighting.

“The play is about someone who is searching for meaning in her life,” Unulock said. The main character, an AIDS patient named Melissa, embarks on a journey to re-discover her life in its final moments. In the play, an unexpected guide appears to help her, not only come to terms with the paths she has chosen, but also to embrace the essence of who she is.

Unulock’s university career was full of meaning. She was onlife,” Unulock said. The main character, an AIDS patient named Melissa, embarks on a journey to re-discover her life in its final moments. In the play, an unexpected guide appears to help her, not only come to terms with the paths she has chosen, but also to embrace the essence of who she is.

Unulock’s university career was full of meaning. She was one of many people who take a break before finishing college. “I started school in Superior but never finished, so after about 20 years I found myself in school at UMD,” she explained. In 1996 Unulock graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theatre with a minor inwomen’s studies.

She directed her first play for MPAC’s Stage 2 and, “fell in love with the whole process and discovered I had a a passion for finding the projects, doing the research, and directing the rehearsals. I loved everything about it.”
Then she became the production stage manager for UMD’s summer program at the Minnesota Repertory Theatre. “I was always intrigued with directing. When I had the chance to do some stage management I found that it informed my work as a director.”

After she graduated, Unulock joined Theatre Professor Tom Isbell and a team of collaborators who wrote the ACTF award-winning play Dear Finder. The play, which is based on stories of Holocaust survivors, is taken from diaries and news accounts. Isbell began the research at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Next the seven collaborators had to synthesize the accounts of Holocaust survivors into a cohesive piece of theater. In 1999, Unulock traveled with the UMD Department of Theatre production of Dear Finder to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

“It was an undescribable experience. Tom Isbell is one of the people who has influenced my work,” she said. “UMD women’s studies professors Tineke Ritmeester and Linda Krug also influenced me to look at my world and the world I live in with a more attentive focus.”

Since graduation Unulock has directed at the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth’s Dark Horse Theatre and the Duluth Playhouse. This summer she returned to UMD to stage manage the musical Man of LaMancha for Minnesota Repertory Theatre.

She said that directing is a challenging, inspirational and spiritual part of her life. “I love the learning process associated with directing a play. There is something special about a live production as the actors interact with the audience. It is invigorating!!” There are a lot of plays to come in Unulock’s future and here at UMD, we are waiting to see them.

by Cheryl Reitan

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