Hamline News

A la Prochaine

a la prochaine article

“A scant three and a half decades.” That’s how Walter Blue described the thirty-six years he’s worked alongside Tamara Root in the French department. “We were friends from the very beginning,” Root said, “I’m grateful that I had colleagues you could work together with.”

For Root, teaching has always been about ideas. While an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Root took a class in eighteenth-century literature. There she read works by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, and Voltaire; people whose ideas changed the world. “I suddenly realized I loved ideas,” Root said. “Since then, I’ve always wanted to teach the power of ideas.”

Root first heard about Hamline while attending a Modern Language Association meeting. “I saw a little note that said a liberal arts college was looking for French teachers, so I applied,” Root said. She’s been teaching ideas ever since.

Walter Blue always loved languages, but didn’t really think about teaching them. In fact, he started out as a religion major. Then one semester he took three language classes and audited a fourth. “I discovered I enjoyed taking language classes even more [than religion],” Blue said.

While finishing up his PhD from Yale, Blue wrote to a few colleges—106 to be precise. Of those, 102 refusals came back, including Hamline’s. A few months later he received a call from the chair of Hamline’s French department. “Someone had suddenly resigned, and he wanted to know if I could stop by for an interview,” Blue said. “He remembered my letter because I went to Yale. He had gone to Harvard. When I took the job I never thought this would be it.”

When they first came to Hamline, French was the most popular foreign language in the U.S. “At first I was overwhelmed,” Root said, but added, “From the start I was impressed by my colleagues; their commitment to teaching and helping students recognize their potential.”

Eventually Spanish replaced French in popularity and the department voted to drop the language requirement, a decision Blue supported. “We voted out the requirement so that the people who took French would actually want to be there. We could offer a greater variety of courses,” Blue said.

One such course was Studies in French Cuisine, a personal favorite of Blue’s. He taught the course as a J-term twice. Students would study French food in literature and art, and then learn how to cook, present, and serve it. “My only role in that was to eat.” Root said.

Blue and Root brought this drive for fun and experimentation to all of their classes. For instance, rather than a traditional final, they would construct a mock French city where students would have to ask for directions or buy groceries from instructors or volunteers who would only speak French. “Practical exams… not only speaking the language, but knowing the culture… that, for us, is exactly what we wanted to accomplish,” Root said. “You didn’t just learn the language; you learned the way a people came at the world,” recalled Paul Ablan ’82, a former student of both professors. An international business major, Ablan had never taken any language classes before coming to Hamline. After his first French course, he took one every semester. “Tamara and Walter have influenced my life every day in my career, at home, and in the community. They made it a better life.”

Blue and Root were honored for their innovative techniques with the Stephen A. Freeman Award for Teaching of Foreign Languages and the national Gilbert Chinard Award for an article they co-wrote in The French Review.

“Working together was the great highlight of my career,” Root said. Blue agreed, adding that “Most French departments aren’t like that…we’re not just colleagues, we’re close friends.” Andrea Bell, chair of the modern languages department, credits Blue and Root for creating a sense of community amongst all the modern languages. “They’ve been loyal friends and have helped our department make it okay to be a person and not just a professor,” Bell said. “Personally, they’ve both been mentors for me.”

“They’ve left their mark,” said Professor Russ Christensen, who shadowed Blue when he first came to Hamline. “Walter and Tamara have helped our department not be lost on campus; they’ve kept it visible and important.”

Although their retirement marks the end of an era in French, both feel confident in Hamline’s future. “In the thirty-seven years that I’ve been here, Hamline has become progressively stronger and more vital…more able to do what it’s always wanted and promised,” Root said.

Despite retirement, they plan to stay active within the Hamline community. “Lots of things are in the works,” Blue said, who plans to stay on as an adjunct professor. “I’d like the chance to teach a few other things, like Italian. I’ve studied twenty different languages, it’s time I brushed up on a few of them.” Root, already semi-retired, plans to spend her free time reading and socializing with friends at Hamline.

Walter Blue and Tamara Root won’t be saying goodbye to Hamline, but rather á la prochaine; until the next time.

By: Daniel Campbell