Hamline News

Life in the Liberal Arts

liberal arts article

“I figured I would be here about three years before moving on to a real job. That was my plan and that was 1966. Eventually settled in as a professing Piper, I assumed that I would end my days discoursing on Moby Dick, and, for sport, harassing presidents and deans from the floor of monthly faculty meetings. Alas, how history toys with innocent dreams and remembers sin.” – F. Garvin Davenport, Presidential Scholars Address, 2002.

F. Garvin Davenport, who has devoted his forty-year career to Hamline University, will retire in June. Through four decades, eight presidents, and thousands of final essays on Moby Dick, Professor, Dean, and Vice President Davenport served—and formed—Hamline with his intense intellect, wicked wit, and generous soul.

“I cannot imagine Hamline without Garvin,” said a friend and colleague at his May 12 retirement party. It’s a sentiment shared by countless alumni, students, colleagues, and friends who know that Davenport has shaped Hamline University in a way few others have, and that his vision and passion for the liberal arts have energized and transformed generations of students.

“What I see are many circles of my thankfulness, for what you have done for Hamline, what you have done for our students, what you have done for our colleagues, and what you have done for me.” – F. Garvin Davenport, at his May 12, 2006 retirement party.

These are the words used to describe Professor, Dean, or Vice President Davenport, over and over again, by alumni, students, colleagues, and friends.

Honest. Idealistic. Kind. Intense. Funny. Curious. Fun. Intellectual. Serious. Diplomatic. Generous. Passionate. Smart.

Teacher. Student. Mentor. Scholar. Counselor. Dad. Advocate. Friend.

“[Working with Garvin] was a special time in my life,” said Ann Olsen, former registrar for the college. “We were all taking on new positions at the same time, and we kind of ‘grew up’ professionally together. Garvin had the perfect balance: he was serious, but not too serious. He was an artist and a problem-solver. He was collaborative. He cared about others and he valued others.”

“He takes his job so seriously and expects the same of others,” said Phyllis Goff, chief of staff to the president and a colleague. “I know I’m a better person because I have known Garvin.”

I have two fond memories of Garvin bracketed by a period of almost twenty years. In 1986, I was on the General Education Committee, [charged with developing] an innovative new core curriculum which we now know as the Hamline Plan. Garvin was chair of the committee. He was a wise, visionary, and very organized leader—every meeting began with the opening of his very large and very organized three-ring binder stuffed with minutes, proposals, and reports. More than the product the committee produced, what I remember most about the meetings was the welcoming atmosphere that was extended to my infant son who upon his arrival in October attended every meeting, slept quietly (mostly) on the floor, and whose attendance was duly noted by the chair in the meeting minutes.

In 2005, planning for the anthropology department’s excavation of the old Hall of Science building in conjunction with Hamline’s sesquicentennial, I remember not only Garvin’s support for the project but also his recounting of his first office in the old building which included a floor with a pitch of about twenty degrees that frequently sent his office chair careening downhill into the radiator. Garvin’s tenure at Hamline has always been an uphill climb to greatness that included both humor and kindness. —Professor Barbara O’Connell, Anthropology

Garvin was English department chair when I was hired in 1991 and I remember very fondly how both he and his wife, Bernice, were very gracious hosts while my family and I visited the summer before the school year started. He drove us around neighborhoods, invited us in his home for a meal, and showed us some schools my daughter might go to. Overall, he was responsible for helping me see how friendly and kind Hamline colleagues can be to each other—a feeling that has been confirmed over the years as I have gotten to know other colleagues in and out of the department.

Later that fall, Garvin brought a present to our apartment—a snow shovel with a red bow on it. He gave it to my daughter on October 30 saying, “You might want to help your Mom when the snow arrives.” Lo and behold, on the very next day we had sixteen inches of snow on the ground! That year we had more snow on the ground than I had ever seen in my life or have seen since. What I take away from that first year, however, is a very secure sense in wonderful collegiality at Hamline. As chair, Garvin was excellent in helping his new faculty member find her footing in more ways than one. —Professor Veena Deo, English

I always enjoyed having lunch with Garvin. He nearly always ate in the student cafeteria and enjoyed talking informally with students and faculty alike. The conversations ranged from great literature, science discoveries, difficulty in attracting minority candidates for faculty positions, and, of course, model trains. I can't say that we really spoke enough about Moby Dick, despite my awareness of his authority on the subject. That is perhaps a great loss for me, but a testament that Garvin is profoundly interested in the lives of others first. His time as dean reflected that in extraordinary ways. I will miss those conversations. I will also miss his literary-inspired eloquence at lunches and receptions where, as dean, he often presided. Hearing Garvin speak was always an inspiration—an inspiration that is deeply entrenched in the liberal arts, in Garvin as a scholar, and in Hamline as an institution. —Professor Theodore Hodapp, Physics

“My prayer is that you will see and seize the opportunity. That you will find yourself by finding others. That you will learn along the way to help yourself by helping others. And finally, my promise, which is this: as members of Hamline’s greater family, we are all here . . . with every resource at our disposal, to help you see the opportunity and set out on a journey you will never regret. Our hand is out. Put out your hand and let us go together. The world is waiting.” – F. Garvin Davenport, Matriculation Address, September 1, 2002

By: Jennifer Thorson