Former students relive Lea College memories

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2003

There are no trophies or plaques left from Lea College in the city arena, where the disbanded school once resided. But this weekend there were plenty of memories from the bygone era of 1965-1973, as about 200 former classmates met one another for their 30th reunion.

&uot;You meet all your close friends in college and coming here brings back old memories,&uot; said Roger Powers, a former student.

And so people pointed out those who have lost their hair and jabbed at slightly larger guts. They squinted at name tags to recognize friends whose faces have changed. They passed out old pictures.

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People came from around the country to see friends they haven’t seen in 30 years. They reminisced about old pranks and made jokes. But many also recalled a community and a college that accepted and nurtured them when some would not. They recalled life lessons.

&uot;It’s been dead for a long time, but it still lives on in our hearts and minds,&uot; said Harvey Jaffe, class of ’73.

He said the school gave students who had not done well in high school a second chance. &uot;The school nurtured us and taught us a love of education,&uot; he said. But he said he learned a lot more than that.

&uot;I learned not just how to act, which was my major, but I learned how to be part of a community and how to raise a family,&uot; he said. He explained that the community and the school’s teachers set a standard for kindness and love that he took with him for the rest of his life.

One of the things that impressed Jaffe about the reunion was the success of the graduates, many of whom became teachers, principals, school superintendents, attorneys, prosecutors and politicians. &uot;It’s amazing what happened to these kids who were written off by society.&uot;

Jaffe said the success had much to do with the dedication of the staff. Teachers, he said, made students a part of their lives beyond the classroom.

One chemistry professor gave him a ride to Madison, Wis. and used it as an opportunity to explain a difficult subject.

He recalled how teachers let them into their homes and insisted that they learn. &uot;They said you might not learn from a teacher. But you can learn from a friend. So they became our friends,&uot; he said.

When he arrived in Albert Lea, there were only eight Jewish families and no synagogue. But one of his professors always made sure he had somewhere to spend Jewish holidays and would drive him to synagogues for services.

Christine Young, now the superintendent of a charter school, said she’s not sure what she would have done without the college staff that made sure she learned.

Dave Herrington, a financial planner and division one college coach, said the school taught him that he could do exceptional things. At one point in his life, he was the meet director for the NCAA. &uot;What made me think I could do something like that?&uot; he asked rhetorically.

The college closed in 1973 amid financial difficulty. Some students went to other schools to finish. Some have had employers doubt that they graduated from college because there’s no college existing to verify their resume.

Jaffe said he wished the school still existed so that it could have the same effect on others that it had on him.

He said the weekend was a success, and that because of the reunion he has rekindled some friendships from that important time in his life, and now they will never die.