Class of '43
October 2001

Dear Classmates of '43:

Already another year has gone in the academic calendar and Gustavus students are nearing the midterm break.  This past week, October 2-3, the Nobel Conference was held celebrating the awarding of the first Nobel prizes in 1901, with 5,000 in attendance.  The topic this year was "The Second Nobel Century, What Is Still To Be Discovered?"  Five of the seven lecturers were Nobel laureates.  I will share with you some of the notes I took.

Sir Harold W. Kroto, Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Sussex, England, and 1996 Nobel laureate in chemistry opened the conference.  With two collaborators from Rice University he discovered "fullerenes," forms of carbon molecules produced in extreme temperatures, in which clusters of atoms are arranged in closed and very stable shells similar in structure to architect R. Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome.  The discovery has implications for such areas as superconductivity, high-performance composites, and the study of nanotubes.  The title of Kroto's lecture was "A Round Peg in a Square World."  Kroto used many visual aids and his lecture was very entertaining. He moved along rapidly and I found it hard to take notes.  He was aware that there were many high school students in the audience and he strongly emphasized the necessity of interesting children and young persons in science.

Roald Hoffmann, Franklin H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters at Cornell University and 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry was the second lecturer.  Hoffmann received a shared prize for developing a theory concerning the course of chemical reactions.  Hoffmann and his mentor, Robert Woodward, discovered that many reactions involving the formation or breaking of rings of atoms take courses that depend upon an identifiable symmetry in the mathematical descriptions of the molecular orbitals that undergo the most change.  Their theory accounts for the failure of certain cyclic compounds to form from apparently appropriate starting materials, though others are readily produced.  Hoffmann's lecture title was "Science and Ethics: A Marriage of Necessity and Choice for This Millennium."  Science, he said, must take greater account of ethics and the environmental impact of its discoveries.  Nothing done is ethically neutral.  Anything created must be accompanied with an ethical judgment, though assessment of risks is not easily done.

Erling C.J. Norrby, the third lecturer, following a distinguished career in viral medicine with Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, was named secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the institution that annually selects the Nobel prize winners in the fields of physics, chemistry, and economics.  Norrby's topic was "A Century of Nobel Prizes."  He told us about Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), who was educated in St. Petersburg, Russia, and who in 1863 got a patent for dynamite, making possible the commercial use of nitroglycerine.  He never married and in 1895 in a club in Paris he wrote, with no legal assistance, his will, providing for annual prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.  He stressed the importance of rewarding discoveries that are beneficial for humankind.  Literature, he thought, could change the world.  Norway at that time was united with Sweden and thus the peace prize is awarded by the Norwegian Parliament.  The prizes were to be awarded with no consideration given to the nationality of the candidates.  Since WWII, however, 40% of the prizes have gone to the persons in the United States.  In 1969 the Bank of Sweden set up a fund making it possible also to grant a prize in economics.  There is an elaborate process by which candidates are nominated each year. There is strict secrecy to ensure objectivity in the evaluation of the candidates and there can be no lobbying.  The prizes for 2001 are being announced this week.  The prizes given in Sweden are awarded in Stockholm on December 10, the day of Nobel's death in 1896.

On Wednesday, October 3, the first lecture was by Edmund H. Fischer, professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Washington, Seattle, and 1992 Nobel laureate in physiology/medicine.  Fischer's prize, shared with Edwin G. Krebs, was for their discoveries concerning reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism.  Reversible protein phosphoylation constitutes a fundamental mechanism influencing all cellulary functions. Fischer's and Krebs' research opened doors to the study of cancer, inflammatory reactions, and brain signals.  Fisher's lecture title was "How Proteins Speak with One Another in Cell Signalling."  Whereas there has been much emphasis on the study of genes, in addition to genomics (the study of genes), there is a need for proteomics (the study of proteins).  There are far more proteins than genes, and whereas gene structure is fixed, proteins are constantly changing.  It was the beginning of the interaction of cells 538 million years ago that made possible the evolution of living organisms.  There may be a million proteins and there are also mutations, bringing into existence new proteins.

The second lecture on Wednesday was given by Stanley Prusiner, professor of neurology and biochemistry at the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, and 1997 Nobel laureate in physiology/medicine.  Prusiner discovered "prions--a new biological principle of infection."  Prions exist as innocuous cellular proteins but possess an innate capacity to polymerize into amyloids, which cause several deadly brain diseases in humans and animals, Creutzfelt-Jakob disease in humans, scrapie in sheep, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, (mad cow disease) in cattle.  The title of Prusiner's lecture was "Mad Cows, Demented People, and the Biology of Prions."  Due to the events of September 11, Prusiner was unable to come to St. Peter.  He spoke to us by satellite.  Since, however, most of us watched the speakers on large screens, the fact that he spoke to us from San Francisco made little difference.  He was also able to participate freely in the question period that followed his lecture.  Prions, when they cause diseases, are infectious and devoid of DNA. One of the diseases they cause in humans attacks aged people and another attacks teenagers and young adults.

The third lecture on Wednesday was by Günter Blobel, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., professor at The Rockefeller University, New York, and 1999 Nobel laureate in physiology/medicine.  Blobel's discovery was that newly synthesized proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell.  An average cell contains about a billion protein molecules, which exist in thousands of types and constantly need replacement.  Making proteins and transporting them to appropriate destinations is a vital activity in cells.  Blobel's research has revealed the existence of a "ZIP code" system in the cell.  This research has important bearing on such diseases as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's disease and AIDS.  Blobel, who lived in East Germany, and witnessed the firebombing of Dresden during WWII, is very interested in the restoration of Dresden and has devoted much of his Nobel prize to the rebuilding of Dresden's Frauenkirche, which was the largest church building north of the Alps with a tower one hundred meters high.  Blobel's lecture title was "Protein Targeting."  Blobel stressed the importance of the study of cells.  Cells contain many membrances and many compartments.  One million proteins go in and out of the nucleus every minute.  If all the DNA in the cell were stretched out it would extend back and forth from the sun three times.  A protein only lives for a day, or for a few hours, so it must be constantly reconstituted.  Blobel warned us that, while most of us would understand the first part of his lecture, as he went on many would not be able to follow, until only about 5% of his audience would be understanding him at the end.  I found that prediction to be true!

The conference closed with a banquet, where the menu was drawn from menus at Nobel banquets in Stockholm.  At the banquet Sir John Maddox, former editor of Nature, London, England, spoke on "What Remains to Be Discovered."  He surveyed the discoveries of this past century and gave his opinion as to where research during this next century will be concentrated.

Is there any point in listening to lectures that one doesn't very well understand?  I think there is.  One tries to grasp as much as one can.  What I learned from this conference was the amazing complexity of the cell and how great is the importance of proteins. Those who would make basic discoveries in science must begin at an early age.  Gustavus is a good place to study as one moves toward a career in science.  Attending the Nobel conferences since 1965 has been an enriching experience.  Next year's 38th conference, "The Nature of Nurture," will explore the forces that are most important in shaping a child's personality, gender identity, language acquisition and learning ability.  If you have never attended one of these conferences, why not plan to come?

I turn now to the Gustavus Alumni Fund.  At meetings held this summer and in September concern was expressed about the fact that the percentage of participation in the Alumni Fund has been falling during this past decade.  Due to the size of recent classes, it has not been possible to recruit enough callers to reach all of the class members on Phonorama.  That has not been such a problem for our class, though our percentage has fallen from 91.7% in 1993, when our class joined the 50 Year Club, to 66.7% this past year.  I am very grateful to have Elmer Anderson now working with me as co-class agent.  We hope that we can raise the percentage of participation significantly this year.  There will be two Phonorama sessions here in St. Peter on Wednesday, October 17 and Wednesday, October 24.  We will try to reach as many of you as possible on those two evenings.  From our experience last spring, we have concluded that many of you go south for the winter months.  We will have a better chance to find you at home if we call in the fall.

Phonorama has been going on for almost fifty years and has been very successful.  During this period telemarketing has greatly expanded and many of us are tired of having such phone calls.  We hope, however, that you regard the Gustavus Phonorama in a somewhat different way.  It has been a privilege to visit with you over the years.  We hope also that you find this a helpful way to keep in touch with Gustavus and to have a part in the remarkable growth and development of our alma mater since 1943.  Your gift to this year's Alumni Fund, whatever its size, will be deeply appreciated!

News notes will be gathered as Phonorama calls are made.  I can, however, report reading a most interesting book, Footprings, Memoirs of Howard S. Olson, which Howie sent me recently.  It is a large book of 396 pages, privately published.  Howie tells the story of his life and work, beginning with his early school years, his study at Gustavus and Augustana Theological Seminary, and his ministry as a missionary in Tanzania.  Howie majored in English at Gustavus and writes extremely well.  His descriptions of flora and fauna are vivid.  One learns a great deal of what was expected of a missionary during Howie and Louise's early years in Tanzania.  Howie found it necessary to be an automobile mechanic and a builder, at the same time that he served a congregation and developed skills in linguistics that were rewarded with a doctor's degree.  I have read about one hundred pages and am eager to get back to the book.  Should you want a copy, write to Howie at:  1925 Grand Cypress Lane, Sun City Center, FL 33573.  Since Howie and I traded books, I am not sure what the price of his book is.  Whatever it is, I'm sure you will find the book well worth it!

Campus News:

The Alumni Office is sending this class letter via U.S. Postal Service Mail and also e-mail to those alumni for whom we have an e-mail address.  Eventually class letters will be sent via e-mail only, when an address is available, unless you notify the Alumni Office that you prefer to continue to receive your letters via U.S. Postal Service.  Contact the Alumni Office at

As Gustavus enters its 140th academic year, the 2001-2002 year opened with an enrollment of 2,540 full-time students including 670 first-year students.  The Class of 2005, selected from a record number of applications (2,163), includes 18 National Merit Scholars and 18 international students, doubling last year’s number of nine international students.

Last year Gustavus athletic teams finished 18th out of 395 competing in the NCAA Division III national Sears Directors Cup Standings.  Standings are based on national tournament finishes.  The Gustie women athletes won the MIAC All-Sports title for the first time in its 18-year history.

Gustavus ranked among top colleges – Gustavus is ranked in the second tier and one of the top 114 best national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report magazine.  Gustavus ranked in the first tier in two categories, retention and graduation rates.  Gustavus’ first-year to sophomore retention rate of 92 percent ranks in the top 15 percent of all national liberal arts colleges and graduation rate of 76 percent ranks in the top 20 percent of all national liberal arts colleges.  Alumni giving ranks in the top 25 percent, down from the top five percent and a tier one ranking five years ago.  Raising the percentage of participation of alumni giving is of highest priority for the college and the offices of Alumni Relations and Gustavus Alumni Fund.

Gustavus named Best Buy... Gustavus has been named one of the best colleges in America and a Best Buy by The Fiske Guide to Colleges.  In the 2002 guidebook, the College is one of 300 best American colleges and one of 43 Best Buys nationwide.  Within Minnesota, Gustavus is among seven best colleges and is one of two private college Best Buys.  To determine which colleges make the annual Best Buy list, Fiske researchers combine cost data with academic and lifestyle information about each college and university.  Those institutions named to the Best Buy colleges list are said to offer “remarkable educational opportunities at a relatively modest cost.”  Gustavus is also included in The Princeton Review’s 2001 edition of The Best 331 Colleges.

Comprehensive alumni directory – In partnership with Publishing Concepts, the Gustavus Alumni Association is publishing its fourth comprehensive alumni directory.  Surveys were sent to all alumni in August and information will be used only for publication of the directory and updating database information in the Alumni Office.  The book is available for purchase only by former students of Gustavus.  Please correct or update any information and return to Publishing Concepts in the enclosed envelope provided with the survey.

New chaplain announced - The Rev. Rachel Larson has joined Rev. Brian Johnson ’80 in the Office of the Chaplain.  Larson will work in partnership with Chaplain Johnson and the other members of the Office of the Chaplain to provide spiritual guidance, worship, leadership, counseling, teaching, and other pastoral services to Gustavus students, staff, and their families.  Larson is a graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD, and of what is now Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

Christmas in Christ Chapel, A Celtic Pilgrimage, is November 30 & December 1-2.  A ticket order form was inserted in the Fall Quarterly.  Contact Office of Public Affairs at 507-933-7520.

Best wishes to all of you from Gustavus!

Sincerely yours,

Bernie Erling

1941  Co-Class Agent