by Mark Breseman
The Björklunden family lost another special person earlier this summer. In fact, one could argue that he was the leader of the Björklunden family. Joe Hopfensperger was a wonderful person, a fantastic teacher and the perfect person to direct Björklunden. To tie in Joe's Navy life, when he took over Björklunden in 1977 it was pretty much a ship without a rudder. Joe provided critical direction and leadership for Björklunden for over 13 years. He established the signature Björklunden Seminar program that continues to this day. He also started the Friends of Björklunden group to help ensure Björklunden had the financial and volunteer support needed even when the college was less than interested in providing for the overall needs of the facility. Joe's passion for the place was unparalleled.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked for Joe at Björklunden for two summers in the late '70s. He was such a fabulous mentor to me. I learned so much from him: the proper use of a chainsaw, how to update the electrical wiring in all the old buildings, the appropriately theatrical method for conducting chapel tours and he ingrained in me the fine art of hospitality. Most importantly, however, he set the example for how to be a better person.
As I write this I am sitting amongst the trees in the backyard of the stabbur where Joe lived for all his years at Björklunden. It is easy to let one's senses relax and just absorb the sounds, sights and smells of this fabulous place. A place that is still part of Lawrence University thanks in large measure to my good friend and mentor Joe Hopfensperger. Joe, you are missed.
Robin Fondow ’76 remembers Joe Hopfensperger
I was a student of Joe’s in the mid1970’s at Lawrence. I want to thank Wendy for asking me to share a brief reflection. Every student should be fortunate to have a teacher who helps guide him or her, lights a passion for learning, and genuinely cares about them. For me, Joe was that person.
To understand Joe’s positive influence on my life I have to tell you a little about myself. As a junior transfer student at Lawrence in 1974, I struggled academically to find a suitable major to go along with the elementary education teaching certificate I was pursuing. An education professor and dear friend of Joe’s, George Walter, set up a meeting between Joe and me to explore the possibility of my majoring in theater and drama with an emphasis on children’s theater particularly creative dramatics. I knew very little about the theater, but that meeting with Joe changed my life.
Joe was never put off by my lack of knowledge. Back then the department had every prospective theater major take a pretest to determine what the student knew about the subject, and I am fairly certain that the only part of that test I got correct was my name. However, Joe’s emphasis and focus was on my potential for learning, rather, than all I did not know. He definitely approached teaching with a Growth Mindset, before that term was known in education circles.
Joe’s knowledge of all aspects of theater and drama was amazing, but he was not afraid to admit that creative dramatics was outside his area of expertise so he connected me with an Appleton public school drama teacher named Anne Glasner, who was an expert. Working with Joe and Anne I learned the power of collaboration.
Joe and I had something in common that helped create a strong bond.
Joe was a former Lawrence football player and I was a member of the team. It was very unusual to have a football player, who was also a theater and drama major. To help me understand difficult theater concepts Joe would occasionally use football metaphors. I doubt that technique has been used much by other professors, but it certainly worked for me. Joe was the type of teacher who met the student where he or she was at.
Joe’s passion for the theater was contagious. I clearly remember sitting in his office listening to him describe a dramatic scene from the play Cyrano de Bergerac and his description was so beautiful that I felt I was attending the play. Because of Joe, I came to understand that experiencing a good theater production had the power to elevate the human spirit to levels never imagined.
In my opinion, at the heart of education a teacher is trying to help a student’s world become larger. Joe did that for me, and I am very grateful for his presence in my life.