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College homecoming gives this editor a rush of real gratitude

I went home for homecoming on Saturday and took a walk back in time.When I graduated from little old Mapleton (Minn.) High School, my first college choice was Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D.I visited the campus twice — once on my own and once with my father, and the latter proved to be my undoing.Dad also came with me when I made the almost mandatory visit to Mankato State University, 18 miles up the road.When Mel Fenske saw the cost of MSU compared to what I’d spend going to a private school like Augustana, he had one question for me when I told him I wanted to head to Sioux Falls.“Are you nuts?”So Mankato State it was, and like the old TV show’s title stated, “Father Knows Best.”Not to sound corny, but I found myself at Mankato State, although it took me a while as I changed majors like fishermen swap lies — going from accounting to education to history.But it was at Mankato State that I found journalism, and although I didn’t major in it, I learned the craft I practice to this day in that little corner of the Centennial Student Union that housed the “MSU Reporter,” the student newspaper that publishes twice a week.I met friends I have to this day, including the Des Moines Register’s Mike Kilen, who made the trek north Friday to watch the boys play a little football in Osage before we headed to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” the next day.We arrived early, went to the Maverick Bookstore to accessorize ourselves and headed to Blakeslee Stadium, the football stadium where the Minnesota Vikings practice every summer during training camp.My youngest son, Noah, tagged along, and on the 2 1/2-hour trek to Mankato, Mike and I told him a few MSU stories, including a few about a pressbox that an arsonist should have gotten a hold of 30 years ago but still stands today.Before taking our seats, we stopped in the pressbox to say hello and thank Athletic Communications Director Paul Allan, who kept me busy for three years of my college career, and Noah laughed, “OK, Dad, I see what you were talking about.”Mankato State is gone, or at least the name is. The institution that molded me is now called Minnesota State, Mankato, and the Mavericks are now a Division II football power.MSU has made the D-II playoffs for five consecutive years, and although this is a rebuilding year, the Mavericks are 4-2 after spanking Concordia of St. Paul 45-10 Saturday afternoon.Unlike in the days Mike and I were students, fans are in plentiful supply; in fact, 6,123 were in attendance Saturday afternoon, and Mike joked with me, “That was a whole season back in the day.”We filed out of the stadium happy campers and decided to walk around the campus, and somewhere along the way, it hit me: Mankato State isn’t Mankato State anymore.And I’m not talking about the name change, either.It looks older, more mature, more like a college campus then I remember.Gone are the blockhouse-type dorms that were the rage in the 1960s when Mankato State made the move from the river valley to the “hill” in Mankato.When I arrived at MSU in 1983, the “lower campus” had been gone for less than 10 years, and the “upper campus” was a mere teenager. The trees that were so small now provide a beautiful canopy to the campus.For years, one of the landmarks of Mankato was Gage Towers, two 12-story dorms that stood on one corner of the campus. Although I lived across campus in McElroy, I have plenty of Gage stories to tell, but I don’t want people to realize I wasn’t always the saint I am today so let’s skip those.Gage is where the Vikings stayed during training camp, and there isn’t a man who has worn purple who has a good thing to say about them.The good news for those professional football players is those towers were imploded a few years ago, but Saturday marked the first time I had been on a Gage-less campus. And it was weird.Buildings like Morris and Armstrong halls where Mike and I went to class were the same. So was Trafton Hall, the science and math building that we both avoided like the proverbial plague.But it just looked different. And it felt different.We walked through the student union, searching for the Reporter office and a copy of the latest edition.Although it was virtually empty, I couldn’t help but recall those late nights I spent in that building. I studied there, I worked at the paper there, I played there, not necessarily in that order.And I thought of the professors and the fellow students I met there, many of whom remain dear to me to this day.I dang near was overcome with emotion, but then Noah saved me.We walked by a student who was studying, and I quietly said to my son “that was Mike and I back in the day on a Saturday night.”He rolled his eyes and in a voice dripping with disbelief said, “Whatever, Dad.”I laughed. The son knows his daddy pretty well. A few minutes later, we left and returned to the real world.But let me tell you something: I needed Saturday. I, like a lot of us, needed to be reminded that no matter how tough life can get, there is always room for gratitude. And I’m grateful for good old Minnesota State.

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