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The Great Professor

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Whatever happened to professors—those awesome men who stood behind lecterns in front of rows of attentive students in college and university classrooms, and actually professed? Your modern faculty has dwindled to offering observations, and perhaps a suggestion or two. There is hardly a professor left in the entire Mississippi Valley—and none left like Fritiof Ander, Professor of American History at Augustana College in Rock Island. He had emigrated from Sweden and brought with him a thick accent that demanded attention, and a tall, black doctoral top hat that put him above everyone at graduation ceremonies.

Professor Ander's kingdom was Room 325 on the third floor of Old Main. Here, through the nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties, two generations of students took careful notes on American immigration patterns. For many, years later, to recall an historical date or place was to also remember the sound of the professor behind the lectern, professing.

Several of the most attentive students were inspired to go on to a graduate school—chosen, of course, by Professor Ander—and become professors themselves. Unfortunately, none reached the level of their mentor. They must have often wondered on the secret of his success.

I can now tell you. Among all the students Professor Ander taught was one star pupil, a precocious pet parakeet who lived in the Ander home. Over the years, the professor taught the parakeet, by the strict lecture method, repeating until the bird got it right. The parakeet never missed a class. Eventually, he was able to repeat more than five hundred phrases and sing the entire Star-Spangled Banner, all of which the professor recorded, lest there be doubters.

And there, among the five hundred phrases, was the professor's secret: there is the parakeet saying: "O Fritiof, you're such a great professor."

Only one thing remains a puzzle: both the professor and his wife were from Sweden, so it’s not clear just whose accent the parakeet picked up.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.