Born on a farm in Minden, Nebraska, I moved to Kearney at age 13 when my father became Head of the Printing Department at Kearney State College. I spent my teenage age years riding my horse in the Platte River (before the interstate was constructed), cruising Central Avenue on Saturday nights, and working as a carhop at A&W during the summers. The 1960s were an exciting time to be a teenager, for on the weekends, carloads of young men and women would cruise Kearney’s main street, many stopping at the Drive-In where I made friends from other towns.
Both of my parents had attended college, and my father worked at KSC, so there was never any question that I would go to college, too. Since we lived in Kearney, it would save my family money if I lived at home. I had planned on majoring in journalism with a minor in English. However, when I took a class taught by Don Welch, I immediately changed my major to English. I attended KSC, majoring in English and French, and began teaching high school in Axtell. I taught American Literature and created a French program in grades 4 through high school and taught special sessions on French cooking, French artists, and French poetry.
However, I always loved college, so I received my MA in English (there was no MA program in French) and began teaching at KSC as an adjunct in 1979. Encouraged by my mentor, Dr. Helen Stauffer, who had commuted to Lincoln for her PhD, I began travelling to Lincoln while teaching at KSC. After taking courses for five years, raising two teenagers as a single mom, and logging many miles on my little car, I received my PhD in 19th Century American Literature in 1988, specializing in Literature of the American West. Again, an amazing professor, Dr. Fran Kaye, influenced my choice to study Western and Plains Literature after taking several of her courses. I was hired at the University of Nebraska-Kearney where my father had worked thirty years earlier. My favorite classes focused on Native American novels because most students had no background in these subjects and reading about other times and cultures was an enlightening experience for them. I especially enjoyed teaching graduate courses to Nebraska high school teachers, whose enthusiasm and background experience made classes invigorating.
I had loved teaching for fifty years, so it took me until I turned 71 to finally retire. Now my husband and I live in Colorado, and we ride in the Rocky Mountains instead of the Platte River. However, like the native prairie grasses, my deep roots still cling to Nebraska soil.
Written by Susanne Bloomfield and Kate Benzel
* Images from Susanne Bloomfield
Categories: Education, History, Literature
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