CHAPTER 17: Professor O. G. Felland
PROFESSOR Felland was not a fighter for the life of St. Olaf as were Uncle Mohn and Father, but in his own way he contributed such a wealth of fine things that his name goes down in the history of St. Olaf as one of the great men of its early days.
He was my godfather, and I had a deep affection for him. He was a quiet, scholarly type of man with an artistic bent, always deeply engrossed in his teaching and his many and varied hobbies. One of his hobbies was photography. As children we were rather impatient with his constant picture-taking. Whenever we gathered he would be there with his big camera atop a high tripod. To me he seemed always to be hiding behind a piece of black cloth. We were told to sit still while he adjusted the plates in his camera. At that time, we didn't have sense enough to realize that he was making a complete history of St. Olaf College in pictures. Those photographs now are invaluable.
Gardening was another of his hobbies. He planted all the trees on the hill south of Steensland Library. This we called Faculty Grove, because he named each tree and shrub for some member of the faculty. The first lilac bush ever planted at St. Olaf was named in my honor. I believe it still grows at the top of the steps leading to the Main and is on the right side near Steensland Hall. In seventy years it has grown into a huge bush, which I like to think of as a harbinger of the glorious beauty of the lilacs now planted around and about Thorson Hall. In the springtime they fill the air with their fragrance. Professor Felland also planted the lilac hedge on Upper St. Olaf Avenue and the avenue of elms which now form a veritable cathedral aisle as one looks down the avenue.
Raising peonies was also one of his hobbies and at the rear of the Felland place he had what seemed to me to be almost an acre of them. I remember him best after he had become rather deaf and it was difficult to talk with him, and many of his friends were too busy to take time to discuss his flowers with him. I, however, loved to be with him, and the fact that he was my godfather gave the two of us a real warmth of friendship. I would walk with him through the profusion of flowering peonies and ask him their names, for I knew he enjoyed talking about them.
"This one," he said, "is Lady DuBong. This one is Festeva Maximus. This one is Madame DeBraiy," although I can't be too sure about my spellings.
At last we came to a row of single-petaled peonies with yellow stamens. They were his seedlings, his own creation. The first one was white and looked like a water lily; then they went from white to light pink to deeper pink, until at the end of the row they were as deep a red as a flower could get. I asked Professor Felland the names of these, and he said in his quiet and serene voice: "Well, I just ran out of names, so I call these do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti, do!" Even today that strikes me as a very original idea.
Dr. Mellby was also a fine gardener, and he too raised his own seedlings. The two of them often went to Minneapolis for the peony show. One evening a young and new Carleton professor came down on the same train with them and couldn't help overhearing their conversation. The conversation ran something like this
First gentleman: "And how is Lady DuBong?"
Second gentleman: "Oh, she is exquisite. I have never seen such rich colors, etc."
First gentleman: "Did you see Madame DeBraiy?"
Second gentleman: "Yes, I spent much time just looking at her and enjoying her beauty. She has a perfect form."
First gentleman: "And how goes Festeva Maximus?"
Second gentleman: "After all is said and done she gives the most satisfaction. She doesn't require constant attention. She is really a fine one."
I realize I am not quoting the conversation exactly, but the substance of their conversation is there. The new young Carleton professor got off the train at Northfield and as soon as he could he asked a Carleton associate what sort of town this Northfield was; that he had overheard two old roués discussing their lady friends, and he was amazed that Northfield, a small town in the Middlewest, was so tolerant that gentlemen discussed in public their various lady friends! The Carleton associate was a little surprised until he came to, and said: "Oh, that was Professor Felland and Dr. Mellby of St. Olaf College returning from the Peony Show and discussing the various interesting flower specimens at the show!"
You might call Professor Felland the typical absent-minded professor, but he really wasn't that exactly. I do, however, remember one time when he was absent-minded. He had appeared in Hoyme Chapel one morning to conduct devotional, but he had forgotten to put on his necktie. He rose to his feet, went to the lectern, faced the student body, and announced in a very dignified manner the opening hymn: "Blest Be the Tie That Binds." You may be sure the students didn't fail to catch the humor of that coincidence.
This amusing incident of Professor Felland's necktie was accidentally brought to mind again many years later under a very different circumstance. My brother-in-law, the late Joseph Tetlie, enjoyed writing religious poetry and hymns, of which he has left a considerable collection. One evening when an Oxford friend of Joe's, Sir Donald Fennimore, came to visit me in Alabama I felt that my visitor would enjoy hearing one of these beautiful little hymns that Joe had written, and I played one of them and asked my son Brandt to sing it for us. Then we discussed music and hymns for a while, and Sir Donald said that his grandfather had composed that fine old hymn "Blest Be the Tie That Binds." For a moment I couldn't help thinking, even under that absorbing occasion, of Professor Felland's devotional. I had a hard time not to show a sparkle of amusement.
I shall not speak of the work Professor Felland did in founding the St. Olaf Library. That has already been done, but I must say that no one could have been happier than I when St. Olaf College honored him by naming the new library wing the Felland Wing. It is an honor richly deserved.