Jerry Nelson: The Campanile
South Dakota State University’s campanile is a permanent fixture on my eastern horizon, an upside-down exclamation point with a blinking red beacon for a period.
We are near enough to distinguish the landmark’s silhouette but not so close that we can see the red-faced students who have sprinted up the 180 steps to the top of the tower.
Brookings is a quiet college town. But it’s only quiet when the college isn’t in session.
Take any situation and inject nearly 13,000 energetic, hormone-addled, zit-faced young people into it and conditions are ripe for roiling. When my wife and I visit our favorite pub for a burger in the summertime, it often feels as though we’re in a private dining establishment. After classes resume, that same establishment becomes a bustle of raucous young people who seem bent on consuming every last drop of my favorite beer.
I made the mistake of visiting our local superstore on the weekend when students were moving into the dorms. It was a mob scene. Herds of young people pushed overflowing shopping carts, trailed by weary middle-aged folks who wore expressions that said, “I can’t take much more of this and neither can my credit card!”
Don’t go to the bars on Hobo Day weekend unless you enjoy being jammed by a scrum of high-spirited — and by “high-spirited” I mean “full of distilled spirits” — young people. My wife was a barmaid before we met, and she said that working on Hobo Day weekend was essentially a bucket brigade of beer.
When I was young and bullheaded, I was among those who might say, “I don’t need no book learning!” I never attended college, unless you want to count a dorm party I went to at Hanson Hall. And all I learned was that you should never pin your romantic hopes on a girl who has been nicknamed The Hoven Hickey Queen.
Some years ago, I attended my first college lecture, a presentation about the hazards of manure pits. But I was also the one who was giving the talk, so I doubt if I earned any credits.
Our close proximity to SDSU has had its benefits. When we were dairy farming, we often hired college students to work for us.
There was Neil, who was married, had a 12-year-old daughter and was studying to become a pharmacist. There was Kevin, a veteran of Desert Storm who was working toward a degree in nursing. And there was Jodi, a young West River guy who was taking courses in agronomy and once said of his girlfriend, “She sits a nice horse.” I’m still not entirely sure what that means.
On rainy days, when there wasn’t much to do around the farm, we might take the hired guy to town and treat him to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. Jeremy, who was majoring in animal science, could consume pizza by the metric ton. He didn’t even chew, gobbling pizza like a starving pelican who had just caught a beak full of fish. The pizza place definitely lost money on Jeremy.
In 2014, SDSU inaugurated an event called the Dairy Drive, held in conjunction with a football game. The Dairy Drive includes a grilled cheese sandwich contest that takes place in the stadium parking lot.
I hadn’t realized that “tailgating” wasn’t only the act of driving too close to the car ahead of you. Pregame tailgating is an activity that’s practiced with religious fervor. And like all zealots, tailgaters are eager to share. I attended the Dairy Drive once and ate more cheese that day than during the entire previous year.
Thanks to SDSU, we have met some outstandingly nice people from around the world.
Pushpa and Clem were from Malaysia. Pushpa told us that all Malaysians have to carry a national ID card and that girls are automatically labeled “spinster” upon attaining the age of twelve.
Alvaro, an extension specialist, is a gregarious guy and the only person I know who hails from Uruguay.
Maristela grew up in Brazil, attended college in Germany and Spain, and has performed scientific research into the nutritional value of camel’s milk.
Vikram is from India and earned his Ph.D. at Cornell. I should ask him sometime how he ended up here on the Dakota prairie.
But one of the most life-changing relationships that arose from being close to the college was with SDSU extension agent Mel Kloster. Mel, who became a good friend, was the person I was thinking of when I first penned the words “Dear County Agent Guy.”
Those are just some of the things that come to mind when I look eastward and see the soaring silhouette of the campanile.
If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at email@example.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.