A true lifelong learner

Posted on Dec 3, 2018
At age 80, Lois Gunderson joined social work students on a trip to Germany to learn about refugee resettlement.

On an airplane headed back to Minnesota from Germany, Lois Gunderson carefully opened a gift that she said she will treasure forever. While her fellow students and travel companions peered over the seatbacks, her eyes filled with tears and a big smile spread across her face as she began to read the words in the book they had written for her.
Lois Gunderson reads the book the students gave her.

“You tell us all the time how proud you are of us, but I would like to share how proud we are of you. We’re proud of your endurance, and for sticking with us on our outings. We’re proud of you for what you’ve learned, shared and taught us. We’re proud of you for always keeping us laughing. You were a delight and I will miss you. Thank you for coming along.” – Jade Turner, UWS

Seventeen messages were penned – one from each fellow student telling her how special she was to them and how thankful they were that she went on the trip to Germany to learn about the refugee crisis there.Lois was one of 17 social work students from UW-Superior, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and The College of St. Scholastica who travelled together to Germany to learn about immigrant integration projects in Germany. Like all of the other students, she went to learn and bring back knowledge and experiences so she could be a compassionate and informed voice in the place she calls home. However, one thing set Lois apart from the rest of the group – her age. Lois is 80 years old.

“I was never able to go to college,” she said. “I married young and had five children to care for, so it just wasn’t possible. But, in 1984 I took a job doing survey work for the National Opinion Research Center and travelled all over the country. I met people from all walks of life and for some reason, they seemed to sense they could trust me and that I was safe. I really developed a love for people during that time.”

Lois has shared that love of people with many over the course of her lifetime, including the 20 students on the trip.

“Not everything we saw and experienced on the trip was easy, but Lois always found a way to bring us back to happiness and smiling, even when she wasn’t trying,” said Angela Johnson, UWS social work major. “The trip just wouldn’t have been the same without her.”

The group visited a refugee camp in Germany where they were able to talk to refugee families and hear their stories. They heard stories of how people had taken great risks and endured unthinkable hardship to escape oppression and seek a better life.

“Our whole trip was really about crossing borders and building relationships and I think students really learned from Lois’ example,” said Lynn Goerdt, UWS social work professor. “She was just so warm and open that the people we met really responded to her. One young newly arrived girl came up to Lois and gave her a big hug. She seemed to sense that Lois genuinely cared about her. It was such a beautiful display of compassion and humanity.”

“That’s just what I’ve done my whole life,” Lois said matter-of-factly. “I try to take care of people. It’s not hard. It’s really so simple. You just kneel down, take their hand and look them in the eyes and sometimes that’s all that’s needed – someone to listen and to care.”

Goerdt recalled the final evening they spent in Germany when they found a grassy spot in a park to sit down as a group and share reflections on the trip. “It was really a magical evening at the end of an amazing journey and I’ll never forget how one-by-one, the students talked about how thankful they were that Lois had come on the trip and how it enriched their learning experience. She is a big part of what made this trip so special.”

News Contact: Sarah Libbon | 715-394-8516 | slibbon{atuws}
A true lifelong learner
Posted on Dec 3, 2018
At age 80, Lois Gunderson joined social work students on a trip to Germany to learn about refugee resettlement.
Students on the social work trip to Germany said Lois Gunderson's presence enriched their learning experience and made the trip extra special.

Students on the social work trip to Germany said Lois Gunderson's presence enriched their learning experience and made the trip extra special.

Seniors interested in taking courses at UWS have many opportunities. Wisconsin residents age 60 or older may audit classes – take them for no credit – without paying tuition, and seniors who wish to take courses for credit pay a percentage of the tuition rate based on residency. Continuing Education also offers educational programming to meet the needs of lifelong learners in northwestern Wisconsin.