My First Professor 50 Years Later
Story by Mike Peters (BA-68)
Swimming With Frank
First, we’d better explain that Frank Lakin and I aren’t really swimming when we talk. Frank has cancer – to be specific, chronic lympcetic leukemia, and he’s been fighting a long, hard battle. The disease has taken away his balance, his ability to write, his ability to simply throw or catch a ball, and his breathing. He can’t get around without a walker or crutches and a breathing tube, except when he’s in the water, then he can walk again – forward and back, sideways, the type of walking he couldn’t do without the help of the water at the Hope Center. Although the pool at Hope Center can set up a breathing tube while he’s in the water, Frank refuses. He wants to be free while in the pool.
That’s why Frank Lakin goes to the pool, to fight the cancer, strengthen his muscles, to battle the debilitating disease
It’s a great warm-water pool for exercise and rehab. A doctor sent me to the pool months ago, for rehab from knee surgery, and that’s completely healed. But my wife and I still come swimming three times a week for exercise, and to talk with Frank and Donna Lakin. It’s sort of like Tuesdays With Morrie, but we’re in water when we talk – and walk. The walking is important.
Frank was my first prof at what was then Colorado State College in Greeley, 50 years ago. I don’t remember much of the class, because there were hundreds of us sitting there in the theater-type room, and there was Frank, up front, enthusiastically bringing the lessons to the half-scared, mostly confused freshmen. The class was “General Psychology,” which was required for freshmen who wanted to become teachers. Frank was a part-time teacher at the time.
That building – Cranford Hall – is gone now, but Frank and I are still here in Greeley, reliving memories, talking, revisiting the past. Solving the problems of the future while walking in water.
Frank Lakin is 81 years old now, a veteran of the Korean War, a graduate, teacher and administrator of Colorado State College/University of Northern Colorado. He began his life in Santa Fe, when it was a small New Mexico town of 10,000, and his father slowly built their home “one room each year for 18 years,” Frank said. It was adobe, and he remembers the long hours he spent as a boy, stomping the hay into the mud to make the adobe bricks. That mud-stomping kid would one day become an integral part of the University of Northern Colorado.
When his father wasn’t building the one-room-per-year house, he was a printer for the Santa Fe newspaper, and Frank’s mother was a teacher.
One of his early memories was meeting Bryan Brudunn, the reporter for the Santa Fe paper who broke the Teapot Dome scandal.
Teapot Dome was the name of an oil reserve in Wyoming, and New Mexico Sen. Albert Fall had just been named Secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding. Fall gave the rights to Teapot Dome to a California oil company, and received a $400,000 bribe.
“He apparently liked to talk when he and the boys back in Santa Fe would play poker,” Frank said. “He started bragging about the money he’d made in Teapot Dome, and Brudunn was playing poker that night. That reporter broke the story to one of the biggest government scandals in history.” Because of Teapot Dome, Sen. Fall was sent to prison for a year.
As Frank grew up, the people in Santa Fe began to change. “The artists began to move in,” Frank said, “and the population really turned around. On my paper route were artists, opera singers, pianists and sculptors. Because of the artists, the town also attracted a lot of tourists.”
When Frank graduated from the high school in Santa Fe, he enrolled at Colorado State College of Education in Greeley – the same school his mother attended on her way to a teaching degree. But graduation for Frank would be delayed. He was drafted out of college into the Marine Corps, and soon found himself on the 38th Parallel in Korea, fighting that war for a year. He left in May 1953, and the Korean Conflict ended two months later.
Frank returned to CSCE on the G.I. Bill.
He joined a fraternity, attended classes and became involved in school politics. In 1954, he ran for Student Body President and won, and at the same time he said he met a beautiful girl working for his opponent’s campaign. Her name was Donna Dohority, she was a Greeley resident, and a Business Education major.
They married, and became dormitory parents. It meant they would live in the women’s dormitory while they counseled and helped the female students. Frank was newly married, and the only male living in a dorm with 850 women.
“The girls had curfews in those days,” Donna said. “Freshmen had to be in the dorm by 9:30 at night, upper-class women by 10:30. We had to enforce those rules, and many others.”
One problem Frank remembers was the “Panty Raids,” where male students would try to sneak in or blatantly burst into the dorms to steal the women’s panties. Frank had to push the boys back outside again – a maneuver that didn’t always work.
“There were two of them caught once and were reprimanded by the Dean of the College,” Frank remembers, laughing. “Many years later, I ran into one of them and he was an aide in the Colorado governor’s office. He didn’t want to talk much about his experiences on the panty raid.”
Those who know Frank and Donna are familiar with their humor, their caring for others, their devotion to UNC. They were there for three name changes: Colorado State College of Education, Colorado State College, and the University of Northern Colorado.
Frank served in almost every level of the college, from part-time teacher, to acting and interim president of the university. And, he knows the stories.
Such as the woman professor who was angry one summer because she had to teach in a tent. “She told the other faculty members it was like teaching in a circus tent,” Frank said. “So, the next day, two other profs showed up at her classes wearing popcorn hats and selling popcorn to the students like it was a circus. They finally got her to laugh.”
We walk sideways in the water at times, working on that motion with his legs, facing each other, talking of CSCE and CSC and UNC. He tells of how he named a building once:
“There was a professor whose classes were transferred into the old student union on central campus, and at that time, it was called the “Gunter Annex,” because it was adjacent to Gunter Hall. The professor called to complain that he didn’t want his public speaking classes to be in a building called “Gunter Annex,” so I just did a little research and found no buildings had been named for Thomas Gray, the first president of the college, so I changed the name to “Gray Hall.” That made the professor happy, and the building became Gray Hall.
After so many sessions in the pool and so many stories, ii looked forward to meeting Frank in the water. Lately, however, his Leukemia has resurrected its ugly head, and he hasn’t been able to get back in the water. My wife and I have been to their house a couple of times for coffee, however, and the stories continued, even out of the water.
It was unusual, developing a friendship with an old professor you once feared because you were a lowly first-quarter freshman and didn’t know exactly what college life would be like.
But to find friends such as Frank and Donna is one of the many blessings of my life.
I’ll never forget the stories.