- Evening, Weekend & Online Programs
- ALUMNI RELATIONS
- GIVING TO LAKELAND
- ABOUT LAKELAND
As he has done every Memorial Day for the last five years, Tom Contrestan `70 carried a banner for peace and marched in the Sheboygan Memorial Day parade with his fellow vets who belong to the Sheboygan chapter of Veterans for Peace. Contrestan started the chapter with a friend in early 2003.
Contrestan first got involved in peace activism in 1972 when he returned home from his time in the military as an MP during the Vietnam War. Contrestan had been stationed at Ft. Gordan, GA, and also in Heidelberg, Germany. He did not see combat as did many of his friends, some of whom went off to war and lost their lives, three in particular whom Contrestan still remembers fondly. Other friends came back and told of the terrible price of war. All these experiences contributed to him questioning some of the things he had grown up believing. The son of a WWII vet, Contrestan was raised in a conservative, blue-collar, Catholic family. Upon returning from service, his changed views were not at first accepted by his family.
Coming to Lakeland from Wilmington, Delaware in 1966, Contrestan learned about the little college in the corn fields from an alumna of Lakeland who had returned to Wilmington in 1965 and told people there that it was a great school. Contrestan remembers his time at Lakeland fondly, working in the Campus Center for Dick Preuhs '66 and also reporting to Prof. Schilcutt who, as Contrestan put it, was "in charge of student labor, and of making sure things got done around campus." Although Contrestan did not take any classes from Prof. Schilcutt, he remembers him as being "very down-to-earth, yet also very urbane. Just a great person to have as a friend."
Contrestan was a history major and remembers a favorite professor, Dr. Robert Riles. This teacher impressed Contrestan for his depth of knowledge about history. Contrestan rememebers: "what struck me was that he was a very motivating teacher. He challenged you to be a better student. And when you did a good job, he would point it out. He was very affirming."
During his college years, Contrestan was a supporter of the government and the war, and knew that he would most likely be drafted. He remembers those times on campus as "turbulent" with a lot of debate between students who were pro-war, and another group against the war. There were many discussions between Tom and his friends in the Muskie Inn. Contrestan states, "the seeds of my political activism were sown at Lakeland. The courses I took made me think more sensitively and reinforced my humanity."
Upon returning from the service in 1972, Contrestan first traveled the country by motorcycle, read the Pentagon Papers—which helped to shift his thinking on the war—and then attended graduate school at UW Oshkosh, earning a degree in Special Education and Reading. He remembers feeling very pleased that Lakeland had prepared him well for graduate school. For many years, Contrestan worked as a reading teacher. He still has a love of history. And he is still a peace activist. He also grapples with the fact his son, Joe, the sixth Contrestan to report for military duty in 90 years, is currently serving in Iraq. Although Contrestan opposes the war, he is very proud of his son's service, as he is of his 25-year-old daughter, Melanie, a grad student in nursing at UW-M.
Contrestan said that a very moving moment came for him recently, when his older brother, who had also served in the military, told Tom that he was proud of him for his peace work. When asked if he has any advice for new graduates, Contrestan said, "In life you will come across things that are just going to confound you, and you have to be flexible enough to say 'geez, maybe I was wrong' you have to be able to re-examine what you believe in."