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Quite a few alumni of Lakeland College can say that they are the children of other alumni, but very few can claim to be the offspring of an alumnus who was also a Lakeland College president. One individual who does have that distinct honor is Naomi (Krueger) Elzinga '59, as do four of her six brothers, Paul, John, Philip, and Tim. Their father, the Rev. Dr. Arthur M. Krueger, was president of Lakeland College from 1951 to 1962. President Krueger was himself a graduate, having attended the Mission House Academy, College, and Seminary, all on the same campus. During Dr. Krueger's tenure the Board of Trustees changed the name from Mission House to Lakeland College and the seminary became United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, located in New Brighton, Minnesota.
Naomi remembers her youth living in the President's house on campus as being a very happy time. She recalls that some winters, there was so much snow that they often could not make it to the little 2-room school the Kruegers and other faculty children attended. She also fondly remembers the great home cooking of the beloved Lakeland dietician, Mrs. J., and how "she would take my mother into Sheboygan, so my mother could stock up on food for a month."
Naomi can remember her dad teasing her and her brothers frequently. "One day, the subject was what effect his being president made upon the grades that his children received from their professors. He wondered if perhaps we got the grades we got because our father was the president. I retorted that perhaps we got what we got in spite of him. He laughed."
Naomi was a Christian Education major at Lakeland. She also received a teaching degree from the University of Minnesota and went on to teach elementary school in the many different places that she has lived including Wisconsin, Indiana, West Virginia, and Texas. She married Harry Elzinga in 1962, and they had two children, Hans and Ingrid, both of whom are now married and living in Colorado. Naomi retired from teaching in 2003 and spends as much time as she can in Colorado with her two grandsons.
One of the achievements that she is most proud of, and rightly so, is the Rising Star Writing Project, a state-wide writing program for elementary students in grades 2-6 that she founded and directed throughout Texas for 11 years, from 1992 to 2003.
"I began the writing project in 1990," states Elzinga, "to meet a need I saw when teaching writing with my third graders at Lake Waco Elementary in Waco, Texas. It was very difficult to get the students to revise and edit their writing. They were fine with the first draft and would write very good beginnings—but the middles and endings were a problem—and they weren't interested in going back into the story to rework it. I needed something to motivate them." Out of that need, the Rising Star project was born in Elzinga's mind.
"The incentive of having their writing published in a school magazine and recognizing them at a school assembly in the spring provided the necessary motivation. Two years later, in 1992-93, I took the project statewide with a pilot program of 75 schools across the state who were invited to participate by sending entries to the state anthology, RISING STAR, Young Texan Tales and attending a state writing conference in Austin in the spring, where they would be recognized, on-stage."
Over the 11 years that Elzinga ran the program, it grew from that first batch of 75 schools to 205 schools by 2003. Each year, the project published the anthology and every student was honored at the state conference. All student writers were given a copy of the book and had their picture taken with a famous children's author. Participating schools published a campus writing magazine.
Many notable individuals supported this innovative and ambitious writing program during its tenure. Laura Bush was the Honorary Chair of Rising Star and attended the conference in 1996. George W. Bush wrote a letter for the project in six consecutive years. Other well-known people who wrote letters in support of this project were Barbara Bush, Laura Bush (as First Lady), Governor Ann Richards, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Larry McMurtry, and news anchormen Dan Rather and Jim Lehrer.
In the 1997 volume of Rising Star, Young Texan Tales, Jim Lehrer (The News Hour) wrote about the importance of learning to write well in a letter to the students: "The ability to write well and correctly is a skill that unlocks doors to all worlds, to all dreams."
Elzinga is eloquent in her passion for teaching children to be good writers, stating, "A child's imagination and the child's view of the world, enabled by important instruction in writing skills and opportunities to practice and perfect those skills in elementary school, have the power to impact the child's future and allow the reader a rare visit into the exciting and unique world of children.
"Revising and editing are the drudgery of writing for writers of all ages. But, computers have made it easy to make changes. The level of writing should have greatly improved, but the opposite is true.
"Students entering college, even graduate students, are lacking in basic writing skills. Sounds like a writing crusade is in order!" Elzinga certainly took up the charge in this crusade and has made it a significant part of her life's work.
As a member of the class of 1959, Naomi is about to be inducted along with 40 other classmates into the Emeritus Club. The Emeritus Club is made up of alumni who graduated from Lakeland 50 or more years ago. Entry into the "club" is the purview of anyone who makes it to celebrating their 50th year as a graduate of the college. As Naomi prepares to return to Lakeland for Homecoming 2009, she reports "I'm excited to come back to campus to see how things are changing."
We are grateful to Naomi because she signed on with the Alumni Relations office this spring to be a co-representative for her class—along with Ken DeSombre '59—to assist us in encouraging classmates to return for this momentous reunion in their class history. Although she has visited the campus many times throughout the years since her graduation, this is the first time she has made it to Homecoming. "My impression has been that Lakeland has done very well in changing with the times. The school has instituted many new programs that cater to the needs of what people need now. A lot of colleges have gone under, but not Lakeland."
When asked what advice she would give to new graduates just entering their careers, she says, "Work hard, be a positive force. Live in the 'NOW'—be involved—look for opportunities to serve, to make things better, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing."