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An Interview with Virgil Miedema(’67)

Virgil D. Miedema is a 1967 Jamestown College graduate who is originally from Rural Marion, ND, and is now a resident of Hanover, NH. Virgil is currently retired from the U.S. Foreign Service (U.S. Agency for International Development) and also from the American Soybean Association/U.S. Soybean Export Council. He serves on the University of Jamestown Board of Trustees and continues to take on some consulting assignments, usually overseas. Below, Virigl shares some memories about his time as a History and Religion major at University of Jamestown and describes his life post-graduation.

Q: What do you remember about your decision to attend University of Jamestown? How did you know it was the place for you?

In a sense, attending Jamestown College was a decision that was thrust upon me. And it worked out exceptionally well! I had finished my junior year at our now-closed rural high school in Barnes County and was determined not to spend my senior year there, as I’d taken virtually every course this school offered as well as some by correspondence from North Dakota State University in Fargo (these were high-school level courses). Venting my frustration pretty vocally to my parents, they discussed my situation with their friends Dr. and Mrs. Cornelius DeBoe. At the time, Dr. DeBoe was Academic Dean at Jamestown College. He suggested that I might be admitted to the College on an exceptional basis directly from my junior year of high school and, if I did okay, I would be retroactively accepted as a regular student. I was delighted with this idea, and it all worked out just fine. Dr. and Mrs. DeBoe stayed in touch with me by letter for the rest of their lives; I think they worried that they may have pushed me a bit too far too soon and wanted to reassure themselves that I was okay! They were wonderful people.

Q: What were some of your best memories from Jamestown College?

My best memories are the friendships I made.I’ve stayed in touch with a handful of classmates and this has enriched my life immeasurably. As recently as November of this year (2013), I met up with my classmate Sherry Holden. She was the sports writer for The Collegian when I was its editor; we always had great fun putting the paper together. Also, I see my classmate Gary Mailloux quite frequently; he lives and works in Fargo. We trek together in the Himalayas every couple of years.So far we’ve made three trips together, including to Tibet and Mt. Everest Base Camp. We’re planning another hike in Nepal in 2014. One year while at Jamestown, I was vice-president of student government when classmate Clark Wold was president. These days, we both serve on the University’s Board of Trustees.

Virgil Miedema ’67 trekking with Gary Mailloux ’67 in the Himalayas in 2012

Dr. Harold Strandness in the Department of Religion and Philosophy was an inspiring teacher. Actually, I never intended adding Religion as a major subject but, by my senior year, I’d taken enough courses in the department to declare, so I did. In fact, well into my junior year, I still hadn’t declared any major at all, and I think this was frustrating for the Registrar. I got regular notes in my mailbox asking me to decide! However, Dr. T. Franklin Grady, Dean of Students, was always sympathetic, himself being such a strong advocate of a “well-rounded” liberal arts education. He basically said to me, “Add up the academic hours you’ve earned and go with the courses in which you have the highest numbers”. That’s what I did, and I’ve never regretted it!

Q: How did University of Jamestown prepare you for what you are doing now? What steps did you take after graduation?

The College gave me a pretty good education in a caring environment, allowing me time to mature and to grow in many ways. I was a freshman when President John F. Kennedy was killed. His Peace Corps program was very attractive to me and, a few months after graduation, I was a volunteer school teacher in the hills of rural Nepal. It changed my life; I’ve spent over 30 years working and living abroad.

Virgil Miedema ’67 receives a blessing from his Nepali ‘sister’ during the Hindu festival of Tihar in October 2013

Q: Do you still keep in touch with anyone you connected with at University of Jamestown?

Definitely, as you can see from the above narrative I’ve stayed in touch with some students from my era. Also, being on the Board of Trustees I’ve had the opportunity to meet many other Jamestown folks whom I had not known.

Q: Do you have anything about your family or career you would like to mention?

My wife, Barbara Spaid, is also retired from the U.S. Foreign Service.Our two daughters were raised abroad. Stephanie, the older daughter, works for the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand.Allison, our younger daughter, is a primary school teacher in Alexandria, Virginia.

Virgil Miedema ’67 with his family on summer holiday in Maine in 2012

Q: Have you been back to the University of Jamestown recently? If so, was there anything that caught your attention?

With family in North Dakota, I’ve gone back fairly regularly over the years, whenever we’ve been in the States on leave. Whenever in North Dakota, I always stop at the College. Nowadays, I get there more even more regularly, as a result of being on the Board of Trustees. It gives me the opportunity to engage with the University and visit family. The physical infrastructure is much, much better than when I was there and, being on the Board, I’ve seen the tremendous effort that has gone into expanding the curriculum and keeping it up-to-date. The new Physical Therapy Program in Fargo is only one example of this.

Q: What aspect of your time at Jamestown shaped you most?

Life is pretty much about relationships…within families, at work, at play, wherever. The relationships I formed at the College have enriched my life tremendously. As far as academics is concerned, I wasn’t a particularly outstanding student; in fact, not outstanding at all. However, looking back, I feel I got a good education, thanks to a conducive environment and caring professors.

Virgil Miedema ’67 with his older daughter Stephanie on the Dartmouth College green in Hanover, New Hampshire in 2011Virgil Miedema ’67 with his wife Barbara Spaid at their home in Hanover, New Hampshire, winter 2012

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Posted:January 15, 2014


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