Lively and engaging, demanding yet caring, Joan Buckley was a fixture on the campus at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., for half a century.
Buckley, who taught American literature at the liberal arts college for 49 years, died March 12 in Mountain View, Calif., where she had spent winters since her retirement in 2005. She was 88.
Although teaching literature was her vocation, Buckley throughout her life maintained a wide range of interests and made friends wherever she went.
“It didn’t matter whether we were in Napa or New York; she knew lots and lots of people and she loved establishing connections,” said her daughter, Dr. Julie Buckley of Los Altos, Calif. “When I was growing up, practically anywhere we went, she would find a connection to somebody — whether it was a former student, a friend of a colleague or someone related to one of her interests.”
Buckley had a particular interest in advancing learning and opportunities for women, said George Larson, a fellow faculty member for 43 years.
“She was always interested in encouraging her women students to find careers that would satisfy them,” Larson said. “She would talk to them, get to know them, and kept in touch with many after they graduated. She was very interested in a woman being able to pursue her education and incorporate her personal and professional lives.”
That interest no doubt stemmed from Buckley’s own experience. In 1958, when she was pregnant with her son, she informed the college president.
“He told me in no uncertain terms that I would be bringing up juvenile delinquents if I continued to teach and raise a family,” Buckley wrote in a Concordia alumni publication after her retirement. “Needless to say, I was sure that he was wrong, and I am happy to report that our children are high-achieving adults today.”
But when she was pregnant later with her daughter, “she hid the pregnancy,” Julie Buckley said. “She didn’t tell anyone until it was quite late.”
Indeed, for the first decade of her career, she and her husband, Wendell Buckley, shared a single salary and benefits, though both taught at Concordia full-time.
For both to be paid would be seen as “insulting to a single-income earner,” Julie Buckley said. “So she really had to fight for that right to stay in the classroom.”
Buckley “liked to create a little bit of controversy,” said her son, Dr. David Buckley of San Diego. “She gravitated to some areas that were, for that institution at that time, perhaps a little more on the cutting edge: women’s literature and black literature, for example.”
Buckley wasn’t afraid of challenges and wasn’t afraid to offer them to others, David Buckley said.
“Both in the classroom and at home, she was quite hands-on,” he said. “She demanded excellence both at home and in the classroom.”
“I would say that I was her student for 60 years,” he added with a chuckle.
Buckley, a graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., was proud of her Norwegian heritage and served for years on the board of the Norwegian-American Historical Association; she even edited a two-volume collection of a popular immigrant-era Norwegian comic strip.
A music student in her youth, she loved traveling to concerts and festivals. The Buckleys were regulars at the Minnesota Orchestra and the Aspen Music Festival.
Her husband preceded her in death. In addition to her two children, she is survived by four grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead.