Barbara Knudson rarely sat still.
When she wasn’t teaching, she was offering up her home as a place for young people to find a meal or a bed for the night. When she wasn’t working with an organization overseas, she was knitting or making paper or weaving baskets at home, peppering those around her with gifts.
An influential University of Minnesota faculty member and administrator, Knudson spent her life teaching, traveling and working for social change both at home and abroad.
“She was just an amazing person,” said Diane Morehouse, who met Knudson in the early 1970s and came to consider her a second mother. “She was gifted in just about every way I can think of.”
After experiencing a decline in health, Knudson died Feb. 7 in Minneapolis. She was 88.
Born in Montevideo, Minn., Knudson was valedictorian of her high school class and went on to earn four degrees — three at the University of Minnesota, including a Ph.D. in sociology in 1968. She became a professor and then a dean there, chairing and kick-starting a wide range of programs before retiring in 1994.
Amid the scholar’s life — and for years before and afterward — there was extensive travel. As newlyweds in the 1950s, Knudson and her husband, Clinton, spent two years in Austria resettling refugees. During their marriage, their travels crisscrossed the globe and reached nearly every continent.
“She never quite recovered, if that’s the word, from her [early] international experience,” said Arvonne Fraser, Knudson’s friend, neighbor and fellow activist. “But she was very thoughtful and understanding. She was not an ‘ugly American.’ ”
Knudson was particularly passionate about Africa, visiting more than 30 times over the course of her life. There was work for the Kenyan government and the United Nations. There was international aid. There were trips with groups of students.
In addition to her long list of accomplishments, Knudson is remembered for the home she made, and for those she brought into it.
“She was a person who collected all kinds of young people,” Morehouse said.
One of those young people was Jama Gulaid, who was working as a tour guide in Kenya the mid-1970s when Knudson visited with a group of students. He developed a strong relationship with Knudson and her family, visiting them over holidays in the years that followed. They started introducing him as their son, and they were present for every milestone: his wedding, his career successes, and the birth of his own children whose success he now traces back to the support he received from Knudson.
“Most people are lucky to have one mother,” he said. “I had two mothers.”
Knudson’s home drew young people from all over the world. Those present after her death discovered a massive book full of names and addresses spanning decades. In it, Gulaid found the phone numbers of his international “siblings” whom he’d met in Knudson’s home so many years before. One phone call led to another, spreading the word across the world that she was gone.
Knudson was preceded in death by her parents, Gothard and Valeria Lagerstedt, brother Gothard and children Cameron Knudson and Tracy Knudson Stoltman. She is survived by her husband Clinton, daughter Kim, son Dana and seven grandchildren. Services are planned for spring.