The rumor was that he had acted on Broadway, done some Shakespeare, and had come finally to teaching humanistic social studies to budding engineers. In that role he was a master! John Rustad would respond to things that came up in class with all the force of a carefully selected poet or a soliloquy from the Bard. He knew his "stuff" and he knew how to teach it. To start the period, he would often appear in front of his class emerging from a vanishing cloud of smoke produced by the glowing mass of dry Revelation (a Philip Morris brand of pipe tobacco) in his large pot-bowled pipe.
Many of my classmates had made positive comments about John Rustad. Since I had missed him as an undergraduate, I had finally come to audit one of his classes while working on a second degree. It was the most rewarding single class I attended while at the UW. I offer but one example of his style. He had received a letter from a previous student, who was then employed as an engineer in Virginia ( I think it was). This student was living in a town called "New Hope," which of course was part of the return address on the envelope. Professor Rustad was struck by the name "New Hope." He mentioned receiving the letter which he held in this hand, and then spent the entire 50-minute session speculating about the founding people and their experiences and their motivation to name their small town New Hope. It was a description all of those things that make the United States of America the envy of the world. I will never forget that day.
On the last day of this senior-level class, Professor Rustad asked each student in turn, and in front of the class, what he hoped to do with his life and education. (I had come to the UW five years following high school and was therefore somewhat older than the average student. Being an auditor, I was not included in the exercise, but saw myself as an observer with a little more perspective than the average student.) As I remember that day, every one of those budding engineers was going to go into the world and design/build better "hardware." I felt sorry for Rustad that day; it was as if all of his efforts for the entire quarter had fallen on deaf ears. But, on reflection, it was all right because he had planted some seeds of fundamentally important concepts and it would no doubt take some time for them to bear fruit. He knew that. It would only be a matter of a few years and the letters would be arriving from new "New Hopes."
I last saw him as Peer Gynt, in a performance at the old Aquatheater on Green Lake. I was really proud of him, or maybe I should say I was really proud that, for all too brief a period, he was my teacher.
Carl Olberg, '65
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