#348 – Dick Bernard: Part 17. Garrison Keillor "…and all the children are above average"

Today’s newspaper brought news that Garrison Keillor might, just might, retire in 2013, leaving Prairie Home Companion (PHC) in the hands of someone else.
Precisely when Garrison will no longer be part of the picture is an unknown, probably including to himself. But as someone a couple of years senior to Keillor in age, I can attest that he is not getting any younger; he’s no longer a kid.
I was one of the lucky ones who first saw him in the olden days of PHC (which began in 1974). The first time was in the fall of 1977, probably at Macalester College in St. Paul, where you could walk in off the street to buy a ticket, and find a good seat as well.
I was never a regular at Prairie Home Companion, but I showed up a great plenty, and during my time as Director of the Anoka-Hennepin Education Association we once hired the show band, “The Powdermilk Biscuit” bunch, to do a dance gig for our teacher’s association in Keillor’s home town of Anoka MN. Those were the days….
Once, I saw him crossing the street at the Swayed Pines Festival at St. John’s University in Collegeville MN. It was in late April, 1979. Here’s the snapshot, for the first time in public! (Click on the photo to enlarge.) St. John’s is where Keillor first went on air late in the 1960s, and it is in the heart of his mythical Lake Wobegon.

Garrison Keillor late April, 1979

I signed my first Anoka-Hennepin teaching contract in the office of the Superintendent July 21, 1965. The office was in the same school Garrison Keillor had attended high school and graduated from a few short years earlier. A few years later I would begin to represent in teacher union work some of the same teachers who had Garrison as a student. Of course, at the time I had no idea there was such a person as Garrison Keillor, nor would I till he began to be noticed ten years or so later.
While Keillor’s Lake Wobegon is a collage of bits and pieces from many places, there has always been a very heavy foundation of Anoka in his sketches of Lake Wobegon. I know this, since I moved to Anoka in 1965, and except for three years absence 1966-68, I either lived or worked in or near the suburban community till the early 1980s. Too many of the characters and geographic images are far too “spitting image” to be successfully denied.
Keillor’s forever and ever signature is his description of the good people of Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.
I have no idea how he came up with this phrase so many years ago, but it is clear to me, living in our contemporary society, he had us “nailed”. We seem, collectively, to think we are all exceptional. Maybe we all have exceptional qualities, but basically we are just people, as Garrison Keillor is.
As is true with most of us, the now-famed Mr. Keillor probably came across as very much an average and ordinary kid in those school years. One or more of them did their part in helping him develop his own latent but immense talents; as they and legions of other teachers in other places and times have helped others develop their own talents. Having taught myself, I know we basically try to do our best with everyone. We don’t always succeed. But often we do, and more often than not we touch someone in some ways we will never realize.
Teachers and indeed all the supporting staff in public schools do an immense service.
Thank school employees.
(As I’ve been writing this I’ve had as background music the work of another commoner who took her talents to the next level. Take a listen.)