ONLY LEAVE A TRACE,
Meditations by Roger Epp
University of Alberta Press,
96 pages + 7 colour images
March, 2017. Paperback.
$19.95 CAD. $11.52 Kindle.
“Make yourself big when you enter a room, when you meet a bear in the woods. Make yourself big. Meet the eyes.”
Roger Epp’s poetic meditations about the best, the hardest, the loneliest times of leading a small university campus through significant change are depicted in a series of elegant yet understated prose pieces, alongside images by his life partner, Rhonda Harder Epp. Taking a candid look at the many challenges such a position brings, Roger Epp humanizes, scrutinizes, and upholds the integrity of academic administrative work.
Only Leave a Trace will resonate with those who work in universities, hold leadership roles in them, or care about the connections between higher education, students, and place.
Roger Epp is Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta. He served as founding Dean of the university’s Augustana Campus in Camrose from 2004 to 2011. He is author of We Are All Treaty People (UAP) and co-editor of Writing Off the Rural West (UAP). Rhonda Harder Epp is a painter whose work is held in private and institutional collections. Her work has been shown in galleries across western Canada. They live in Edmonton.
Review by Dr. Wayne Holst
Like many other Canadians of half a century ago, I attended and graduated from a school of higher learning founded and supported by a Christian church – Catholic, Protestant, or other. When a great surge of post-war Canadian young people began entering these institutions during the 1950’s and 60’s it became impossible for the denominations to provide the financial and other resources to support these colleges and universities. In many cases, provincial governments provided the needed support. The trade-off was that in exchange for survival and new resources for future development, church schools became state institutions
When Waterloo Lutheran University evolved “under new management” to become Wilfrid Laurier, Dr. Flora Roy, professor of English Literature and the first women to head a university department in Canada (she began her career at Waterloo College, Waterloo Ontario in 1948) wrote two books to chronicle the development. They were entitled Recollections of Waterloo College and Recollections of Waterloo Lutheran University 1960-1973 (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2004 and 2006 respectively.)
Thirty years later, something a bit different occurred when Camrose Lutheran College, then Augustana Lutheran University in Camrose Alberta, became The University of Alberta – Augustana, Campus.
Longtime supporters of both denominational schools had great fears that much would be lost in the transition. I look back to the transformation of my alma mater with much satisfaction. While some important values were inevitably lost, “my WLU” emerged to become one of the leading small universities of Canada. Much of what had been envisioned by the founders of my school was enhanced in the process.
After reflecting on Roger and Ronda Harder Epp’s beautiful new book of meditations, I can rest content that another successful transition took place as well for a Lutheran college in Alberta during my lifetime.
WLU is an urban university flourishing among many “big league” schools in Southern Ontario. Augustana evolves as a “town and country” partner to the province’s largest and most established university – the University of Alberta in the central part of the province.
In both cases, academic substance was pursued while quality, well-rounded education, geared to a specialized student body, was provided.
Epp is a political scientist, and his sensitive way with words is apparent in many of the 71 meditations contained here. Harder-Epp’s art work really enhances her partner’s writing.
I especially liked “Those Who Build Bridges,” “A Curator of Tears” and “The Old Man in Winter” (thoughts on the famous Canadian diplomat, pastor and renaissance man Chester Ronning, who once headed Camrose Lutheran College).
Many of us need to learn that the “Good News” (as we may have come to know it through ecclesiastical institutions) is greater and more eternal than any human establishment, however constituted. The Gospel survives and reveals itself in many forms, conveyed by a wide range of emissaries.
I was able to thank my English professor Dr. Flora Roy for her books before she died some decades ago. Through these words, I want to express contemporary appreciation to the Epps for their beautiful art piece as well.
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Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and helps to co-ordinate Adult Spiritual Development at St. David’s United Church in that city. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________