A person’s path is often dictated by those in their life

Published 7:01 am Saturday, April 11, 2020

In 1994, aside from being much younger and better looking (not that that’s much of a milestone), I was a college student without direction.

Not long ago, I told you about Jerry Sweeny, a history professor at THEE  South Dakota State University.

In the years of my attempts to find identity in college, I found myself fortunate to count on Dr. Sweeny as my advisor. He was an eclectic professor that had a way of drawing you into the world of the past and he was pivotal in my direction — even if I didn’t ultimately make credible use of my history major.

“What do you want to do with your degree?” he once asked. He quickly called my bluff when I said I wanted to work in a museum or some such thing. Maybe he saw that nothing would come of this, but whatever the case, my path in college and life was quickly going elsewhere.

Obviously I’m here, so I chose journalism at some point, but being a professional writer wasn’t the ultimate goal. It’s what I started with, but eventually my route would take me through a dark room.

Let me tell you about Frank Klock.

Frank taught photography at SDSU and would eventually instill in me the direction I really wanted to go. I didn’t know it at the time, it was just something that was kind of neat — and I needed the credits. At the time there was no reason for anybody to think I would take this route.

Considering those people that Frank taught before me, I had no right being in his class, much less holding a camera. My college-aged friend and future coworker Brent McCown had an eye for the lens and framing the picture. Before him was Greg Latza and a host of far more talented photographers, and while I never really knew them, I was observant enough to realize they were a different breed of journalism major than I was.

But there was something about the camera, even though I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body before that. Stick figures presented a challenge.

But there I was, fumbling — literally in the dark, because, darkrooms. Frank was my instructor for both Photo 1 and Photo 2 and in some ways I think he knew I didn’t have the talent that the others had. I’m not being overly hard on myself. These are just facts of the time. Those students knew what they wanted while I was coming off a failed attempt at being a history major and few stellar life choices. Journalism was a backup plan, but that was the blessing of Frank.

To be sure there were other influential instructors at SDSU, but I feel confident in saying that I would not be a photographer today without Frank. The camera drew me in quickly and Frank recognized this, as he did with so many other students, and if you were serious enough, the key to the darkroom was yours at most anytime.

It was an interesting time and even today I’m reminded of time in the SDSU darkroom with McCown and Jeremy Waltner, a wildly successful editor and publisher of the Freeman Courier in Freeman, South Dakota, and Lora Eagen, a music instructor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

These were the immediate inspirations in what I was to become. Without people like these and above all else, Frank, I’m not here. That’s a heavy charge, but true. From Frank I learned that if I had the interest, he had the time, and from those other people I found inspiration and learned from their talent.

Frank gave of his time and of his talent. He was always an open door. If you had a question, he had time to help you with the answer. Not give you the answer — HELP you with the answers.

These thoughts came to me as I started casting my eye toward a story to run next Saturday at how those in Minnesota’s schools are handling distance learning.

It reminded me yet again of how much teachers influence our lives. Every time I fight with a picture — to tone it correctly — I think of the patience that Frank showed his students as well as how I was able to draw inspiration from the students around me. They were all teachers in one way or another. Frank showed me the way, Brent gave me the confidence to make the transition from writer to photographer, Jeremey showed me the possibilities the world of my photography opened, and they all showed me how to have fun with what I was doing.

As teachers work hard to make sure that all students continue to receive education during this time, I think of the teachers — professional and peer related — that gave me the strength to continue forward with what I love.

These people are gifts not to be taken for granted. I wish I had more ways to thank Frank and those others I mentioned, but somehow I think the idea that I followed an unknown dream might be enough.