Back to the Future – Wildcat Style

Art and Lois, first-year students on the Northwestern University campus, 1940.

He was her first love. Their romance was mercurial, as many high school romances are. 

Lois Wessling, my mom, graduated from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, in the spring of 1939.  Ray, her boyfriend, planned to attend local Drake University.  Of course, Lois wanted to live near him as a college student, but her parents did not want her to attend Drake and be near Ray. Lois came up with a Plan B: she was accepted at Iowa State University in Ames, 35 miles north of Drake, so she and Ray could visit each other on the weekends. One problem with Lois’ plan was that she chose home economics as her major. Her family was wealthy enough to have live-in maids, so she had not honed any domestic skills. Nevertheless, Lois prepared for her move to Iowa State in September. 

One August evening at dinner with her parents, Lois’ future changed forever. They told her that she would not be attending Iowa State after all. Lois’ father’s cousin was a high-level administrator at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. After her father’s cousin reviewed Lois’ grade-point average, her extracurricular activities, and the family’s financial status, Lois was accepted as a freshman without completing a single document! Classes would begin in just two weeks.

Lois was heartbroken and extremely angry at her parents. She sought sympathy from her older brother, Dan, a college senior. He could indeed empathize, because their parents had done the same thing to him three years earlier: they enrolled him at the University of Pennsylvania without his knowledge.

Lois became a Northwestern Wildcat and begrudgingly moved into Northwestern’s Willard Hall, “the center of life for freshmen women,” in September 1939. She was 333 miles away from Ray, so she wrote letters, cried and moped at first. She distracted herself by participating in freshmen activities. When she and her dorm mates learned of a freshmen dance on September 18, they were curious enough to attend. 

Lois and Art, proud Northwestern Wildcat alumni at home, 1995.

Meanwhile, two freshmen who graduated from Chicago’s Austin High School made last-minute plans to go to the dance. Art Henrikson and Jim Hoban were able to attend only because Art’s dad was visiting a co-worker at the Evanston Hospital.  Upon arrival at the dance, Art recognized Elaine, a high school friend who now mentored Northwestern freshmen. Elaine introduced Art and Jim to Lois, her new acquaintance. Jim grabbed Lois’ hand and dragged her onto the dance floor. Art and Jim decided to take turns dancing with Lois throughout the evening.

When the dance ended, Lois accepted a ride from Art back to her Willard Hall dorm. Art let Lois and Jim out of the car, but Art was too shy to walk Lois to the door, so he remained in the car. 

The sparkle in Art’s eyes guaranteed our family’s future.  Lois noticed that sparkle and called out, “Art, aren’t you coming?”

Art with his daughters and granddaughters on the Northwestern University campus, 2009.

Diane Henrikson Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing, Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, and humanities. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI catalog and for OLLI Connects. Diane was Co-chair of the Volunteer Management Committee from 2019 through early 2023.


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