Alumni discuss Mississippi River and the history


Zadie Martin

WATER WISDOM. Alumni John Shepard talked with alumni in Driscoll on May 17 about the Mississippi River: “We are all part of the Mississippi; it’s what we drink; our body is 60% water,” Shepard said.

Memories of the Mississippi River were shared on Tuesday by alumni and past graduates John Shepard (’72), an Associate Professor in the Hamline University School of Education and assistant director of the university’s Center for Global Environmental Education. He was joined by Charlie Fitzpatrick (’71) the K-12 Education Manager for Esri, maker of geographic information system (GIS) software shared stories and data about the river.

The reserved presentation is part of the Alumni/ae Council Speaker Series held in Driscoll, which is a chance for graduates to reconnect with classmates and SPA.

Before the hybrid presentation started, a link to a survey about the audience’s various memories of the Mississippi river was put on the screen. They were asked what the earliest age they remembered the Mississippi, what they like to do, and where along the river was their favorite memory is.

Shepard opened by reminiscing about his time at SPA 50 years ago and how the school helped shape his love for the outdoors and references that a teacher, Kenyon King, was an environmentalist inspiration for him. Switching gears to visualizing the Mississippi, Shepard showed examples of maps from hundreds of years ago and modern maps. He compared the focus of each map and how they used to be built around the Mississippi but now highlight highways and cities.

Hamline’s mission is to educate people about the Mississippi’s history and its changes throughout time.

Shepard and Fitzpatrick want people to feel connected with Minnesota and the data within it. “We are all part of the Mississippi; it’s what we drink; our body is 60% water,” Shepard said.

Both the men asked the audience: “Are we a part of the river? How do you define the Mississippi?” To help give some perspective to the question, Fitzpatrick used his ArcGIS and Esri programs that he uses to teach to show how far the Mississippi spans through watersheds.

Shepard goes into a story about a creek that runs off the Mississippi called Phalen creek and off the side cave Wakhan Tipi. Cave Wakhan Tipi has a historical significance to the Dakota as it was a sacred site. After the 1851 treaty with settlers from Europe, the cave was lost, and a railroad was built over it. The front was blown up to give more room for industrializing. It is currently sealed off, but a modern Dakota organization partnered with Hamline is planning to reopen it and build a center about Dakota history in front of the cave in the future.