By Tara Mathews
HOWARD LAKE, MN Robert Rasmussen, a Denmark native, was the first foreign exchange student at Howard Lake High School, and recently returned to the US to attend a 50-year reunion for his graduating class, and to reminisce with old friends.
“I’ve traveled 7,000 miles, and spent three hours in customs to be at this reunion,” Rasmussen noted.
The last time he visited the US was 10 years ago, he added.
“I spent a lot of summers here in the past,” Rasmussen said. “I have probably been back to visit at least 10 times.”
Rasmussen attended Howard Lake High School during the 1964-65 school year, and stayed with Eve and Allen Narverud.
“They owned a hardware store in Howard Lake at that time,” he commented.
Rasmussen was given the opportunity to become a foreign exchange student through the American Field Science Organization, which was established after World War II to promote intercultural development, he said.
“My situation was different also,” Rasmussen noted. “The Narveruds didn’t have children, and normally host families have them.”
Since the Narveruds were close with other families from their church, such as the family of Dwayne Diers, they were able to host Rasmussen, he added.
Rasmussen completed his senior year at Howard Lake High School, taking classes such as English, chemistry, mathematics, agricultural technology, and history.
“My history class was considered a sophomore class though,” he said. “The seniors all took European history, and it didn’t make sense for me to take a European history class, so I took American history instead.”
Rasmussen was involved with some extracurricular activities during his time as an exchange student, also.
“I participated in track and field, and bowling while I was in Howard Lake High School,” he noted. “I also went with the Diers for FFA events.”
One of Rasmussen’s fondest memories was also one of his biggest challenges during his time as a foreign exchange student, he said.
“I remember the Diers family bringing me with to the state fair,” Rasmussen reminisced. “And one time, they told me I had to judge a cow.”
Although he grew up on a farm in Denmark, he had no idea how to judge a cow, he added.
“I remember thinking, ‘what am I going to do, I don’t know what I am doing,’” he commented.
Good times, great memories
Rasmussen enjoyed the many trips and adventures he has had in the US, he said.
“We took a trip out West to see a show, saw the World’s Fair in Montreal, and saw the London bridge at Lake Havasu City, AZ,” Rasmussen commented.
Lake Havasu City has a man-made lake that was built after the London Bridge was purchased by a private party and moved there brick by brick, he added.
“We had a lot of good times,” Dwayne Diers noted.
Rasmussen came back to the US to visit the Diers family members many times between 1965 and 1978, he said.
“I have so many good memories I could keep you here all day telling you, but I won’t,” Rasmussen commented.
One year turns into a lifelong friendship
“One year had an impact on my life in so many ways,” Rasmussen shared. “I could have ended up in Florida or Montana, but fortunately, I landed in Howard Lake.”
Howard Lake was a great fit for him, he added.
Rasmussen has known Dwayne Diers since shortly before he came to the US in 1964, he said.
“He knew he was coming to the US, and couldn’t find Howard Lake on the map,” Dwayne joked. “So I had to point it out for him.”
Dwayne had traveled to Europe for an FFA event, and at the end of his trip ventured to find Rasmussen and help him find the area he would be visiting soon after; and the two have been friends ever since.
“I was trying to find his place by myself, and was in Scotland when I started,” Dwayne stated. “I went from there to London, and in London I was in the wrong area of the airport to get on a train to Copenhagen.”
He had to rush across the airport to get to the correct area to catch a train to Rasmussen, he said.
Dwayne found the correct train, and after riding it for awhile, the train stopped.
“I wondered why everyone was getting off of the train because I knew we weren’t at the destination yet,” he commented.
Dwayne found out a little while later that because of waterways in Denmark, the train had to stop and passengers needed to get on a ferry.
“A little while later, everyone got off of the ferry and back on a train,” he added.
After Dwayne’s train ride, he had to get on a bus to get to Rasmussen’s home, and was having a hard time finding the correct stop.
“We knew it was taking him too long, so we went looking for him,” Rasmussen said.
“Suddenly a car full of people stopped the bus,” Dwayne noted.
“And we asked if there was an American on the bus,” Rasmussen commented.
The friends laughed about the adventure Dwayne had finding his way to Rasmussen.
Rasmussen became close friends with other members of the Diers family, as well.
“I’m still connected with Dwayne’s little brother, Jerome, as well,” he noted. “And his brother, Michael, and I became friends when he was based in Germany for the US Army.”
Building a life with LEGOs
Rasmussen has worked for the LEGO Group since 1988, where he was head of research and development for education until 2001. He was also head of the educational development team for LEGO Mindstorms, the company’s best-selling product.
Beginning in 2001, Rasmussen was the manager of Executive Discover Ltd., which developed and launched a program that integrates LEGO building blocks into training and education called LEGO Serious Play.
Rasmussen has a master’s degree in education, and studied psychology and sociology in college, as well.
He has published books about his discoveries with LEGO Serious Play, and has worked with researchers to apply his findings to real-life applications.
Rasmussen currently lives with his wife, Jette, in Assens, Denmark.
For more information about Rasmussen’s work with LEGOs, follow the link at www.herald-journal.com.