When Ivan Lorentzen first started teaching at Flathead Valley Community College, the school was a fledgling idea just coming to fruition, located in various buildings in downtown Kalispell.
It was 1971, a mere four years after the college was created, a young Lorentzen stumbled into what would become his life’s career. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in physiological psychology, he had moved back home to Kalispell to find a job.
And a week before the school year started, FVCC came calling. The school had received a grant to fund two new teaching positions, one in psychology.
“I didn’t have an office on campus that first year, I worked from my house,” Lorentzen said in the midst of cleaning out his campus office last week.
After nearly five decades of teaching psychology and ethics at the college, Lorentzen is retiring with the title of FVCC’s longest-serving teacher.
“After 45 years here at the college, Ivan is really part of the college, an institution here,” FVCC President Jane Karas said last week. “He’s a fabulous faculty member and great teacher. We’re definitely going to miss him.”
Some of his best memories come from the early days of the downtown campus, when all of the professors’ offices were on the same floor in one building, regardless of discipline. That comingling of ideas would follow Lorentzen’s career.
“We were making it up day by day,” he said. “Everything was new. We were all building something from scratch.”
Lorentzen was the driving force behind the college’s now-popular Honors Symposium Lecture Series, which in its 23rd season explored the theme “Dividing Lines: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics, Religion, Race, and Gender.”
Such discussions are integral to personal development, Lorentzen said, which is why the series is open to the general public as well as students.
“If you can’t listen to an opposing point of view, and all you can do is state your opinion louder, that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
The lecture series was born out of Lorentzen’s love of attending conferences and hearing new ideas about his field. That feeling of hard, thoughtful, civil discussions was also the foundation for the Honors Program at the college, started in 2009.
In the program, professors from two seemingly disconnected disciplines – like poetry and physics, for example – team up to present challenges found at the intersections of these disciplines, forcing the students to think of new solutions.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to get out of the silos of disciplines,” he said.
Heading into retirement, Lorentzen has no plans of slowing down. There’s always scholarly work to be done – he’s also earned a doctorate in educational leadership – and of course, taking care of the east valley farm on which he grew up.
“There are parts of [teaching] I will miss terribly,” he said. “It’s been a pretty good run in all. You push where you can to make a difference where you can, and sometimes it works.”
And the students?
“I’m going to miss them the most,” Lorentzen said.