Tucked away in a quiet corner on the third floor of Pacific Lutheran’s Mortvedt Library you can find the University Archives and Special Collections. An impressive collection of photographs, books, papers and artifacts, the archives contain not only the history of Pacific Lutheran University, but also that of hundreds of Scandinavian immigrants, the Tacoma area, and numerous congregations affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The woman behind it all is Kerstin Ringdahl, University Archivist and Curator of Special Library Collections.
Ringdahl was born in Landskrona, Sweden in 1935, where her family lived in an apartment above their book and tobacco store. When asked about her childhood, Ringdahl has nothing but good things to say. In an interview with Francesca Lane Rasmus, Ringdahl said, “we [her family] were very happy together, and I just had a really wonderful idyllic childhood.” After graduating high school, Ringdahl spent time living in London, where she worked as an au pair, and later moved to Augsburg, Germany after meeting her future husband Jack Henderson, a U.S. soldier, while traveling in Scotland.
In December 1963, Ringdahl and her husband came to the United States. After some confusion about where Henderson was to be stationed, the couple was told to come to Fort Lewis, so they began the drive from New York to Washington in a soft-top Elva sports car. “The coldest I’ve ever been was in Iowa. It was so cold that the…water froze and separated from the antifreeze. We had to keep the car indoors to keep warm,” Ringdahl laughs as she recalls the journey.
Once in Tacoma, Ringdahl quickly found a job with the Pierce County Library bookmobile. When Frank Haley, PLU’s librarian at the time, posted a job listing for a new assistant who could “project the Scandinavian image,” Ringdahl applied. However, she was too late and the position had already been filled. Haley asked if he could keep Ringdahl’s resume on file, and a year later he called and asked her to interview.
During her interview, Ringdahl recalls, Haley had two requirements for her employment.
“He said I had to always stay blonde, and I couldn’t lose my accent… He was very unconventional,” Ringdahl smiles as she tells the story. Ringdahl began working for the university Mar. 1, 1965, over 48 years ago.
After graduating from PLU in 1982 with a degree in Scandinavian Studies and becoming involved with the library’s Scandinavian immigrant collection, it was only natural that Ringdahl was interested in the university archivist position that became available with the addition of the third floor of the library in 1987. She got the job and has been in the archives ever since.
Ringdahl’s dedication and passion for the university has certainly not gone unnoticed. Sue Drake, a friend and co-worker of Ringdahl’s for the last 10 years, says that, “Kris is loyal both to her friends and the university. She cares deeply and is compassionate about her work, and her knowledge of the university is incomparable to anyone else.” Drake continues, “Her distinguished character adds to her quick wit and pride in whatever she does.”
As for the future, Ringdahl says she is looking forward to celebrating her 50th year at PLU in 2015, as well as the university’s 125th anniversary in 2016.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I retire,” Ringdahl says with a smile, “We’ll see what happens, maybe some fun thing.”