The Undergraduate

As a student Norman Borlaug knew adversity. He had decided to go to Iowa State Teachers College at Cedar Falls Iowa; however, after some urging he rode to Minnesota with a former Cresco athlete George Champlin, a football player for the University of Minnesota. Norman, however, had worked on farms for a year after high school and that time away from studies dulled his academic sharpness. Upon arrival he flunked the 1933 University of Minnesota entrance exam. Greatly embarrassed and dejected Norman prepared to hitchhike home, in disgrace. Instead, through intervention by Champlin, he was granted admission by Dr. Fred Hovde to the University’s newly formed Junior College (General College). It was a unit designed for underprepared students. After two excellent quarters he proved himself and he could transfer to any college in the University; he chose the College of Agriculture and majored in Forestry.

Margaret Gibson and Norman Borlaug while at the University of Minnesota as undergraduates - wedding photo 1937.

Margaret Gibson and Norman Borlaug while
at the University of Minnesota as
undergraduates - wedding photo 1937.

The economic collapse of the 1930’s was a worldwide catastrophe. Norman, whose family had little or no money, survived mainly by doing campus odd jobs and then by work-study jobs funded through the National Youth Administration. He was usually broke and often hungry. In the summers he used his forestry knowledge and farm skills to work for the U.S. Forest Service, hitchhiking to better paying jobs in far off places like Idaho and Massachusetts.

Then, a great thing happened, Norman met a beautiful young woman Margaret Gibson. They were both working for no salary, only their breakfasts, at the University Coffee Shop. Norman was shy and amazed that such a young woman would even talk to him. But somehow the introverted energetic farm boy/athlete and the bright vivacious, self-assured Education major bonded. Upon his graduation, and with the promise of a job with the United States Forestry Service in Idaho, they married.  

Margaret was much more than Norman’s love; she encouraged, counseled and enabled him. Simply put, Margaret was the foundation and the rudder for his incredible life’s journey.